There’s a story that goes with this recipe. When Tony and Ann Kischner took over the restaurant at The Shelburne Inn in 1981, their new chef became ill on opening night. David Campiche, the Innkeeper, who resided at the inn with his wife, Laurie and family at that time, offered his help. The chef pointed to a large bag of fresh Pen Cove mussels and asked him if he could come up with a soup or chowder using them. David dove in. To his and everyone’s delight, the chowder was a hit and became a fixed item on the menu at The Shoalwater for many years. The recipe was also featured in an article in Sunset magazine in February of 2001, when they named The Shelburne among the “West’s Best Small Inns.” A quote from that article says it all, “What sets the west’s best small inns apart from the hundreds of other great inns we looked at? These are, quite simply, the places we’d like to return to.”
Serves: 6 as a main course or 8 to 10 as a first-course serving
Scrub mussels in cool water and remove the bissus threads or beards; discard any whose shells don’t close when tapped. In an 8- to 10-quart pan, combine mussels and wine; bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer over medium heat until mussels open, 5 to 8 minutes. Pour into a colander set in a large bowl to collect broth. Let mussels stand until cool enough to handle.
Meanwhile, peel and cut potatoes into ½-inch cubes. Peel and chop onion. Rinse celery and dice into ¼-inch pieces. Wash and seed yellow pepper and dice.
In the pan used for mussels, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and celery; stir often until onion is limp, 6 to 8 minutes. Add curry powder, cayenne pepper and basil; stir until spices become more fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Pour mussel juices from bowl into pan. Add tomato sauce, cream, and potatoes. Turn heat to high; when mixture is boiling, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors are well blended, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove mussels from shells; discard shells.
Add mussels to chowder; cover and simmer just until mussels are hot, 3 to 5 minutes. Do not overcook. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls.