I have a deluxe soup on the menu today that could be served as a main-course for lunch, or as a show-stopping starter at dinnertime. It’s called curried prawn bisque and, when you learn how it’s made, you’ll understand why it’s so rich and flavourful.
You start by peeling and deveining large prawns. The shells from the prawns are then cooked in hot oil in a pot until bright pink in colour. Stock, which could be fish or chicken, is then added and the shells are simmered in it, infusing the stock with their flavour.
This prawn-flavoured stock is then used in the base for the bisque and its preparation begins by sautéeing finely diced shallots and celery in butter in a pot until softened. Flour, curry powder, tomato paste and garlic are mixed in, creating a roux that will help thicken the bisque when the stock is mixed in and simmered.
The peeled prawns for the bisque are prepared in two ways. Some are sliced into small pieces and cooked in the bisque near the end of its preparation, a time when cream is also mixed in. The rest of the prawns are halved lengthwise, cooked separately and used to garnish the bisque after it’s been ladled into bowls.
You can, of course, serve the bisque anytime, or perhaps want to wait for the festive, soon-to-be-here, Christmas/holiday season.
When serving the bisque for lunch, you can make more of meal of it by adding a green salad and some sliced baguette, serving the salad before the bisque.
When serving the bisque at dinnertime as a starter before the main-course, because the soup is pretty rich, you may want to choose an entrée that’s lighter in style.
The prawns and base for the bisque can be prepared in advance and kept refrigerated until you’re ready to finish off and serve the soup. See the Eric’s options in the recipe for details on that.
Curried Prawn Bisque
Prawn-rich, creamy, curry-spiced bisque you can serve as a main course for lunch, or as a deluxe starter/appetizer at dinnertime.
Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: about 40 minutes
Makes: four servings
16 large prawns or shrimp (divided)
2 tsp olive oil (divided)
4 cups chicken or fish stock
1/4 cup water
4 Tbsp butter (divided)
1/4 cup finely diced shallot or onion (see Note)
1/4 cup finely diced celery
1 large garlic clove, minced
3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp mild or medium curry powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup whipping cream or half and half (10 per cent) cream
• salt to taste
1 green onion, halved lengthwise, and then very thinly sliced, widthwise
4 Tbsp brandy (optional)
Peel the prawns and save the shells. Devein prawns, if needed. To do so, use a small paring knife to make a lengthwise slit along the back of each peeled prawn. Pull out, or rinse out with cold water, the dark vein. Pat prawns dry with paper towel.
Slice 10 of the prawns, widthwise, into 1/2-inch or so wide pieces and set in a bowl. Cut each of the six remaining prawns in half , lengthwise, and set them on a small plate. Cover and refrigerate the prawns until needed.
Heat 1 tsp of the oil in a small pot set over medium heat. Add the prawn shells, cook and stir until bright pink and a little crispy, about four minutes. Add the stock and water, and bring to a gentle simmer. Lower the heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer. Simmer 12 minutes. Strain this prawn-flavoured stock through a fine sieve into a bowl, pressing on the shells with the back of ladle to make sure you get all the liquid out of them. Now measure the stock. You should have about 3 3/4 cups. If you don’t, top up with water until you do.
To make bisque, melt 3 Tbsp of the butter in a medium pot set over medium heat and whisk in the flour. Add the shallots (or onion), curry powder, paprika and tomato paste. Cook and stir for one to two minutes more. While stirring, gradually mix in 1/2 cup of the prawn-flavoured stock. When mixture is very thick, slowly mix in the rest of the stock. Bring this base for bisque to a gentle simmer and simmer 10 minutes.
While bisque simmers, place the remaining 1 Tbsp butter and 1 tsp oil in a small skillet set over medium-high heat. When butter is melted, set the prawns you sliced in half in the skillet and cook about one minute per side, until just cooked through. Remove skillet from the heat.
When the base for the bisque has simmered 10 minutes (see Eric’s Options), mix in the cream and the sliced pieces of prawns you put in a bowl. Simmer two minutes more, or until those sliced prawns are cooked. Now taste and season bisque with salt, as needed.
To serve, set out four warmed, shallow soup bowls. Pour 1 Tbsp of brandy into each bowl, if using. Divide and ladle some of the bisque into each bowl. Top the bisque in each bowl with three of the half prawns you cooked in the skillet. Sprinkle with green onions and serve.
Note: Finely diced means to cut into very small, 1/8- to 1/4-inch cubes.
Eric’s options: You can ready the base for the bisque and prepare the raw prawns needed for it many hours in advance of serving it. If you do that, once the base for the bisque has simmered 10 minutes, remove it from the heat and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate it. When ready to serve the bisque, return the base to a simmer, add the sliced prawns and cream, and finish the soup’s preparation as described in the method.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.