Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Shrimp & Armagnac Bisque

I've given myself an unofficial goal this fall and winter to make soup at least once every couple of weeks, and to try new soup recipes, both original and from other sources. I love soup, and consider it to be one of the ultimate comfort foods. It can range from simple and healthy to over-the-top and decadent. I'd like to find a nice balance by creating a variety over the coming months.

One of the soups on my To Do List was this New Orleans inspired Shrimp and Armagnac Bisque from world renowned chef John Besh. His newest cookbook Besh Big Easy includes this recipe along with variations for blue crab bisque and crawfish bisque, both of which sound and look spectacular.

Simmering away

A concern I had prior to making this bisque is that it is cooked with the shells and heads of the shrimp and then all of it is pureed together. I was a little nervous about shell fragments making it into the bisque, but honestly, once it was strained the result was a creamy and velvety finished product. It's important to press on the solids in the strainer to extract as much flavorful bisque as possible. Don't be afraid to use some elbow grease.

I made this bisque with standard headless wild Gulf shrimp, simply because I had gotten some on sale recently at Whole Foods and it was hanging out in my freezer waiting for its purpose. I added a few extra shrimp to the recipe to make up for the fact that I didn't have the heads to provide extra flavor. I also used a high quality Armenian brandy, which had been aged 7 years. You'll always have a tastier result when you use the best ingredients.

I actually halved the recipe below and yielded three somewhat generous servings. They were itching for some crunchy oyster crackers, but I didn't have any on hand. It was still excellent even without them. A little spicy, a lot aromatic, and truly exquisite.

Shrimp & Armagnac Bisque
Serves 8 to 10
(From Besh Big Easy)

1/4 cup olive oil
2 dozen medium wild American shrimp, peeled and deveined, heads and shells reserved (I used shrimp without the heads so I threw in a few extra shrimp to make up for the difference)
1/4 cup flour
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/4 bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig fresh thyme (I used a big pinch of dried thyme)
1 teaspoon dried tarragon (I omitted this because I don't care for tarragon)
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup Armagnac or other brandy
6 cups shrimp stock or water
2 cups heavy cream
Big dash Worcestershire
Big dash Tabasco
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. Add the shrimp heads and shells and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Add the flour and stir in well, then add the onions, celery, bell pepper, and garlic. Lower the heat to medium and cook for 15 minutes more. Add the thyme, tarragon, bay leaf, and pepper flakes, stir well, and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the Armagnac (off the heat, it is alcohol after all) and shrimp and cook, stirring, for several minutes. Stir in the shrimp stock and heavy cream, raise the heat to medium high, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a slow simmer and cook for 25 minutes more. Remove from the heat and discard the thyme sprig and bay leaf.

Puree the bisque in a blender. Strain into bowls (or a clean pot--you will likely need to gently reheat it if you took a while to strain it in batches), season well with Worcestershire, Tabasco, salt, and pepper, and serve.


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