Sunday, April 14, 2013

Building A Better Bowl of Bisque

Shrimp Bisque
This is one of the first dishes I ever learned how to make. It is a lovely rich, decedent concoction from France. This seafood stew is no doubt the most requested thing that I make. It is also one of the recipes that I am often asked to share, but until now have not. So, to make up for my long absence from the Holy Ravioli I have decided to let the secret out. With a little practice you will be a bisque master like me and your friends and family will be licking the bowl. 

All in all a simple dish, made with just about any kind of seafood. Crab, lobster, fish, scallops, oysters, clams and mussels or a combination of all for a Bisque Royal. People put all types of vegetables in too, while others sometimes leave the vegetables out. After you learn the fish stock and cream base you can use your imagination and add your own personal touch working with what you have. Good stuff!

To make Bisque one of the first things you do is get some fresh seafood, fresh fish is great. If you are using fish it is best to get the fish whole and then filet it saving the spine and head for stock. 
 For crabs and lobster you will cook them in the stock live then let them cool, pick all fo the meat out and then save the, butter, shells and legs for stock. For clams, oysters and mussels they will not be used to make stock and they will go in at the very end cooked only just until they open. 

This recipe is for shrimp bisque.  Start with the freshest shrimp you can find. Get them raw and unpeeled. I get them in Chinatown live. That fresh they are incredibly sweet and delicious. If you have a good Asian or special seafood market near you you may be able to get them live. The next best thing is shrimp with the heads on, they will make the best stock. 

Makes 6 large servings
  • Two lbs of raw unpeeled shrimp. 
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup sherry or dry port wine (Key. You can substitute white wine but...)
  • 3-4 large red or yellow potatoes peeled and cubed in 1-1/2" pieces.
  • 10-15 stalks of fresh asparagus or a couple of handfuls of fresh green bean cut into one inch lengths. 
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic chopped fine.
  • 1 stalk of celery chopped fine.
  • 1-2 stalks of green onion or leak chopped fine.
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika 
  • 1 teaspoon of Old Bay. (Key)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of celery seeds.
  • 1 teaspoon marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary or better yet a bunch of fresh needles. (Optional)
  • 1 teaspoon Vietnamese fish sauce (optional)
  • 2 - 4 tablespoons of butter flour roux as needed to desired thickness (See below)
  • Fresh cracked pepper and sea salt
  • Fresh clean water for stock. 
Rinse peel and de-vien the shrimp. Put the cleaned shrimp into the fridge and put the shrimp peels and tails into a small stock pot. Get the pot hot first over medium heat and add a tablespoon or two of butter or veg oil. Drop in the shrimp peels and toss them in the hot oil letting them brown a little bit. You will smell pure shrimp flavor. Pour over enough water to cover by about an inch. Add a little salt to the water and a teaspoon of fish sauce if you are using it. Cover with a lid and simmer on low for about 20 mins, then turn off heat and keep covered until used.

Roux is an essential ingredient in French cooking as well as many other types of cooking. It is used as a thickening agent in sauces and soups. A lot of cooks will use some flour mixed with water, while this will work in a pinch it just does not of that signature French flavor. You can make up a roux and it will keep in the fridge for quite a while. I always make some extra because it is better to have more roux and not need it than it is to have too little. It can make or break your bisque. If you do not know, roux is flour cooked down a little in a fat, typically butter. We use ghee, or clarified butter but regular butter works great. In a french restaurant they may keep several types of roux on hand. Different types are made by using different types of fat, one may be made with beef fat or tallow another with rendered duck fat. Also varying degrees of browning the flour makes for different flavor profiles. For a butter or roux butter is melted into the pan and melted sometimes on medium heat and left until it browns lightly. Then flour is added and the flour is toasted in the butter for a few moments. Left to cool and use as needed.

Butter Roux Ingredients.

  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • 1/4 cup of unbleached flour
  • pinch of salt
Get a small pan or pot hot over medium heat  melt the butter and simmer while stirring for five mins. The butter will clarify and reduce some. Then add the flour a little bit at a time while stirring. Add it until it is well blended with the butter. Dont worry if it gets too thick, add a little more butter. If it is too thin add some more flour. It will end up a thick paste in the fridge. Mix the flour and the butter and stir over low-medium heat for another five mins or so and then remove form the heat.
Now you have one of the essential ingredients for making bisque and many other types of sauces! 
Now to assemble the bisque. 
Put a large heavy stock pot on a medium hot burner. Let it get good and hot and then add a pat of butter or a little veg oil. Quickly add all of the chopped vegetables and the garlic. Saute a bit and let them brown a little stirring from time to time. Add a bit of salt and pepper with the rest of the herbs and spices.  Then pour in the sherry or port wine to de-glaze. Take the stock that you made and strain out the shrimp peels pour the stock over the vegetables. Cover and turn the heat to low. Simmer for 15 mins and then add the cream. Once the creamy mixture begins to simmer again add the roux a teaspoon at a time and stir it in waiting five mins or so to see how thick it gets each time so that it does not get to thick. Some people like it on the thick side, we keep it a little on the soupy side.

Now cover it and simmer over low heat until the potatoes are almost soft. Uncover and check thickness, if too thick add some more stock or cream, if too thin ad more roux. Also check for salt to taste. Add some fresh chopped parsley. Add the shrimp meat. You can add them whole or cut them up a little bit. We cut them up some so they spread out a little more. Once you drop the shrimp in give them a gentle stir cook them only until they are opaque about five or seven mins. Then remove the pot from the heat and your bisque is ready to serve. 
One of the best combinations in the world is this soup alongside french bread. So make sure you get some or better yet make it your self. 

One of my upcoming posts will be about just that. Baking bread at home.

Keep an eye out!

I hope you give this recipe a try. Let me know how it turns out. After having this soup try to eat light for a few days and maybe get some exercise. And whatever you do do not get your cholesterol checked for a least a few weeks!!!