Thursday, January 12, 2017

'Don't Scrimp on the Shrimp' Bisque

Comfort food, based either on a flexible interpretation or even better, sans recipe, is eaten often chez nous. At times, however, following a methodical and exacting approach appeals because it simultaneously teaches new skills while honouring old ones. In that way, expertise continues to build upon itself. Special celebratory meals assist in this endeavour by giving carte blanche in terms of the expense and amount of time required for elaborate cuisine, making its indulgence a joyous fit.

Shrimp bisque was the first course for our Noël dinner

If you are of the squeamish persuasion, choosing whole, raw shrimp in all their verminous horror replete with unnerving eyestalks is challenging. The Calm One and I tootled off in our much loved electric car to visit four supermarkets which were scattered in and around Angoulême before I actually put a hand in the freezer filled with shellfish, pulled out the right-sized packet, and put it in our cart. As we skipped from market to market, cognac went into one basket, but not the alien creatures, fresh chives went into another, but not the fringy frights, and in the penultimate shop, roast beef, but not the briny thingies. We had worked up enough acclimatisation, not to mention we were running out of stores, hence on the final try, celery found its rightful place as finally did the shrimp though my eyes were partially closed when I plonked them into the cart. As he said, all that creepy crawly aspect is bad enough, but do they have to be grey too?

The camera lied as the shrimp were a shade of slimy slate

makes four ample servings

  • Butter, sweet, 1 T
  • Shells and heads from 400 grams of raw, medium shrimp
  • Litres, 2, scant, water
  • Bay leaf, 1
  • Butter, sweet, 3 T
  • Shrimp, medium, fresh or frozen, whole, raw, deveined, shelled, about 30, 400 grams
  • Bay leaf, 1
  • Carrots, medium, 2
  • Celery, stalks, 2
  • Shallots, 6
  • Cognac, 235 ml
  • Rice, white, long grain, 4 T
  • Parsley, fresh, several small sprigs
  • Thyme, fresh, several small sprigs
  • Cayenne, 1/4 tsp (I used one tiny dried whole pepper)
  • Cream, 235 ml
  • Lemon juice, freshly squeezed, 3 T
  • Chives, fresh, 4 T
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In order to overcome my aversion of getting physically close to shrimp while shelling, deveining, and decapitating them, I thought of all the wonderful people who fished, packaged, and transported these wild shrimp to me. As it was the least I could do to express my gratitude, I had no trouble in doing what was needed to be done:  locating the first joint from the head, and slicing it off; pulling off the shell; cutting out the black vein.

While the shrimp resided, covered, in the fridge, the shrimp stock was made.

Stir fry the shells and heads in one tablespoon of butter over moderate heat for several minutes till slightly browned. Add water and the bay leaf. Simmer, uncovered, for a half of an hour.

Strain the broth via a fine sieve and discard the shells.

Stir fry the prepared shrimp in a tablespoon of butter over moderate heat for several minutes till opaque. Upon peeking into the kitchen, The Calm One queried, is that the same as those creepy things? Cover and reserve them in the fridge, keeping four shrimp separate which will be used for the garnish.

Now this is something a mother can love

Finely chop the carrots, celery, and shallots. Slowly saute while stirring them occasionally in two tablespoons of butter over medium heat till soft, about fifteen to twenty minutes.

Mirepoix or soffrito forms the savoury base of many a dish

Remove pot from heat and pour in the cognac. Return to heat and while stirring, let the alcohol mostly evaporate.

Add the tomato paste and rice. Stir for a minute.

Pour in the shrimp stock and add a bay leaf, cayenne pepper, parsley, and thyme.

Parsley, thyme, bay leaves, along with the shallots, came from our potager

Simmer, uncovered, for thirty minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Add all the shrimp except the ones reserved for the garnish. Blend the soup with a stick mixer. Then pass the mixture through a fine sieve; the more you can get through the sieve, the thicker the soup. Return the bisque to the cleaned pot and add cream. Gently reheat and add lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Finely mince the chives and the four reserved shrimp. Place the garnish in each soup plate and ladle the bisque around them. Since what I wrote in the previous week's post captures the essence of the bisque, I'll repeat it here:  Being of Goldilocks consistency, the bisque washed over my palate in a briny wave with an undercurrent of spice, nutty taste, slight sweetness, a bit of tang, and buttery savouriness, all laced with cream and cognac. It was the better the next day, and the day after, it reached regale status.

À la prochaine!


Wikipedia entry on bisque

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