If you want to sound posh, just tell your dinner guests that you’re serving a seafood bisque for dinner. Guaranteed they’ll accept your invitation without a minute of hesitation. If you’re a purist, you know that a true bisque is a seafood soup, but it’s a term often used to describe any creamy, puréed soup. The origin of the word “bisque” is not super clear, but it’s likely derived from the word Biscay, as in the Bay of Biscay, a gulf that lies off Europe’s west coast, bordering between France and Spain.
Traditionally, a bisque is thickened with a paste made from crustacean shells. But, if like me, you have no desire to pummel crab and shrimp shells into oblivion, you can simply use good ol’ all-purpose flour. I took another shortcut and used chicken broth instead of a seafood broth. This is because I used canned crab and already shelled shrimp for my bisque. If you would like to cook your own crab and shrimp, by all means reserve those shells and make a delicious broth. You’ll want to cook the shells with butter, onion, celery, peppercorns, and bay leaves, until everything is brown and toasty. Deglaze the pan with sherry or wine, then add a good amount of water and simmer for a couple of hours until the broth has reduced by quite a bit. This is also a fantastic way of reducing kitchen waste, which is always on top of mind for me.
I know what you’re thinking: Renée, this soup is pricey. And, you’re right, it totally is. But it’s also fairly adaptable when it comes to the seafood used. If you spot a deal on small, cooked bay scallops or lobster (ha ha ha, I know), or even any firm, flaky fish, then go ahead and use those options instead. I always keep my eyes peeled for deals on shrimp, and stock my freezer when the price is hot.
And, given its posh profile, I like to serve this on special occasions or when I’m feeling fancy and want to use the pretty dishes and silverware. This soup is a reminder to use the good stuff, both when it comes to ingredients and tableware.
What I like about this soup is that it’s light and lovely, perfect for summer dining on the patio. There is a bit of heat, thanks to the hot sauce, but feel free to dial it down, or up, as you see fit.
All in all, the technique (with shortcuts) is really simple and the soup can be made in 30 minutes. A couple of tips though. Be sure to have the vegetables chopped fairly small (save the big chunks for chowders) as they’ll be incorporated into the roux (melted butter and flour) easier. And the sherry isn’t optional. You don’t have to use the most expensive bottle; heck, even the stuff from the grocery store will do. But its fortified flavour brings an essential nuance to the bisque.
I keep the garnish simple with parsley and green onions, and for visual appeal, one can add pieces of seafood to the top of the soup as well. Serve bowls of bisque with good, crusty bread, or homemade buttery biscuits. Oyster crackers or crostini are also classic companions.