What does bisque mean?
A bisque is a smooth, creamy French style of soup, traditionally made from crustaceans like lobster, crab or crayfish. It should include a stock made from the shells, a large amount of cream, and a thickening agent made from either finely-ground shells or rice. The meat is typically cooked and used as a topping.
The definition of what makes a bisque has changed a little over the years. Original recipes were seafood only, with the cream typically added early on in the process and used as a thickener, rather than being swirled through at the end. These recipes often incorporated an extra thickening agent made from a paste of ground up shells. These days, however, rice is more commonly used for thickening, and the name ‘bisque’ is often used in a broader sense to describe any thick, smooth soup that is made with cream added either during or after cooking.
Difference between soup and bisque
In fact, a bisque is a type of soup, so all bisque is soup, but not all soups are bisque. If you make bisque the old-fashioned way, the key difference is the way in which cream is used in the dish. Traditional recipes used much more cream than regular soups - even more than cream soups like cream of mushroom or cream of tomato - and the cream was added much earlier in the cooking process, to be used as a thickening agent, where regular soup recipes added it at the very end.
The bisque has evolved somewhat over the years, however, and many modern recipes now add the cream at the end, just like a regular soup. The term ‘bisque’ tends to be used in a looser and more general sense these days, which can make it a little tricky to define. Broadly speaking, however, it refers to a thick soup, with a base made from blended ingredients, an extremely smooth texture and lots of cream.
Ingredients to make bisque
The main ingredient of a bisque is usually a shellfish like lobster, crab, shrimp, or crayfish, but occasionally other ingredients such as tomato, pumpkin or chicken are used. Aromatic vegetables like celery, onion and carrot are typically used alongside the main ingredient to make a flavourful base, and the dish is well-seasoned, using various herbs and spices.
Cream is a must for making bisque, and sometimes butter is also added for extra creaminess. There is usually also some white wine, sherry or brandy added for an extra luxurious touch, along with rice for extra thickness.
How to make bisque
There are various different ways of making bisque, but for a traditional seafood bisque, you should cook the shellfish in their shells, then remove the meat and set it aside for later. The shells are then typically cooked in butter with a mirepoix of onion, celery and carrot, herbs and spices, and usually some form of alcohol like white wine or sherry.
When making a traditional bisque the cream should also be added at this point, sometimes along with a roux, but many modern recipes now add the cream later. Rice may also be added at this point for extra thickening.
The mixture is left to simmer until thickened, at which point the shells and rice can either be taken out, or puréed along with the rest of the ingredients. If the cream has not already been added, it should be stirred through at this point. Finally, the bisque is divided into several bowls, and the cooked meat is added back in as a garnish.
A comforting but decadent classic, lobster is one of the most popular varieties of bisque, and this luxuriously creamy version from Cafe Delites adds in succulent lobster tails cooked in garlic butter as an extra indulgence. Prepare it as an appetiser to get that special occasion dinner off to the perfect start, or just make it for yourself on a day when you feel like a treat.
Tomato bisque is perfect if you’re not a big fan of seafood, and this slightly spicy recipe from All Recipes can easily be made vegetarian friendly by switching the chicken broth for vegetable broth. Tomatoes are already a popular soup ingredient, and their tangy, slightly sweet flavour goes perfectly with cream. Preparation time is a breezy 10 minutes, so you can enjoy gourmet cooking without spending hours in the kitchen.
This simple crab bisque recipe from Delish uses ready-made seafood stock and pre-shelled crab meat, so you don’t have to take time picking the meat from the shells. This is another quick and easy dish, taking just 55 minutes from start to finish, and you can even make it ahead if you’re preparing for a big occasion.
A rich, indulgent bisque with a Cajun twist from The Modern Proper, this recipe has a bountiful mix of all your favourite shellfish, with a spicy blend of Old Bay seasoning, Cajun seasoning and cayenne pepper. It’s almost impossibly creamy, with butter, heavy cream, half and half and creamed corn creating decadence in every mouthful. Far too filling for an appetiser, it should be enjoyed as a main course with warm sourdough bread.
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