As a child and young adult, I can't tell you how many times I attended a Garden Club luncheon with my grandmother only to see something similar to the picture above placed in front of me. Shrimp Bisque has that great quality of being classy enough for a meal in that type of setting, but not so snooty as to be too good for your favorite soup list to make at home. A batch of this for lunch after a brisk autumn walk in the woods is a warm welcome home indeed. The multiple levels of flavor make themselves apparent with each spoonful. Trust me, if you even kind of like shrimp, you will be going for another half bowl after the first has been
slurpped spooned and savored. Add a dash or five of cayenne pepper to really make it sing.
This shrimp bisque will make for a tasty departure from the regular holiday eats I have shared. A nice bowl of soup can break up the meat/sides/roll assembly line. Having said that, it might also fit quite nicely on a holiday menu as a first course.
1 1/2 pounds shrimp; cleaned, deveined, and peel left on (if using frozen, thaw and drain)
4 cups chicken broth
7 Tablespoons (3 1/2-ounces) unsalted butter, divided
2 cups chopped leeks (white and light green parts), about 3 small-medium sized leeks
2 shallots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup Cognac or brandy
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste
A few reserved shrimp chopped into bite-size pieces
In a large pot, bring the chicken broth to a simmer. Add the shrimp and poach until the shrimp is pink, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the shrimp and transfer to a baking sheet to cool. Strain the stock; set aside. Once the shrimp is cool enough to handle, peel, discarding the shell and reserving the shrimp. (Set a few shrimp aside for garnish, if desired).
In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and shallots and sauté until tender, but not browned, about 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute more. Carefully add the Cognac and cook for 1 minute. Add the sherry and cook for 3 minutes longer for the alcohol to evaporate and so that the liquid is slightly reduced. Transfer the leek mixture and the shrimp to the bowl of a large food processor. (If you don't have a large one, process in batches) Purée the mixture to desired consistency. (I process mine just short of completely smooth for a thick bisque).
In the same pot, now emptied, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Using a whisk, gradually add the half-and-half, whisking until smooth and thick, about 3 minutes. Add the strained stock, tomato paste, salt, and pepper, gently whisk to combine. Stir in the puréed shrimp mixture and heat until hot, but not boiling. Season to taste with cayenne pepper (if using), salt and black pepper if needed. Garnish with chopped chives and reserved shrimp that have been chopped into bite-sized pieces. Enjoy!
Source: Adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home, Ina Garten