Creamy, silky lobster bisque with a glass of wine and a salad would make a superlative celebratory dish. It is not over the top yet still feels extravagant. It's nearing the end of summer now, so in my book, it's a consolation prize. Does it really matter? You could save this for Christmas or New Year's, but why wait?
I learned to make this in the French manner from my mentor-chef Bernard. He used the lobster shells for the broth, and saved the meat for another dish. Cooked rice or buerre manie (uncooked butter and flour) thickened the soup, and everything was blasted in blender and then strained. It made a rich soup, but not a meal.
Here I've streamlined the process and avoided the blender, since you would need a pretty powerful one to grind the shells (go for it if you have a Vitamix, but you still might need to strain it.) Adding the lobster meat to the soup at the end makes this a more substantial soup for four, or a starter for six people. Steam the lobster in one inch of water and save it for making the broth. If cooking your own live lobster makes you nervous, most lobster places will sell you a whole cooked one in the shell. If only buying the meat, you will have to supply some fish stock, clam juice, or chicken stock to bolster the broth.
Once the lobster is cooked, remove the meat and break up the shells and body. Sautee them with a few vegetables to add extra flavor. Simmer everything in lobster cooking water and wine and strain. Buerre manie gives the soup some body and richness without making it too thick. Add cream, sherry and the lobster meat and your festive supper is ready. So, go ahead, open that one pre-Christmas present and enjoy a quiet evening.
Lobster bisque recipe
1 rounded teaspoon salt
1 (1 3/4- to 2-pound) live lobster
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 small carrot, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
2 thyme sprigs
1 clove garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup cream sherry
2 tablespoons soft, unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup heavy cream.
1. In an 8- to 10-quart pot over high heat, bring 2 inches of water to a boil. Add the salt and the lobster, head first, and cover the pot. Adjust the heat to gentle boil, and steam for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the shell is bright red and an antenna is easily released when you pull on it. With tongs, remove the lobster and set it on a rimmed baking sheet to cool. Reserve the cooking liquid.
2. When the lobster is cool, hold it over a bowl or a rimmed baking sheet to catch the juices, and remove the meat from the claws and tail. Coarsely chop the meat and refrigerate it until ready to use. Using kitchen shears, cut the shells and body into 2-inch pieces.
3. In a soup pot over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the lobster pieces and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Stir in the onion, carrot, celery, thyme sprigs and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, cayenne pepper and bay leaf, and cook for 2 minutes longer. Add 4 cups of the lobster cooking water, lobster juices and the wine. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for 45 minutes.
4. Set a colander over a clean pot and strain the broth into the pot. Discard the shells. Set the pot over medium heat. Add the sherry and bring to a simmer.
5. In a small bowl, stir the butter and flour together until smooth. Whisk it into the simmering broth and gently simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cream, and bring to a simmer. Stir in the lobster meat, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the bisque is hot all the way through.
6. Ladle into bowls and serve.