Life in a Northern Town

Shrimp & Tomato Bisque

I picked up an old cookbook, Soup A Way Of Life by Barbara Kafka the other day and started leafing through it. It had been quite a while since I used it, I rarely need a recipe when I make soup— most of the time my inspiration comes from leftovers in the fridge. Shrimp bisque seemed like a whole different deal—the combination of big flavor, smooth texture and pieces of tender shrimp required some finesse and technique. This recipe delivers on all counts, it's one of the best shrimp bisques I've eaten.

Barbara said in the preface of her cookbook, 'Soup is easy food, easy for the eater and easy for the cook. Aside from a few basically restaurant soups, traditional and complex, a little variation in ingredients or technique will only personalize the soup rather than causing disaster'. Personalization instead of dinner disaster, now that's the kind of food I can wrap my head around. Another bonus of becoming a soup making fiend— leftovers in the freezer. They come in remarkably handy when you realize it's 8 o'clock and you haven't even started thinking about dinner. Don't freeze the cooked shrimp in the soup. It's best to add new uncooked shrimp to the re-heated soup before you serve it (make sure to cook the shrimp thoroughly in the soup prior to serving it). There is nothing more disappointing than rubbery shrimp in a beautiful tomato bisque.

Shrimp Bisque(Adapted From Soup A Way Of Life By Barbara Kafka)

6 cups seafood stock (I used this one, or you can make your own)
2 cups dry white wine
12 - 14 large shrimp in the shell
7 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
 carrot, chopped
1 rib of celery, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 whole cloves
1 sprig thyme
1/2 cup of Cognac or brandy
One 28 ounce can of tomatoes and purée (I used Carmelina's, my favorite)
2 tsp tomato paste
8 tbsp flour
2 tbsp mild paprika
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
5 tsp kosher salt
Hot red pepper sauce, to taste (I used Frank's Hot Sauce)
Fresh lemon juice, to taste

Preparation
Peel the shrimp, reserving the shells, quarter and refrigerate. In a medium stockpot, heat 2 tbsp of butter and the olive oil over medium-high heat, add the shells and cook for 8 - 10 minutes. Remove the shells and add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, cloves and thyme. Lower the heat to the lowest possible level and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Pour in 2 cups of white wine and the brandy. Raise the heat. Bring just to a boil. Add the seafood stock and bring to a boil. Stir in the tomatoes (with the purée or juices) and tomato paste and bring to a boil again. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes. Very carefully, purée the stock with an immersion blender or a counter top blender until it's very smooth. Keep warm on the stove top.

In another medium stockpot, melt the remaining butter over low heat. Stir in the flour and paprika to make a roux. Cook, alternatively stirring and mashing the roux down in the pan, for about 5 minutes.

Whisk in 1 cup of the pureed stock into the pan until smooth. Slowly whisk in the remaining liquid. Bring to a boil, whisking frequently, to ensure a smooth soup. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring with a wooden spoon, especially around the edges of the pan, for about 10 minutes. Stir in the cream, salt, red pepper hot sauce, lemon juice and shrimp. Cook until shrimp is pink and heated through, about 3 - 5 minutes. Serve immediately.