The shrimp bisque remains one of the favorite traditional French dishes. Its origins are from Charente, in the Western part of France (our favorite source for culinary inspiration, with great reason!), where the abundance of seafood (aka shrimp as well) makes this a wonderfully fresh and tasty dish.
This is a recipe by celebrity chef and Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten (Ina, we all love you here at Destinations Uncovered), but I will tell you my own experience of making the bisque, starting with shopping for shrimp. You would need about a pound for 4 servings and my tip is that you don’t buy the cheapest and, hence, the smallest shrimps: you will have a harder time peeling them. It’s also a good idea to buy shrimp with the head on: you need to make some seafood stock, and what you peel off the shrimp is the best for that. So, once you are home, you can start cleaning your shrimp: take off the head, peel off the hard shell and throw everything peeled into a big pot with boiling water – as said, this will make your stock (great stuff!) Let boil for about 15 minutes, then strain and set aside. You also have to devein the shrimp, meaning that, with a sharp knife, you take out the stringy vein on the back of the shrimp (it’s really not as disgusting as it sounds). Yes the cleaning and deveining bit can take some time, so start this at least a few hours before you’re ready to cook and serve. Set your clean shrimp aside.
The second important part of your bisque is the leeks. Take about 3 leeks and chop them. Cook them in olive oil until they are light brown: you want them tender but not burnt obviously (you have probably read this in all recipes…there is just no better way of saying it). Ina says 10 minutes, which is about right, but use your best judgment rather than time. Add garlic (about 3-4 cloves – you can never have enough garlic in a dish) and season with some cayenne pepper. Then, add the shrimp. Here is the key to cooking the shrimp: you cook them only until they turn pink-anything over that will make your shrimp too chewy, ruin your dinner and end the world (ok, maybe we are exaggerating here). The cognac and sherry go in to complete this great mixture: don’t overdo it, maybe about ¼ cup of each. Now comes the really fancy stuff: everything goes in the food processor and is blended to a puree.
The last part of the making of this soup involves melting ½ stick of butter in a pot (those of you who love Ina know that butter is never to be missed in her dishes), then adding ¼ all-purpose flour and 2 cups of half and half. Stir and then add the pure, the stock (yes, remember the stock?), 1/3 cup of tomato paste and salt and pepper.