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Shrimp Bisque

If shrimp could express what they wanted to be when they grow up, they would say, firefighter.

Just kidding. That’s only SoupAddict projecting her impossible wishes on shrimp. SoupAddict is actually fairly terrified of fire and didn’t learn how to strike matches until age 30. And even now, SoupAddict prefers grill lighters, where the flame is a good 8 inches away from her fingers, and — with arms fully extended — a good 36 inches away from her body (more, when leaning forward on tippy toe).

Besides, shrimp don’t have opposable thumbs, and I don’t think the hats would stay on their little shrimpy heads.

No, if shrimp could be anything they wanted, it would have to be Shrimp Bisque. There is no dish, imo, that captures the pure flavor of shrimp better than this soup. Often criticized for being bland, shrimp bisque shirks that reputation handily, using both meat and shell to show just how much flavor is crammed into such a tiny package.

The secret to great shrimp flavor? It’s all in the shells. If any soup will ever convince you to make homemade stock, it’s shrimp bisque. Shrimp stock is amazing in both its simplicity — two ingredients, shrimp shells and water — and its incredible fragrance. The scent is grilled shrimp times 10.

This is soup you serve at a dinner party. Or better yet, guard it jealously and serve it only to the people you love. (Unless your loved ones are allergic to shellfish. Then you probably shouldn’t. Just sayin’. SoupAddict is helpful like that.)

Shrimp Bisque

Yield: 4 generous servings

8 cups of water
2 teaspoons fish sauce or 2 teaspoons of salt
shells from 1 1/2 pounds of shrimp

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 pounds shells-on shrimp, peeled and deveined (shells reserved for stock)
1 large sweet onion, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 rib celery, diced
1/4 cup brandy or white wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 plum or roma tomatoes, skins removed, chopped
1/2 cup uncooked rice (basmati is nice)
3 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only

1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half
1 tablespoon brandy
2 teaspoons lemon juice
pinch cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sour cream or Crème fraîche, for garnish

For the shrimp stock

1. Bring water to boil in a large stock pot or dutch oven. While water is heating, add fish sauce or salt and stir to dissolve. Toss in shrimp shells. Once the water comes to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered for 30 minutes. (Stock can be made the day before and refrigerated.)

2. Place a strainer over a large heat-proof bowl. Skim out and discard the shells and then pour the stock through the strainer, discarding any solids. Set aside the stock.

For the soup
3. In the same pot as you made the stock, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. When the butter is shimmering, add the shrimp and saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Flip each shrimp and cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Shrimp should be opaque and slightly browned in spots. Remove to a plate (set 4 shrimp aside for garnish, option).

4. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots and celery and saute until the vegetables are soft. Add the brandy or white wine and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add tomato paste and stir well to mix. Add the chopped tomatoes and rice, and saute for several minutes, stirring frequently.

5. Add the reserved stock to the pot, along with the sauteed shrimp, fresh thyme leaves and a healthy pinch of salt. When the stock begins to bubble, reduce heat to medium-low and gently simmer for 20 minutes (reduce heat if bubbling becomes too raucous).

6. Use an immersion blender to create a smooth soup (most immersion blenders will handle even shrimp). Or, working in batches, run the soup through a blender. Return blended soup to stock pot.

7. Pour in the heavy cream or half and half, and mix thoroughly. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, brandy, lemon juice and cayenne pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding black pepper to suit. Ladle into bowls. Top with a spoonful of sour cream or Crème fraîche. If using shrimp as a garnish, arrange one shrimp on top of the sour cream in each bowl.


  • For a silky smooth bisque: after step 6 above, pour the blended soup through a strainer into a clean pot (or wipe out the pot you’ve been using), and continue with step 7. Discard any solids left in the strainer.
  • Save your shrimp shells and freeze them throughout the year. Pre-shelled shrimp is convenient, certainly, but, shells-on shrimp is not only generally cheaper, but the reserved shells make incredible fish stock for many types of recipes. And the shells freeze beautifully for use any time! For a refresher on how to peel and devein shrimp, click here.
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Sunny Drohan

Tuesday 6th of November 2012

If one uses the bread as the thickener inlieu of rice, how much bread either by weight or cups. Weight is so much better, as everyone cuts there ingredients a little differently. Would definitely make this. Sounds fabulous. Thanks. Sunny


Wednesday 19th of October 2011

I just found your blog via White on Rice. Love, love, love soup! This bisque looks heavenly. I had to laugh about you and fire. As a kid my parents had an old Alcazar stove. For whatever reason, it had no pilot light so when you wanted to turn a burner on you had to light a match and hold it by the gas ring. This meant your hand could go up in a poof of least in my ten year old mind. By twelve my mother "had it" with my "nonsense" and when I helped with dinner insisted I light the stove myself. My solution? Kitchen tongs holding the match and dragging it across the sandy area to set it ablaze. A tricky bit of business since we never had wooden matches, only the flimsy cardboard kind. Skip ahead to college where my major was art metals which involved heavy-duty fire and torches! Lol!


Monday 10th of October 2011

I didn't know the shells had all the flavour - that's the bit that we always throw away. This is a fine looking soup - delicious.


Wednesday 12th of October 2011

Have you ever grilled shrimp with the shells on? (Best for an adventurous crowd that doesn't mind playing with their food ;) ). That's lovely, too. For the soup, some folks like to leave the shells in the soup throughout cooking, and then finish up by straining the blended soup to remove any teeny shell bits. I'm not sure I can tell the difference (the stock is really, really flavorful by itself), but I like the thought of using the as much of the shrimp as possible.

jolene novak

Monday 10th of October 2011

I am sure you are using rice as a thickening agent, you can also use old bread as well. Just tear up to aborb fluid,blend as afor mentioned.


Wednesday 12th of October 2011

Great tip and handy use for leftover bread!


Monday 10th of October 2011

Love, love, love shrimp. And since we live on the coast (actually a few miles inland) fresh shrimp with shells is available. This looks so lovely, and since fall is here a geat dish to start a meal.


Wednesday 12th of October 2011

I love the Midwest, but I have to admit, I'm super jealous of the availability of fresh seafood on the coasts. Our vendors here do their best (and some do it pretty well), but once you've had seafood on the coast, it's just not the same! [pout :) ]