Quick Bites from Pender

Sunday Lunch – Shrimp Bisque

In Lessons From Cooking School, Recipes, Sunday Lunch on May 23, 2010 at 2:34 pm


Classic bisques are thickened with rice, but all of my culinary instructors used roux to thicken their bisques.  Rice, no matter how finely you puree it, will always be grainy.

A roux is a combination of equal parts, by weight, of flour and fat that are cooked together to form a paste.  The cooking eliminates the raw flour taste, and the fat-coated starch particles are prevented from congregating together in lumps when added to liquid — making roux the front runner to thicken anything you want smooth and creamy — like a bisque.

White roux is cooked just until the mixture becomes frothy.  It is used in white sauces where no colour is desired– like a béchamel.

Brown roux is cooked much longer — until it develops a darker colour and nutty flavour and aroma. Use clarified butter in brown roux to avoid a burnt taste, and, although started on the stove top, brown roux should be finished in the oven to avoid scorching.  Brown roux are used to add colour and flavour to a dish — like a gumbo.

Right in the middle is blond roux — cooked slightly longer than white roux, until it takes on a light colour — it is used where a richer flavour, but not too much colour is desired.  As a woman of moderate tastes, blond roux suits me just fine for most occasions — like this bisque.

More fun roux facts:

  • The darker the roux, the less thickening power it has.
  • To avoid lumps when using a roux to thicken liquid, either whisk a room temperature roux into hot liquid or a hot roux into room temperature liquid.  Lumps happen when the roux and the liquid are the same temperature.
  • Leftover roux will keep, covered in the fridge, for 7-10 days.
  • The first recorded recipe to use a roux is in a German cookbook from 1533:  “How to Cook a Wild Boar’s Head, Also How to Prepare a Sauce for It.”

Enough with the roux, already…


Bisques are smooth, creamy comforts.  They are also labours of love, and take some time and care to prepare.  Some folk may consider smashing the flambéed and simmered heads of shrimp against the side of a conical strainer to be beyond the limits of what is visually acceptable (it can get a little gross, especially if you really put some elbow grease into it.)  Just remember — it’s all in the name of flavour.

shrimp heads for bisque

Shrimp Bisque – Culinary School Technique
Yield 6-8 servings

Blond Roux

The volume measurements I have listed here are approximations.  As always, weight is more accurate than volume when it comes to cooking (and baking too).

Butter ¼ C 50 g
All-Purpose Flour 1/3 C 50 g

Melt the butter over med heat in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Whisk in the flour until well incorporated and the mixture is a thick paste.  Cook, stirring constantly, for approx 3-4 minutes, until the flour just begins to colour.  Transfer to a bowl and cool.


Shrimp Bisque

Yellow Onion, med dice 1 lge
Carrot, med dice 1 med
Celery, med dice 1 lge rib
Olive Oil 2 T
Shrimp/Prawn Shells & Heads (cooked or uncooked) from 2 lbs Spot Shrimp
Brandy, Ouzo, or Sambuca ¼ C 60 ml
White Wine or Vermouth ½ C 125 ml
Canned Crushed Tomatoes ½ C 125 ml
Garlic, crushed 2 cloves
Fish or Seafood Stock 6-8 C 1.5-2 L
Cayenne Pepper pinch or TT
Bouquet Garnii (see Tips) 1
Roux 4-6 T 60-90 g
Whipping Cream ¾ C 180 ml
Fennel, Tarragon, Parsley (optional) chopped for garnish
s+p TT

C=cup       ml=millilitres     T=tablespoon       t=teaspoon
TT=to taste

Sweat the onion, carrot and celery in olive oil in a large skillet over med heat until the onion is translucent.  Increase the heat to med-high, add the seafood shells and toss until pink.  Pour the alcohol over the shells, wait 10 seconds, then flambé with a match.  Cover the pan with a lid to extinguish the flames after 10 seconds.

Transfer everything to a stockpot and add wine, crushed tomatoes and garlic. Reduce 5 minutes.  Add fish stock to generously cover, cayenne, bouquet garnii, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to med-low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes.

Strain immediately through a conical strainer, pressing on the shells and vegetables to extract the maximum flavour.  Return the strained liquid to the clean stockpot over med heat.  Whisk in 4 tablespoons (60 g) of roux and bring to a slow boil then simmer to thicken – should lightly coat the back of a spoon.  Use additional roux if necessary.  Season to taste with s+p.

Reduce the heat to low, add the cream, and heat gently.  Season again with s+p, and serve garnished with finely chopped herbs.

Best served the day of preparation.


  • I added about a 1/2 bulb of chopped fennel to the onion, carrot and celery.  The licorice flavour matched the ouzo that I used to flambé the shells.
  • To make a bouquet garnii, tie 2 bay leaves, 5-6 peppercorns, 3-4 sprigs of thyme and 3-4 sprigs of parsley in a square of cheesecloth, a tea ball, or the blanched dark green end of a leek.
  • To freeze, cool the bisque after straining, but before you thicken with the roux.  Freeze for up to 2 weeks, then thaw and finish as described.
  • Other garnish ideas:  paprika or chili infused olive oil, a swirl of saffron cream, diced shrimp meat…


  1. I never knew that a bisque should be thickened with rice!! wow, I always learn something new, what a great thing! Your bisque looks incredible, and as always your information is just impeccable!

  2. Gorgeous! Love the fresh prawns off the side of the road.

  3. What a great post! Interesting and education for roux newbies like myself. 🙂 I have done a white roux before but that is it. This bisque looks so elegant! I wish I could taste a spoonful!

  4. Thanks for all the great tips! The bisque looks divine!

  5. Shrimp bisque is a big hit around here, I’ve always made mine with a roux, and never heard about thickening it with rice. Thanks for all your tips and “history” on the bisque.

  6. Superb, yes definitely with roux:)

    • I tried to “go authentic” with a crab bisque not to long ago…sometimes tradition needs to be left in the past! The rice didn’t work for me at all. I’ll stick with roux from now on.

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