I came across a recipe in my Le Cordon Bleu textbook last year that I instantly knew Tom and I would love. It was a very traditional French Shrimp Bisque. It called for cognac, butter, heavy cream and shrimp - ingredients that would inspire any chef in training. I immediately started experimenting and enhancing it. I could practically taste what this soup would turn out like as I read the recipe. I usually begin by executing a recipe as written, but my greatest culinary feats come from playing with new and interesting substitute ingredients that my palette compels me to try. And this bisque is no exception. I've now made many variations of this heavenly dish. Below is my favorite outcome of this delectable dinner for two.
Shrimp and Lobster Bisque
2 oz butter
1 medium brown/yellow onion, small dice
1 carrot, small dice
1 tbsp brown sugar
8 large shrimp, biggest your store can get, shells on
1 small rock lobster tail
Shells of 1 additional lobster, optional*
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 springs of fresh thyme
4 parsley stems
1/2 cup cognac
1 cup white wine
4 cups water, cold
Cornstarch slurry (3 tbsp of cornstarch mixed with 1 cup of cold water)
1 cup heavy cream, hot
Salt to taste
White pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
Heat butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and brown sugar. Sauté until lightly browned. Add lobster tail, shrimp, lobster shells, thyme and parsley stems. Sauté until shrimp and lobster tail turn pink. Add ketchup and smoked paprika and stir well. Add cognac and wine. Simmer until reduced by half. Remove the shrimp and lobster tail. Peel and devein them. Return shells to saucepan. Cut shrimp and lobster meat into small dice and reserve for garnish. Add 4 cups of water and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain. Return soup to saucepan and bring back to a simmer. Add cornstarch slurry a little at a time until soup reaches desired thickening consistency. Season with salt and white pepper.
At serving time, add hot cream, diced shrimp, lobster and chives.
Serves 2 with a French baguette and a glass of Chardonnay.
*One of the most interesting lessons during my culinary studies involved the use of lobster shells as a key flavor building component in seafood stews and sauces. Anytime we have shrimp or lobster, the shells go into a freezer bag, ready for this future recipe. You never know when inspiration will strike!