Real Deal Bisque – It’s all about shellfish and great stock

I love serendipity. Yesterday, Jerry Lobdill, an old friend from Texas, got in touch looking for a shrimp bisque recipe. When I got home, Monica had bought fresh shrimp – That’s just gotta be a sign, right? I knew I had a recipe, and I do, but it turns out it hadn’t been published yet. Time to correct that glaring omission.

When you think ‘Bisque,’ what does that conjure in your minds eye? These days, it might be anything in a thick, rich creamy soup, and that’s sort of correct, but if we’re talking the genuine article, bisque is made with shellfish – lobster, crab, shrimp or crawfish. The key is starting with a great stock – If you don’t have that as the base of the dish, you ain’t got real bisque – It’s that simple.

Fresh, homemade stock is key to great bisque
Fresh, homemade stock is key to great bisque

That said, many things are called bisque these days, but really, that’s just done to sell stuff – Bisque sounds infinitely sexier than Cream of Whatever, doesn’t it? Fact is, the only thing I found on this site was Butternut Squash Bisque, so I’m guilty as charged. It’s high time we posted up the real deal.

Before we build, a bit of where bisque comes from. This thick, rustic soup goes back at least 500 years in France. Back when, it contained crushed seafood shells, even when the proteins involved were game, rather than shellfish. Bisque languished for a while before returning to the spotlight as a somewhat more refined dish in the late seventeenth century, (shells were still used to make the stock, but not crushed and left in, as they had been). There are many old saws about the name deriving from the Bay of Biscay, but that’s likely romanticizing – ‘Bis cuties’, roughly ‘twice cooked’, which reflects the creation of stock followed by a second cooking of the bisque itself, is the more likely root.

In any event, bisque may seem fussy and difficult, but it’s really not. If you’ve poked around here at all, you know we always start a soup or stew with homemade stock, and so should you. From absolute scratch, this stuff can be made in a couple of hours, and faster yet if you do stock one day and bisque the next.  The other must-have aspects of a genuine bisque are, a solid foundation made with fresh, aromatic bases, the freshest herbs you can get, and thickening done with a buerre manié, (more on the latter technique in a bit.) What we’ll detail here could be used with any of the shellfish I mentioned above, although you might want to tweak things a bit – like crab with mire poix and Irish whiskey subbed for the brandy, lobster with soffritto and rum,  or crawfish with a Cajun Holy Trinity and bourbon, or something else you come up with on your own – You get the idea.

Buerre manié - kneaded butter- The key to thickening soups, stews, and sauces.
Buerre manié – kneaded butter- The key to thickening soups, stews, and sauces.

A note on buerre manié, since that may be a new trick some of y’all. If you’ve ever wondered how professionals make such lovely, thick, shiny soups, stews, and sauces, this is how it’s done. Buerre manié is a classic French technique for thickening – it couldn’t be easier, and there’s no better way to get the job done. Buerre manié means kneaded butter, and that’s exactly what you do. Equal portions of butter and flour are combined by hand to form a smooth, uniform paste. What this does is evenly coat the flour with butter, allowing us to introduce prodigious thickening power without clumping – A most important thing, oui? Once mixed, you roll up roughly teaspoon sized balls of the stuff and add one at a time to whatever you need thickened, thoroughly whisking that into the mix, et viola – la perfection!

Finally, and as always, you want the freshest ingredients you can get, and that doesn’t just refer to the shellfish – Your aromatics, herbs, and dairy should be top notch as well. So here ya go, Jerry, and the rest of y’all as well.

 

Shrimp Bisque a la Urban

Medium Shrimp come 41-50 to the pound
Medium Shrimp come 41-50 to the pound

For the Stock

2 Quarts Water

Shells from 1 1/2 pounds of medium sized shrimp.

1/2 Cup yellow Onion, chopped

1/2 Cup Celery (Leaves are preferred), chopped

1/2 Cup Carrot, chopped

1/2 fresh Lemon

3 cloves fresh Garlic, crushed, skinned, and minced

5-6 whole peppercorns

2 Bay Leaves, (I like Turkish)

Two 3” sprigs fresh Thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Fresh ground pepper

Pinch fine grind Salt

 

Shell, devein, and chop shrimp. Return shrimp to fridge and retain shells.

In a stock pot over medium high heat, add the olive oil and heat through. 

Add carrot and sauté for a couple of minutes. 

Add onion and celery, season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté until the onion begins to turn translucent, about 2-3 minutes. 

Add garlic and sauté until the raw garlic smell dissipates. 

Squeeze lemon juice into the pot, then toss the half lemon in as well. 

Add the shrimp shells, water, peppercorns, thyme, and bay leaves – Stir to incorporate.

Bring stock to a boil, then reduce heat to just maintain a simmer – Cook for one hour, uncovered.

Remove pot from heat and carefully pour stock through a single mesh strainer. Set stock aside, and discard the solids.

 

For the Bisque

1/4 Cup Heavy Cream

4 Tablespoons unsalted Butter 

2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste

2 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 teaspoon Turkish Oregano 

1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Thyme 

1/2 teaspoon Tarragon

2 Turkish Bay Leaves

2-4 shakes Tabasco

A few sprigs fresh Parsley, chopped fine

Salt

Fresh ground White Pepper

 

Reserve and set aside 8-10 whole shrimp. The rest should be shelled, deveined, and chopped.

Pull butter from fridge and set aside.

If you have fresh herbs, you can combine and mince them ahead of cooking.

In a Dutch oven over medium high heat, add olive oil and heat through.

Add carrot and sauté for a couple of minutes. 

Add onion and celery, season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté until the onion begins to turn translucent, about 2-3 minutes. 

Add brandy and stir until raw booze smell dissipates.

Add tomato paste, and all herbs – Stir to incorporate and sauté for 2 minutes.

Add stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a bare simmer and cook for 60 minutes.

Carefully process bisque with an immersion blender, until you have a smooth, even consistency.

Add a couple shakes of Tabasco, taste, and adjust salt and pepper as desired.

In a small mixing bowl or cup, combine flour and butter and knead by hand until you’ve got a nice, uniform paste – This is a Beurre Manié – The classic French thickener for soups and stews.

Add beurre manié a teaspoon at a time, whisking it into the bisque – Once that’s all introduced, simmer for another 5 minutes.

Whisking constantly, slowly add cream in a thin stream.

Increase temperature to medium, (you want a rolling boil).

Add the shrimp and cook for another 15 minutes.

Ladle into bowls, garnish with a couple whole shrimp and a pinch of parsley.

Serve hot, with crusty bread and a nice dry white wine or cider.

Shrimp Bisque
Shrimp Bisque
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