Shrimp shells contribute a lot of flavor to the bisque, so be sure to purchase shell-on shrimp. A good size to us is extra-large shrimps (21 to 25 per pound). If your food processor is small and your shrimp are jumbo (16 to 20 per pound), process them in two batches. For straining the bisque, if you do not own a chinois, use a china cap or large, sturdy mesh strainer lined with a double layer of damp cheesecloth. Because this recipe contains chunks of shrimp, it cannot be prepared in advance. If you like, you can prepare the soup up to the point that the base is strained through the chinois and then refrigerate the strained base and the shelled shrimp for several hours. When ready to serve the soup, heat the soup base along with the tarragon, cream, lemon juice, and cayenne and proceed as directed.
Serves 4 to 6
- 2 pounds extra-large shell-on shrimp (21 to 25 per pound), preferably Mexican or Gulf Whites
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/3 cup brandy or cognac, warmed
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small carrot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
- 1 small celery rib, minced (about 6 tablespoons)
- 1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press
- 1/2 cap all-purpose flour
- 1-1/2 cups dry white wine
- 4 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
- 1 small sprig fresh tarragon
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon juice from 1 small lemon
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons dry sherry or Madeira
- Salt and ground black pepper
Peel 1/2 pound of the shrimp, reserving the shells; cut each peeled shrimp into thirds and reserve. With paper towels, thoroughly pat dry the remaining 1-1/2 pounds shrimp and the reserved shells.
Heat a 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat until very hot, about 3 minutes. Add 1-1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan bottom. Add half of the remaining shell-on shrimp and half of the reserved shells; sauté until the shrimp are deep pink and the shells are lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer the shrimp and the shells to a medium bowl and repeat with the remaining oil, shell-on shrimp, and shells. Return the first browned bath to the shrimp in the skillet. Pour the warmed brandy over the shrimp and flambé, shaking the pan. When the flames subside, transfer the shrimp and shells to a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until the mixture resembles fine meal, about 10 seconds.
Heat the butter in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat until foaming. Add the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, and ground shrimp; cover and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are slightly softened and the mixture is fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until combined thoroughly, about 1 minute. Stir in the wine, clam juice, and tomatoes, scraping the pan bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits. Cover, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil; reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened and the flavors meld, about 20 minutes.
Strain the bisque through a chinois or fin-mesh strainer into a medium container, pressing on the solids with the back of a ladle to extract all the liquid. Wash and dry the Dutch oven; return the strained brisque to the Dutch oven and stir in the tarragon, cream, lemon juice, and cayenne. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat; add the reserved peeled and cut-up shrimp and simmer until the shrimp are firm but tender, about 1-1/2 minutes. Discard the tarragon sprig; stir in the sherry, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.