I was inspired to go a little retro at work today by anthropod's rather wonderful quiche recipe that she noded yesterday. I'm so glad she did - cooks tend to quickly overlook so many common old recipes because they are just so - well, common. Bisque happens to be one of them.

These dishes have only stood the test of time because they happen to be fabulous. I was making a batch of prawn gau gees at work today, and I really hate throwing away those nice fresh prawn shells. They have so much flavour and can be used in plenty of different soups, stock and sauces.

Pretty much any prawn-like shellfish shells can be used in this recipe - shrimp, crab, lobster, marron - whatever you can get your hands on. And I will be front up and honest here - this bisque takes a fair bit of time to make. You won't be making this for a quick, mid-week dinner. But, if you have a lazy Saturday afternoon ahead of you, and a few friends coming over - tinkering away at this recipe will prove very rewarding - and a flavoursome treat as well.


  • 500 gm (1 lb-ish) shellfish shells, prawn, shrimp, lobster etc (cooked or raw - doesn't matter)
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 stick of celery, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs Butter
  • 250 ml (1 cup) dry white wine
  • 250 ml tomato puree
  • 1/2 tsp saffron threads (optional)
  • 1.5 litres water
  • Bisque
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 50 ml (2 fl oz) brandy (or Cognac)
  • 2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 Tbs fresh tarragon, chopped (optional)
  • 150 ml (5 fl oz) cream (35 % butterfat)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • beurre manié ¹
  • 2 Tbs butter, soft
  • 3 Tbs flour
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Method

    First make the stock

    If the shells are large, like lobster, smash them up with a mallet. Place into a food processor and grind until the shells are finely chopped. This pulverization method will give you maximum surface area, and hence much more flavour.

    Heat a large stock pot to a medium-high heat and melt the butter and oil. Add the onion, carrots and celery and sauté for 6 or 7 minutes. Don't allow them to colour too deeply, just a light golden brown. Add the shellfish paste and stir - cooking for 5 or so minutes. If they were raw, they will turn an orangey - grey colour in this step. Add the wine and allow the liquid to bubble away to half the original volume. Add the tomato, saffron and water and bring the mixture to the simmer. Cook gently, but at a nice bubble for 30 minutes.

    If you have a mouli (food mill), pass the stock - solids and all, through this. If not, pass the stock through a strainer and press down hard on the solids to extract all that nice seafood flavour.

    For the bisque, heat the oil in a large heavy based saucepan and fry the shallots and tarragon gently for 3 minutes. Add the brandy and bubble away until almost no moisture is left. Place the shellfish stock into the pot and allow it to come to the simmer.

    To make the beurre manié ¹, rub the flour and butter together until you have a thick paste. Stick this paste to the end of a whisk, and whip through the bisque - it will thicken slightly and become glossy. Add the cream and taste for salt and pepper. Strain the bisque through your finest sieve.

    Just before you are serving, stir in the lemon juice to give the bisque a little tang.

    Serve in deep bowls with plenty of good bread and a bottle of chardonnay

  • ¹ A note on beurre manié. This is simply a flour and butter mixture used to thicken soups and sauces. It is similar to a roux, but it is blended in towards the end of cooking, rather than the start.

  • Oh, and I hardly ever do this, but Evil Catullus' Crawfish bisque looks damn excellent. If you get the time, I urge you to try that recipe as well.
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