While the shrimp for this velvety smooth, slightly spicy bisque did not sleep in the ocean last night, they did recently sleep in the waters off South Carolina near Kiawah Island, so are bona fide wild shrimp. Although many pureed soups are called bisques, the classic bisque is made from seafood, typically shrimp, although lobster and crab can be used. Where the term “bisque” came from is up for debate, but the soup is definitely of French origin. Traditionally, the unshelled seafood is sautéed in a heavy saucepan, an aromatic broth added and when cooked, the entire mixture is pureed, shells and all. The concoction is then popped back in the saucepan with the addition of heavy cream for a lovely smooth pureed soup. Modern versions only use the shells to flavor the broth with rice or bread crumbs along with the cream for thickening.
Pureed soups are delicious, but I like my soup to have some substance and added spice. After shelling and deveining the shrimp, reserving the shells as well as the shrimp, I sautéed the shells in a mirepoix of onions, carrots, and garlic, then added a fish broth along with tomatoes, tomatillos and my favorite smoky chili, minced chipotes en adobo. After straining the broth through a sieve and discarding the shells, I added half the reserved shrimp and when cooked, pureed the soup with an electric hand blender. The remaining shrimp was chopped and added to cook briefly before serving, thus making the finished product a combination of a bisque and a chowder.
Spicy Shrimp Bisque
Adapted from Williams Sonoma Soup
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 pounds raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
3 plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
3 tomatillos, coarsely chopped
1 chipotle en adobo with added sauce, chopped
4 cups fish stock, prepared clam broth or chicken broth
1/2 cup fine fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons dry sherry, optional
Salt to taste
Pinch cayenne or Old Bay
In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onion, carrot and garlic and sauté, stirring until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp shells and sauté until pink and vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the plum tomatoes, tomatillos and the minced chipotle en adobo along with the desired stock and cook until tomatoes and tomatillos have softened, about 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the shrimp shells and discard.
Process the mixture until finely chopped in batches either in a blender or food processor. Remove to a fine-mesh strainer set over a soup pot. Press down on the solids with the back of a spoon to completely extract the liquid. Discard the solids.
Reserve about 24 shrimp ( I reserved 12 as I used jumbo shrimp) or roughly half of the shrimp. Add the remaining shrimp and bread crumbs to the pot. Cook over medium heat until the shrimp turn pink and are opaque and the bread crumbs have softened, about 3 minutes. Using a blender or food processor, puree the soup in batches until smooth. An electric hand blender makes this an easy task.
Still on medium heat, add the cream, optional sherry, salt and the cayenne or Old Bay seasoning. Cook for another 2 minutes to blend the flavors. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Chop the reserved shrimp into 1/2-1-inch pieces. Just before serving, add the shrimp pieces to the soup and cook until pink and opaque, 1-2 minutes longer.
In warmed bowls, ladle the soup and add a sprinkling of Old Bay Seasoning, if desired.
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