Lobster Bisque

There is nothing like a good lobster dinner to really make a fall night. It is one of those things I have to do at least once a year or the fall just isn’t complete.

Did you know it is easy to tell a male from a female lobster? Simply turn the lobster over and check the underside of its tail. A male will have a row of spikes down the middle, while a female will not. Instead, the female will have a lot more hairs on the little paddle-like appendages that run the length of the tail.

Also, a lobster molts. It will shed its shell and grow a new one. It is not common to get a lobster in the store that is in the molting stage, but it does happen and I have seen it a little more often in restaurants. If the shell is soft and it feels like you could easily crush it, it is a good indication it might be in the molting stage. Sometimes it will appear as if there were two shells and that is because there are.

During the molting, the meat will not be anywhere near as firm as normal. It will be more of a gelatinous consistency and not really appealing to eat. It isn’t bad; it is just not the consistency you want of your lobster. If you do notice the shell is soft, don’t cook it but instead return it while it is still alive and get another.

One of the other truly delicious things you can get from lobster is bisque. Most people won’t take the time to make it, but it is simple. I think it is the classic case of the soup sounding decadent and therefore it must be complicated to make.

Lobster bisque is no harder to make than any other soup, unless you decide to go the whole nine yards and pulverize the shells into a paste that becomes part of the soup, as was traditionally done. I have to say, on this point I am just a bit on the lazy side and don’t go that far. You can get a great amount of flavor without going through that process.

There are quite a few ways to make bisque. I am a proponent of keeping it simple and not adding a ton of extra ingredients — not because I’m lazy with this also, but because I don’t want to mask the flavor of the lobster. I don’t want vegetable soup tasting strong of herbs and spices, I want lobster soup. Bisque is a thick, creamed soup made from the shells of a crustacean. Some will also refer to a creamed vegetable soup as bisque. Whether you call it soup or bisque, before discarding your shells in the trash, try making lobster bisque and enjoy.

Lobster Bisque

2 to 2½-pound lobsters, or save the body and shells from a lobster dinner
2 quarts water used to cook the lobsters or tap water
1 pint heavy cream
4 T Spanish paprika
1 shallot, diced
¼ C sherry
½ t cayenne pepper
1 T tomato paste
3 bay leaves
Salt & pepper to taste
2 sticks butter
½ C flour

Toss the shells, shallots and one stick of butter into a heavy pot and sauté on medium high until the butter is melted and the shallots are just starting to sweat.

Coat the shells with paprika and continue to sauté, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, crushing the shells down a little and allowing the paprika to darken a little, 3 minutes or so. Add the poaching water or tap water, tomato paste and bay leaves and bring to a boil. Turn down to simmer for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

With the other stick of butter, make a roux with the flour.

Thicken the bisque a little at a time in a separate bowl, returning it to the pot after each thickening until it is at the desired consistency. Strain through a fine strainer and add the cream.

Add the cayenne, sherry, salt and pepper to taste a little at a time. Serve in a cup and garnish with lobster meat when served.