I thought it would be nice to have a soup starter for my brother's birthday dinner, so we only nibbled nuts and olives with a drink, before we sat down. I did do the Elizabeth David salted almonds, because it was a birthday meal. I had little carrots and made some marinated olives with lemon slices, cracked pepper, olive oil, aleppo pepper and the like. But I kept the pre-table nibbles to a minimum, hoping everyone would have room to eat the rest of the food.
There is no getting around the cream in this soup. It can be made with half and half, and it will still be good, but it is not chowder, and milk will not do. So we should eat small portions, and save it for special occasions. It is a classic soup, which, in my view , is not served often enough these days. I love it.
The great thing about shrimp (or lobster) bisque, aside from the yummy, old fashioned fancy pinkness of it all, is that you can do it mostly ahead-even freeze it- if you just make sure to save your shrimp shells in a bag in the freezer, whenever you make shrimp. Then, you do not have to shell your shrimp to make the broth, and you can add the raw shrimp , just at the end, to cook them in the soup, right before you serve it. No need to defrost your shrimp until The Day.
You probably already know that unless you live in a particularly auspicious location and have an unusually trustworthy seafood person, it is best to buy shrimps with shells on, frozen. The non-frozen ones on offer are generally previously frozen, and defrosted. ( If you buy them frozen, you can then defrost them at the last minute, and they will taste much fresher.)
Of course, you can save those new shells for your next venture needing some. This does not take alot of space or planning, you just have a little bag of shells. (n.b. This approach also works pretty well with freezing poultry carcasses and /or resulting stocks, after roasting birds. Then you can serve a related soup or sauce with your next bird.) I only have a top of the fridge shoebox-type freezer, and do it easily. It appeals to my (probably base) hoarding instincts to think of these potential goodies squirreled away.
2 lbs of shrimp
the shells from two pounds of shrimp
light olive oil
2 tbsps tomato paste
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 cloves sliced garlic
1/3 cup fino sherry
2 tsps sherry vinegar
5 cups cream or half and half
1 + cups cooked rice
You first heat several tbsps oil in a 5 qt pot, and add the shrimp shells. Cook just a minute or so. Add the tomato paste, stir to coat, turning heat down. Cook this for a few minutes. Add the sherry and vinegar, tomatoes, cream, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. Add the herbs and the garlic. Add the cream. Cook over a low heat, at a very slow bubble, for 15-20 minutes. Strain, and discard the shells and the herbs. Cool. You can refrigerate or freeze at this point.
Reheat gently, while peeling your shrimp. Devein and butterfly them. (Don't forget, you can save those shells.) Stir in rice and shrimp, and cook gently til the shrimp is just done and pink. Top with a bit more fresh tarragon, chopped. A little brandy is sometimes added earlier on. I generally don't do that, because I like the sherry taste and predominant shrimp flavors. This will serve six, in little bowls for starters. A shellfish bisque always feels sumptuous to me. And lately, quite nice shrimps have started to be more affordable locally.
I would serve this with a fino sherry, if I thought anyone in my family would drink it, but they probably wouldn't really want to. So we had a Muscadet with the whole meal, which I always like with shellfish, and is pleasant and gulpable. We passed around a plate of store-bought shards of very crisp, dry, oddly shaped broken crackers called "Gold 'N Krackle", which I like and which may, on reflection, be the polar opposite of shrimp bisque, foodwise. They even claim to be "healthy."
This was more than enough for a starter portion for the 6 of us. You will want to serve this bisque in small bowls, because of its richness. I think it would look much prettier in little porcelain ones, but I don't have any small china bowls. So I used my six little ikea utility glass ones instead.
Soon to follow: Plum Tart (Part II); Wild Mushroom Lasagna (Part III)