A few months ago I was at my parents’ house celebrating my birthday. We had lobsters that day as a special treat. Before going home I made sure to pack a ziplock bag with as many lobster shells as I could. I took the heads and stacked one inside the other to conserve space, adding the claws and legs and tail shells where there was room. If there was any tomalley or row left I would have taken it as well. What does one do with a pile of stinky lobster shells? Well the first thing that I did was to throw it in my freezer for later. I had plans to make soup, but I didn’t want to feel pressured to do so in the near future.
This past weekend I dug out my shells, mostly to make room for more culinary projects. I like to keep a steady turn over of food in my freezer so nothing gets freezer burn. The soup that I made is called Lobster Bisque. The soup sounds fancy and somewhat dated, but it is very delicious. The bright red shells yields a rusty brown soup, so murky and deep that you would know that it came from the ocean.
To begin you take your shells, as many as you have and crush them as finely as you have the patience for. I started out with a hammer and lobster juices went flying all over the kitchen. Then I discovered that you can use a pair of heavy duty kitchen shears to cut the shells into smaller pieces. I dug out some limp celery and a few carrots that were on its last legs, and the very last of some home grown garlic that my in-laws had gifted. Next to follow were the herbs: a few fresh bay leaves, tarragon, and thyme. After putting the soup together, the final touches were a splash of brandy and cream, and some bay scallops as a bonus.
Try it and you’ll see for yourself what you can get from a pile of scraps.
Lobster Bisque * serves 2 – 4
shells from 2 to 4 lobsters
8 to 10 cups water or good stock if you have it
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1⁄2 celery stalk, diced
1 head garlic, cut in half (skins are fine)
4 tbsp butter or olive oil
3 tbsp tomato paste
1⁄4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
3 sprigs tarragon, or 1-2 tbsp dried
1 sprig thyme, or 1 tsp dried
1⁄4 brandy to taste
1⁄2 cup cream to taste
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt to taste
Crush lobster shells. Chop vegetables and garlic or pulse in a food processor. In a large pot over medium heat saute the lobster shells in the butter or oil cooking for 5 minutes. Add the vegetables cook until softened. Add tomato paste and cook it until it begins to stick to the pot. Add water or stock to cover the shells, bay leaves, thyme, tarragon, cayenne pepper, bring to a boil and simmer for 1 1⁄2 to 3 hours or until it reduces by one third or half. It is important that you extract as much essence from the shells as you can. Strain the soup and add brandy and cornstarch mixed with a little water. Simmer for 5 minutes until the soup thickens slightly. If you want it thicker, add another dose of cornstarch mixed with water and simmer again. Add cream, salt, and lemon juice to taste.