Lobster bisque is one of my favorite soups and while a good one can be a truly amazing taste experience, a bad bisque is a real horror for the senses and I’ve had the misfortune of having sampled a number of the latter. The following recipe is the end result of examining several recipes and combining them into a fairly good example of what a lobster bisque should be.
Originating in France, bisque began as a means to use shellfish that were damaged or misshapen and thus not good enough for market. Made with lobster, crab, shrimp or crayfish the authentic versions had the shells of the crustaceans ground up into a fine paste and used to thicken the soup. The idea was for the cook to extract every bit of flavor from the fish and thus enhancing the bisque.
This version will follow the classic method of searing the lobster before cooking it in wine and other flavorful ingredients but will not use the shell in the soup itself. Unlike many other recipes I don’t use rice as a thickener either, but rely instead on a roux for this duty. I also do not strain my bisque with a china cap as is very common with other recipes because I don’t mind sacrificing some of the smoothness for having the vegetables as part of the soup.
- 1 three pound live lobster
- 3 stalks celery, chopped
- 3 shallots, chopped
- 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tbsp cooking oil
- ½ cup butter
- 4 tbsp flour
- 1 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
- ¼ cup brandy
- 1½ cup whipping cream
- 1 cup dry sherry(or white wine)
- 2 liters chicken stock (about 8 ½ cups)
- 1 small can tomato paste
- 1 tsp parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ tsp thyme
- ½ tsp cayenne
- ½ tsp black pepper
Killing your lobster:
- Place the lobster in your freezer for about 15 minutes. This dulls the lobster and reduces both movement and the amount of fluid that may come out.
- Use a large chef’s knife. The knife will also need to be sharp enough to cut through the shell.
- Position the lobster on a wooden cutting board. If the cutting board moves, place a dampened kitchen towel beneath it.
- Flatten and hold down the lobster with one hand where the tail and head segments meet. This will be two-thirds down the lobster’s body.
- With the blade towards the front of the lobster, aim the knife above the head where the horizontal and vertical creases meet. It’s about 1 to 1 ½ inches behind the eyes. Swiftly puncture the lobster all the way through. Then with another motion, finish cutting through the lobster toward the eyes and away from the tail.
- Split the lobster down the center.
- Separate the tail, the head and the claw pieces, discard the green tomalley from the head sections.
- Heat oil in a large sauté pan over high.
- Sear the pieces of lobster cut side down, adding the claws whole.
- Reduce heat to medium and cook until the shells become bright red and the flesh is nearly cooked (about 7-8 minutes).
- Remove lobster pieces from the pan and set aside.
- Add 2 tbsp of the butter to the pan and sauté the shallots, carrot, celery and garlic until lightly browned.
- Stir in tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes.
- Whisk in the sherry, cooking for 3 minutes then adding chicken stock.
- Add parsley, bay leaf, thyme, pepper, cayenne and lobster pieces to the pan and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove lobster and set aside.
- Melt remaining butter in a small saucepan, add flour and whisk to make a roux.
- Stir the brandy and chopped tarragon into the roux, then in thirds, add the roux to the bisque, whisking to remove any lumps before adding more. Simmer for 15 minutes.
- You may choose to strain the bisque at this time using a china cap or other tool.(I do not do so)
- Remove claw meat from shell, cut into small cubes and add to the bisque
- Add cream and blend with an immersion blender until smooth.
- Remove meat from tail pieces and slice into bite size pieces.
- Serve topped with pieces of lobster meat and a sprinkle of chives.