This is one of the most delicious things I've ever made. It has a long list of ingredients that aren't cheap, but if the circumstances are right (lobster is on sale) I highly recommend giving this a try. It is sublime.
The original recipe from Epicurious calls for a whole 3lb lobster. I don't care to work with live lobsters but lobster tails were on sale so I figured I could make a substitution. I used eight 3oz lobster tails, so about 1.5 lbs. It was certainly more than enough meat, and you really need the shells for this. It may have been even more flavourful with the whole lobster but it was incredible with just the tails.
(These were $1.99 per tail which I think is a great deal but it's still a splurge to spend $16 on lobster. The end result would feed four as an appetizer or two to three as a main course with salad and bread.)
Besides the lobster, here are all the ingredients:
- 1 medium onion
- 1 celery rib
- 1 carrot
- 1 vine-ripened tomato (mine is peeled and frozen from summer so it looks odd in the picture)
- 1 full head garlic (you read that right)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- 8 black peppercorns
- 1/2 cup brandy
- 1/2 cup dry Sherry
- 4 cups fish stock (I purchased 2 cups in the grocery store seafood section where I got the lobster and used 2 cups of shrimp stock from my freezer at home made from boiling shrimp shells with onion, celery, bay leaf, etc.)
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch (optional, I didn't use this but it would thicken the broth if necessary)
I had to buy the sherry which I don't normally keep on hand but it was only about $7.00. I had just enough brandy in the cupboard from a little bottle I bought for a previous recipe. I also had to source fresh tarragon from a local market since it's not something I usually buy.
If the lobster tails are frozen, thaw them. Boil about 4 cups of water and plunge the lobster tails into the boiling water. Cook for 5 minutes and remove them with tongs to cool. Reserve the boiling liquid.
Once cool enough to handle, shell the lobster. For me this was the only unpleasant part of the whole process and I can't imagine using a whole lobster. Luckily, the meat will be chopped so you don't have to be careful. I tried breaking the tails and if that didn't work, I'd slice the shell lengthwise with a sharp knife and pick out the meat.
Cover and refrigerate the lobster meat...
... and reserve the shells. These shells are vitally important to the flavour of the bisque.
Chop your onion, celery, carrot and tomato. No need for uniform cuts, this will all be strained out in the end. Slice the garlic bulb in half across the equator; no need to peel it.
Now heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in your soup pot.
And add the lobster shells and sauté, stirring, for about 8 minutes.
Then add the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, tomato, peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme and tarragon. I didn't bother to chop the herbs. Add in the sherry and brandy as well and sauté for 5 more minutes until the booze is mostly evaporated. Things will be starting to smell pretty amazing at this point.
Add in the fish/shrimp stock and 2 cups of reserved lobster boiling liquid. My shrimp stock was still a little frozen so that's the ice-cube-looking thing at the front.
Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for an hour.
My stock looked like this after an hour.
Now strain the stock into a smaller sauce pan.
I only ended up with about 2.5 cups which seemed a little light, but it was so amazingly flavourful, it worked for me.
Now add in the tomato paste. I like this stuff in a tube from the Italian speciality store because you can just use a small amount, but canned works just as well.
Bring the broth back up to a simmer. If necessary, reduce to 3 cups but mine was already reduced.
Add the heavy cream and simmer about 5 minutes. Now is the time you can mix some cornstarch into water and add the slurry to the soup, but I didn't think that was necessary.
Add the lobster back into the soup to just heat through.
Serve the soup in small bowls. It is very, very rich. Add parsley, salt and pepper to taste. (I didn't think it was necessary to even add salt!)
The combination of the lobster, herbs and vegetables and brandy and sherry make for such a delicious, flavourful broth. We ate our portion and froze the rest based on some online advice so I hope it's half as good next time. I can't recommend this recipe enough!