Bisque du Homarus americanus
Bisque is a smooth, creamy, highly seasoned soup of French origin, classically based on a strained broth (coulis) of crustaceans. It can be made from lobster, crab, shrimp or crayfish. Also, creamy soups made from roasted and puréed fruits, vegetables, or fungi are sometimes called bisques.
bisque: a thick cream soup made with shellfish or game.
Sep 9, 2014 – Bisque. Bisque is a type of soup that’s rich and creamy, and traditionally made from pureed shellfish. Authentic recipes ground the shells into a fine paste and use that to thicken the soup. More commonly now, bisques are thickened with rice, which can be pureed or strained out at the end of cooking.
So there you have it… A simple introduction to the primary challenges you’ll face if you want to make homemade bisque:
- buy ‘em and boil them on your own stove;
- buy ‘em pre-cooked fresh at your favorite fishmonger’s; or
- buy pre-packaged lobster meat.
How squeamish are you? How much of a mess are you willing to tolerate in your kitchen? Are you going to use the shells in your recipe?
The traditional recipes call for boiling the crustaceans alive until they are bright red (but don’t overboil them), pulling them apart and pulling the meat out and setting it aside for some other recipe, and then roasting the shells, then pulverizing them, and making the base stock out of shells. (Naturally, some straining is necessary with cheesecloth and a colander.)
In the summertime, it’s handy if you have an outdoor grill or fire pit with a cooking rack and you can boil them outdoors. That will save some wear and tear on your kitchen decor and you can keep the messy dissection process outside too.
For most lobster fanatics, it’s the succulent meat you’re after. The scale of excellence goes from the tail to the claws; most sunny-day lobster eaters stop right there. If you are a full-blown addict, and for a bisque, you use the whole thing. Everything.
The way I do a bisque is an experienced-based amalgam of recipes and approaches.
I first encountered lobster bisque 42+ years ago when, on our honeymoon, I took my bride to lunch on the outdoor patio of the Jordan Pond tea house in the heart of Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine. My family roots are in Maine at the nexus of estuarial river, rocky coast, peninsula and … lobsters. Sitting on that patio, the Atlantic Ocean and the scents of salt air come in fom behind; clean mountain air and water lay out in front of you in the glacial fresh water pond at the end of which are the oft-noted Bubbles. The location and atmosphere work on the appetite and the mind, and the waitress beings this large bowl of creaminess of lobster.
So, however you decide to deal with the shelled seafood, you’ve got to have enough for your plans for feeding a small group of people. My wife may rank as the #1 lobster fanatic this side of the Connecticut, so we have devised this plan.
Go to the fish store and buy a 1.5-lb. lobster for everyone at the table. If the catch of the day is limited to smaller lobsters, buy more. You want an absolute minimum of a pound per person.
Have your fishmonger steam or boil them. They’ll end up hot and dripping in multiple large plastic bags. The sooner you get to the prep phase with the lobster meat, the better. Cooking flexibility moves you toward cooking them yourself, but if the fish store is nearby, you have it made.
Dis-assemble the lobsters. I won’t provide a lesson on how to do this, but it’s easy once you learn. Crackers and cleavers may be useful. Snap off the tails and slice or snap open the shell in half and extract the tail meat; it’s the single largest piece you’ll get out of each one. Rinse them and set them aside. Melt some butter and squirt some lemon juice on them and put them in a plastic storage device; they’ll keep for some time, even overnight, in the fridge.
Take apart the claws. The main claw meat is the second largest piece you’ll get. Take the tiny sub-claw or “thumb” off and set it aside to use as a garnish. Get as much of the knuckle meat as possible using a lobster pick. If you are doing only a bisque, you don’t have to get fussy. Traditionally, the lobster is served boiled or baked at table side with warm melted butter, but for the bisque, you are simply assembling a pile of meat. Take the largest parts for the rest of the dinner you’ve contemplated; lobster tail and beef is the classic “surf and turf”. In this case, we made a fresh cold lobster salad. Set aside the rest of the meat in melted butter and lemon juice; you still have a lot of work to do.
At this point I should mention that there are a number of recipes you can find that also use clams, crabs, shrimp and more. This will lead you into a survey of the differences between soups, bisques and chowders. Then there are the seafood boils served plain or with or over a pasta. Emeril Lagasse grew up Fall River.
For your mise en place,you are going to need basil, thyme, parsely, pepper, paprika, Tabasco sauce or cayenne, fresh lemons, butter, seafood stock (or, alternately, clam broth or juice), a small can of tomato paste, a white onion, garlic cloves, shallots, chives, scallions, bay leaves (or Bay seasoning), all-purpose flour, extra-virgin police oil, and cooking sherry.
Here is where the rubber meets the road. You have to cook to your tastes and preferences and those of your guests. Fresh is best. I tend by necessity to always lean towards low-salt or no salt. Some judgment must always be used in terms of final volume, amount of ingredient, brand/quality, etc. In the case of bisque, you’re aiming for a quart of liquid per person. Often you end up with a bit more; it will keep in the fridge, but only for a short time.
So take all those shells you took off the lobsters, put them in a crude newspaper or parchment envelope, and pulverize them with a rubber mallet. Toss them all (especially the bodies and their abdominal goodies like tomalley) in a large pot. Throw in a bit of butter to provide some lubrication so all the left-over meats and juices you didn’t bother to get out of all the many crustaceans’ nooks and crannies ooze on out into the pan. Cover them with water and put on high heat, but do not let this boil over or you will have a major stove-top mess. When you get to boil, turn down to simmer. Boil down the water for half an hour or more; the more time spent here in the process, the higher the concentration of lobster flavor. Let it cool and then strain the water into a fresh clean holding container; drape cheesecloth over a colander in that storage container in your sink and carefully and slowly pour off the liquid. Keep the liquid; discard the shells in a double plastic bag with some lemon or pine soap to keep smells down and critters away and put them out into the trash ASAP.
Get out a large pot, and put about 5 ounces of extra-virgin olive oil in the bottom, and maybe a pat of grass-fed butter like Kerry Gold. Peel and chop the white onion and set to sweat or sauté until the onion is translucent (about 8 minutes). Add minced garlic and chopped shallot and continue for another three to five minutes Do not burn. Take them off the heat the moment they start to brown.
Add to your preserved lobster water whatever liquid flavoring you choose to use (Worcestershire, Tabasco) as well as selected spices. I tend to hold out the bay leaves and the thyme until after you have added the roux, and use three-quarters of the allotted amounts of seasoning up front, adding the last quarter toward the end of the cooking process. Fish out the bay leaves just before you serve.
Open the can of tomato paste and take a healthy teaspoon of it and add it to the lobster water/stock pot. Stir it in and keep sitting regularly. It adds color as well as flavor.
Make the roux. The roux is the keystone to the bisque. Roux is simply a flour/butter thickening agent; learning to make a good roux quickly and simply is a useful skill. Simply melt some grass-fed butter in the bottom of a saucepan and fairly quickly add all-purpose flour. The Culinary Institute of America instructional encyclopedia called “The Professional Chef” suggests a 3:2 dry weight mix of butter to flour, but you will learn to adjust this (and cooking time) to develop thickness and color, characteristics that will vary from recipe to recipe. The key to roux is that it demands someone’s full attention from start to finish; using a whisk, you beat the flour into the butter (or is it the other way around?). You must constantly whisk; do not allow the mixture to burn. You may want to add a bit more butter or a bit more flour as you do this; it’s okay. Just keep whisking and do not turn away. You whip it into a smooth and silky light brown or nutty brown mixture. You can also add a smidgen of tomato paste for color if you choose; I would be wary of adding any flavoring of any sort beyond this. Set the roux aside on the back of the stove until you are ready to add it.
The lobster water stock has been strained and set back on the burner to simmer. After an hour (or more), having made the roux, simply fold and slow-whisk the roux into the stock. Add the last of your spices. Whisk and stir regularly; some people would even puree at this stage.
You are almost finished. At this point, you are in the key holding zone. The stock is simmering and should simmer for at least an hour. Longer is okay. This gives you that desirable period of time when you can greet and entertain guests, the cold salad having been prepared in advance to be served with oil and vinegar, fresh warm bread and butter, beverage of choice, and a small slice of cheesecake for dessert with coffee, or tea.
But the final assembly awaits and will take about 20-30 minutes. You have the broth base; you can consider adding some seafood stock if you need more volume. Stir, stir. To this you add a cup or more of cream; most recipes call for heavy cream, but I use light cream. Heavy is better for taste and consistency, but light will please your cardiologist. Stir and stir again. Add a healthy amount of a cooking alcohol of choice. You can spend a lot of time thinking about this choice. You can use a standard supermarket dry white cooking wine, or you can let your oenophilic tendencies out to run. Someone suggests amontillado, which I think a bit heavy. I almost always end up using a cream sherry. How much is always your choice; the alcohol will burn off. My bisques tend to be loaded with lobster and sherry.
So you’ve stirred the cream and the sherry into the stock, and just at the end is when you can add the lobster meat. Let it all “get happy” in the pot for a while while your guests get happy on the patio or the deck. This part makes my wife happy because she says most bisques have barely been introduced to the lobster. Ours is a full celebration of lobsteriness. When you’re ready to serve, bring out the bread and the cutting board, the salads, the beverages, and ladle the soup into the bowls with the remainder into a tureen. Garnish the bowls and the tureen with a pat of butter, a swirl of cream, a swirl of sherry, some parsley, a few croutons, and those tiny little lobster thumbs or some other meat.
The keys to the whole thing are to play and practice, to learn the proper selections of spices, to not overdo any particular ingredient or spice, and to enjoy your guests.
Cheers. Thank you Lord for these Thy many blessings.
Featured photo from Acadia courtesy of Nancy A. Marshall