This week our task was Langostine Bisque. Langostine are basically crayfish, and unless you happen to be in Louisiana, they’re not going to be in the seafood display. Shrimp was offered as a recommended alternative, and for once, I went with the recommendation. From there, I started hearing a different drummer…
When I think of shrimp bisque, I’m magically transported to a little dinner house on Galveston Island…Gaido’s. The shrimp bisque was smooth as velvet, slightly smoky, deep in color, and the flavors swept through the palate as the Gulf of Mexico gently swept the beach beyond the seawall. That’s the flavor I want to recreate. This recipe isn’t going to achieve that. I can tell by reading the ingredients. There will be layers of flavor, but they’ll be delicate. I want a little more gusto.
I started with our agreed upon cookbook, Le Cordon Bleu at Home, researched a little in another LCB cookbook, and compared with CIA’s recipe. They were mostly the same…the same basic mirepoix and treatments of the shells, so I followed most of the LCB@H recipe exactly with 1 major departure- I added tomato paste and a bit of paprika as did one of the other recipes. I also substituted brandy for the cognac. I doubt many would notice the difference.
Once again, we have a tiny dice, small chop, etc. for our veggies. Our recipe called for shallot, carrot, and leek. I also added a comparable amount of celery. Our recipe didn’t call for a bouquet garni, but I used one anyway. My broth wasn’t going to have the intense flavors that having whole-body shrimp would have provided. As it was, I just had the tail shells, and it took some hunting to get those! I ran the shells through a small food processor to chop them roughly. and I pureed my shrimp meat, and we were on our way!
Since I knew we’d be having flames before this stage was over, I used a flameproof saute pan for this phase. This is the butter, shrimp shells, vegetables, tomato and paprika. If I do this again, I’ll wait to add the paprika at a different time. We both detected a very slight bitterness in the soup and it may be the paprika. It’s all a question of when to add which to get the flavors to layer. After a bit of sauteeing, we add a large quantity of cognac (I used brandy here…but not a cheap brand) and set it aflame. That’s actually kind of fun if you’re prepared for how it will behave. I love the complexity flaming adds to dishes.
Yes…my cooking space is cluttered. My world is cluttered. I’ve been canning and I’m not hefting that kettle any more than I have to. I’ll shove it to the side, but I’m not lifting it in between canner loads. It has to wait. And, my stove top is burned at battered. My stove COOKS. It’s not a show place, it’s a work horse. I’ll burn a stove around the burners the first time I heat up my canner, so being prissy about the appearance isn’t going to work. When I get a chance to have the stove of my dreams, it will NOT be a closed top! And it will have some kick-butt BTUs! Back to the subject at hand though…see the flames? Those were darn hard to photograph!! Someone tell me the trick!!
After the flambe, we add a quantity of wine to our veggies and simmer, simmer, simmer. I took a good look at the amount of shrimp meat I had for the quenelles, and decided some of the meat could go into the soup to help flavor it some. I dropped little shrimp “dumplings” into the simmering broth and let it all simmer together. After 45 minutes of simmering, everything was pureed and strained through a damp towel. I found a new use for a silicone oven mitt… It’s very useful to squeeze the broth off the solids in the towel. The broth mixture is boiling hot, but the silicone mitt made it possible to handle squeezing the towel to extract broth.
Once the broth was strained, it was time to thicken it a little more. All the recipes I researched agreed…rice flour and butter for the roux. Here’s where I really felt the need for another departure. The bisque I want to recreate had a deep color and another layer of flavor developed by cooking the roux until it was caramel colored. No…I didn’t see it, but there’s a flavor that goes with the deeply colored roux that’s unforgettable. And so we cooked the rice flour in butter very, very gently for a period of time to achieve some color. 15 minutes later, I still had no color. I yielded and stirred the broth into the roux and let it simmer to thicken slightly.
Next was forming the quenelles (keh-nells)… I’ve done something similar in Chinese cooking. So, I had a feel for what I was trying to get in the way of texture and consistency. I think following the directions about working over ice is a big help. I alternated a drizzle of foamy egg white with a drizzle of cream and beat the dickens out of the mix until it was smooth and silky again. We were headed for something the consistency of thick oatmeal. The mixture needs to be able to hold it’s shape once formed.
It took a little doing to get the hang of forming the little critters…when I finally quit trying to use my spoons side by side and started using them end to end, things went much better. I could scoop up a dollop of shrimp mixture and almost get the 3 sided thing going on. Hubster really liked the quenelles, so I can see doing them again in other applications. I think I’ve made something similar for a Chinese soup… Incidentally, I stirred dry chervil into the shrimp meat as I started mixing the ingredients together. I wanted the herbs to have a little chance to rehydrate in the egg white and cream.
When the quenelles were all formed and ready to poach, I poured the simmering soup from the sauce pan into the quenelle pan, covered the pan with buttered parchment. There was some broth remaining in the saucepan that would need to be worked up with yet another thickening step. I beat my egg yolk with the cream I had remaining from making the quenelles in a small bowl, then stirred the remaining hot broth into the egg a little at a time. When the quenelles were cooked, I stirred the hot broth from the poaching pan back into the egg-enriched broth and brought that to a boil. At this point, I have added NO significant quantity of cream. I’ve held that off until the end. The directions said to add the cream, and bring the soup to a boil. That curdled the soup we made last week, so I held the cream until the very end. Once the soup had come to a boil, and was thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, I removed it from the heat and let it sit while I plated the quenelles. Then I whisked the cream into the soup and returned it to the fire for a few moments, then ladled the hot soup over the still warm quenelles, sprinkled the whole with chervil leaves, and we were done!
We both liked this soup a great deal! The quenelles were the star of the soup…very flavorful, tender and downright yummy. The soup itself…like I said, we both detected a bit of bitterness. I’d have to make it again to see where that flavor came from. It could be the chervil, though not likely; it could be the paprika-perhaps added at the wrong time; it could be that not having tarragon set up an imbalance of flavors…it’s hard to know. Either way, Hubster would love to have quenelles in something else, but would also like to see this soup come around again. Even with the whole mess in the kitchen. And, my gosh, is there ever a mess. Even though I tried to keep after it…
Now…next week I go back to work, and this weekend we’re getting the heck out of here for a quick trip. If I can squeeze in consomme before I go, I will. Otherwise…sorry. I need this trip. Happy eating!