It’s hard to resist that permeating, luscious and rich smell of a well made lobster bisque. You can smell it a mile away. It cannot be mistaken. Sometimes the bisque tastes better than the lobster itself (that’s a long shot). And it definitely smells better. Who can resist? It’s complex, lots of flavors and ingredients doing lots of ‘things’, and yet, somehow, the magical flavor of the shellfish is intensified and stands center stage.
Bisque. Originally from the Bay of Biscay (Bisque), it is classically a shellfish soup with cream and some sort of starch. According to Mr Escoffier (ie classically), the shells from shellfish are cooked in the soup, the starch is rice, and we finish with fresh cream. It’s a classic. A masterpiece. You don’t fix what isn’t broken, and we there is a reason why we don’t change classics.
This is the kind of soup that we make after a lobster boil, or when you have a few pounds of frozen shrimp shells hanging out in the freezer. Or if you feel like splurging. It’s a tricky recipe because it involves a series of reductions, steps and in the end, a process of straining the soup. But, it’s worth it, and one whiff of the cooking bisque will convince you too.
Makes: 1/2 gallon
Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 1 1/2 hr
5 lb cooked lobster bodies and shells
2 yellow onions, rough chop
2 stalks celery, rough chop
2 sticks carrots, rough chop
1/2 bunch thyme
1/2 bunch tarragon
750 ml dry white wine
1 bulb fennel
3 bay leaves
1 tbsp black pepper corn
1/2 cup cognac
3 qt heavy cream
prepared fish stock (vegetable or even chicken stock will do)
2 cups long grain white rice
1 vanilla bean, split, scraped reserving seeds and pod
1/2 cup tomato paste
Place the lobster bodies and shells in a hot oven and roast until dark red. While they are cooking, in a heavy bottomed stock pot, begin sweating the onions, celery, carrots and fennel in a little vegetable oil. Add the herbs, spices and continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir, making sure to cover everything with the paste. Do not put any color on the tomato paste. Deglaze with cognac and reduce to au sec (almost completely dry) Add white wine and reduce by 2/3. Add the lobster bodies and shells, cover with stock, season and salt and reduce by half. Add the cream and vanilla. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for about 1/2 hr.
In a bar blender, working in batches, puree the soup (shells and all). Strain through a fine mesh strainer (lined with cheese cloth is ideal) three times, to ensure no ‘grit’ is left in the soup. The desired consistency is silky and creamy. Season with salt and cracked pepper and serve.
I like to garnish the bisque with whipped creme fraiche, lobster claws and chives (which is again classic) but you can use a dollop of cream, croutons, crostini, a corn flan, 1 grilled shrimp, and so on.
It’s an incredible dish, and the combination of vanilla bean and cognac really put it over the top.