Nothing is as glamorous and heartening as sitting down to a dinner built around, or including, a soulful shrimp bisque. Good ones are hard to find. This recipe is a variation of one that my soup professor (Barbara Kafka) taught me years ago, and a version of it is in one of her books, I think. Her kids went to the same school as I did in NYC and she was one of my early food idols. The lady can cook, and this recipe is worth the extra step or two. If you are going to freeze this, do it at the point when the soup base is finished, but before you thicken it.
3 lbs. shrimp, 16-20 size
5 T. butter
2 T. olive oil
2 c. white wine
7 c. fish or shellfish stock
1 T. tomato paste
2 sprigs tarragon
2 T. paprika
3/4 c. each minced celery, carrot, and onion
2 minced garlic cloves
2 thyme sprigs
1/2 c. cognac
1 lb. canned chopped tomatoes in their juices
1/2 t. Tabasco
5 T. flour
3 T. butter
8 oz. heavy cream
salt, pepper, and lemon juice to season
Peel shrimp. Freeze the meat from 2 lbs. of the shrimp* for another use. Reserve all the shells and one-third of the total volume of the meats. Melt 2 T. of the butter and all the oil over medium heat in a medium stockpot. Add half the shells and cook until well colored. Add wine and reduce by half, then add stock and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Pull pan from heat without removing the lid, and let sit for 10 minutes. Strain, pressing down, to extract all the flavor-rich juices. Reserve this liquid.
Return the pot, cleaned, to medium heat and add the remaining butter. When foaming, add remaining shells, shrimp meats, tomato paste, herbs, vegetables, and spices. Cook well but do not burn. Add cognac and reduce until dry. Add tomatoes, Tabasco, and reserved shrimp shell–infused stock. Bring to a simmer and hold there, cooking for 25-30 minutes. Let soup rest for 15 minutes in the pot. Using an immersion wand or blender, purée the soup. Strain several times through a chinoise. You should have 5-6 cups of rich shrimp soup.
Place 5 T. flour and 3 T. butter into a pot and melt to combine into a roux. Add the soup in thirds, thickening as you go. Whisk to combine, and when simmering. add cream. Bring to a boil and season. Serve, garnishing with snipped chives. Serves 6-8.
* NOTE: It’s nice to save a few shrimp per person to poach in the soup when you add the cream at the end.