Last week, as I toiled away in my home office on a typically cool and foggy Bay Area Fall day, I was struck with a hankering. As I mentioned yesterday, I was working on an assignment for a client that required me to make a large pot of shrimp stock. So there I was, with a pile of peeled and deveined shrimp and a pot of shrimp stock and I found myself dreaming of sitting outside at Abbott’s in Noank, Connecticut, on a warm mid-August afternoon watching the sailboats coming and going in Long Island Sound while tucking into a perfect, buttery hot lobster roll and a bowl of creamy lobster bisque (which we don’t ever need, but my mother-in-law just can’t resist adding onto the order at the last minute.) But here I was in the chilly Bay Area, with shrimp and shrimp stock, so shrimp bisque with a side of crusty sourdough bread seemed like a reasonable substitute.
Bisque is a soup of French origins, traditionally made by first sauteeing shellfish (shrimp, lobster, crab, or crayfish) shells in butter, then cooking them a second time by steeping them with other ingredients in water (the word bisque, in fact, derives from the french bis cuites or “twice cooked”). A traditional bisque is thickened with rice, though you’ll find a surprising plethora of recipes that refer to this traditional thickening method in their headnotes, only to provide instructions for a soup thickened with a butter-flour roux.
This very simple version is thickened in the traditional manner—simmered with a small amount of long-grain white rice, then pureed at the end just before the cream is added—so you don’t need to bother with making a roux. This has the added benefit of making it ever-so-slightly healthier, too. If you don’t have shrimp stock and don’t care to make it (even though it’s really easy! See my recipe here), feel free to substitute a store-bought shellfish stock, such as Better Than Boullion’s Lobster Base, just be sure to taste the soup before adding the salt (you’ll certainly want to add less than what’s called for in this recipe).
And if you are so fortunate as to find yourself with a lobster, a pot, and a couple hours to kill, this could easily be made into a lobster bisque to rival Abbott’s (but you’ll still have to go to the Connecticut shore for the view, the weather, and the perfect, buttery hot lobster roll.)Print
This is a classic seafood bisque that is made with shellfish, shellfish stock, onion, carrot, celery, lemon juice, and tomato; enriched with heavy cream; and, most importantly, is thickened with rice instead of flour. You’ll find many similar versions that include various herbs and other aromatics (thyme, bay leaves, tarragon, garlic, leeks, and even orange zest) or are spiked with booze (brandy, cognac, white wine, or sherry)—all perfectly authentic embellishments. This simple version leaves no doubt that the flavorful shrimp is the star.
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1/2 cup long-grain rice
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1–1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- 8 cups homemade Shrimp Stock or store-bought low-sodium shrimp or fish stock, divided
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 stalk celery, diced
- 2 pounds shrimp, shelled (shells used for stock, if making from scratch), deveined, cooked in boiling salted water for 3 to 4 minutes
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons snipped chives, for garnish
- Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add butter and, when melted, add the onion and cook, stirring, until onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add rice, tomato paste, salt, and cayenne and cook, stirring, for another minute or so.
- Add the carrot, celery, and stock and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer about 30 minutes until the vegetables and rice are soft.
- Using an immersion blender or in batches in a countertop blender, puree the soup. Bring the soup back up to a simmer.
- Meanwhile reserve 4 whole shrimp for garnish and chop the rest into bite-sized pieces.
- When the soup is hot, add the diced cooked shrimp, cream, and lemon juice and cook until heated through.
- Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed.
- Serve garnished with the reserved cooked shrimp and chives.