I have a vivid memory from childhood of Mum preparing bisque using a packet of dried ingredients imported from continental Europe. I was intrigued by how some water and cream could convert the packet’s contents into a premium soup. In 2010, I finally got around to trying my hand at making bisque from scratch. I began with a recipe from Doyle’s Sydney seafood restaurant, to which we have made several modifications.
This dish originates from the Atlantic coast of France and evolved as an appealing way of using crustacea that were not of a marketable appearance but were quite edible. The seafood would be used whole to make a stock, which was then drained to provide the base for a soup. Ultra-traditionalists would then crush the heads and shells and incorporate them in the dish, much as they would in seafood crepes. (Several years ago, we made the latter and produced a dish that Maggie and my late mother consumed with delight, whereas my system couldn’t cope with the over-the-top richness.)
Our version of bisque is much simpler and varies from the traditional bisque in several ways. We use off-the-shelf stock, add the aromatic vegetables to the mix and use some fish as well as prawns. Sacré bleu! So, it could be somewhat risky to serve this to a French guest. That said, it is so delicious that my son, Julian sent me a rare text message of food praise after he and Sara had “downed” – as in ‘went down a treat’ – a bowl each.
250g Atlantic salmon (or another full-bodied fish), coarsely diced (we sometimes use minced salmon, bought at a good price if a convenient fishmonger carries it)
250-300g of raw prawn meat (you must choose a prawn with a flavour that you enjoy; in our case, that rules out those known as ‘banana’ prawns in Melbourne)
1 each of a small onion, leek, medium carrot, stick of celery and garlic clove
¼ tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp tomato paste
125ml dry white wine
200g Nicola potato, peeled and cut into chunks
750ml fish stock
500ml vegetable stock
salt and pepper
50ml thick cream
- Roughly chop onion, leek, carrot, celery and garlic.
- Melt butter in heavy-based saucepan over low heat. Add all vegetables except potato to pan, stir to warm then add fish, prawns and chilli flakes. Cook, stirring regularly for 7 minutes.
- Add tomato paste, white wine, potato and stock and bring to boiling point. Simmer for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasoning and cool partly.
- Stir in cream and blend in batches in food processor.