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Ask The Chef: What is a Bisque?

Cup of Crab Bisque at Coastal Kitchen

Tina asks:
Jason – What makes a tomato bisque – a bisque? Why not just call it “Cream of Tomato?”

 

Great question. It seems like there are a thousand “bisques” these days. I’ve seen potato bisque, cauliflower bisque, a meat bisque, and even a bonafide crawfish bisque. All that in the 2 seconds the Google Gods delivered me my answers. The great ones never steer you wrong. Or something like that.

I remember learning about Bisques in my soups and stocks class in college. I was taught that a bisque is a liquid of concentrated flavor thickened with rice. (Or another starch other than a roux.) That’s important, because otherwise it’s just a fancy-shmancy name for a cream/puree soup. ‘Cause that never happens, right?

Let’s imagine a potato bisque. The thickening agent(s) in the soup are the starch in the potato, and the reduction of the liquid. Strictly speaking, the soup should be classified as a puree, but I believe it wouldn’t be so catchy on a menu. The question I would ask is – is this a soup that is going to knock me out with it’s potato flavor? Chances are good that it won’t wow me like a Lobster Bisque would.

When you eat-err… sample a Lobster Bisque, you should be blown away. There’s probably a trillion calories in a bite. (That’s what my butt keeps complaining of!) You will taste LOBSTER goddamn it! AND LIKE IT!

It’s hard to imagine that with a potato bisque. Perhaps a drizzle of white truffle oil or something to lift it up. Then it’s more like a truffle bisque. Oh look. As usual, I ‘m getting carried away. Where was I?

Oh yes – A traditional shrimp or lobster bisque starts off with the shells dry roasting in a pan, caramelizing the proteins in the carapace. Then you add a brandy, reduce and concentrate the flavor. After that, a fish stock is added with some rice, and the works is reduced. It’s passed through a food mill, (or these days it’s more likely to be a blender – this is the new millennia after all!) It would be strained out and concentrated even further. Finally, a bit of sherry or brandy is added with the meat – and then you would have a real bisque.

Tina – you’re spot on. We should just call it a Tomato soup.

Your Turn:

What do you all think? What kinds of bisques have you eaten? Did they blow your socks off? Let me know in the comments below!

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