In all the culinary world, nothing does a better job at capturing the pure essence of a flavor than a shellfish bisque.
This recipe, based loosely off Julia Child’s classic lobster variation, relies on a pair of processes that will collect both the water- and fat-soluble flavoring elements of the crawfish’s signature sweet flavor.
The first, is a shellfish seafood stock made from the pulverized heads, claws and shells of the crawfish, something you’ll have plenty off after picking out the tail and claw meat. This broth will take a while to come together, so plan on starting this recipe well ahead of when you actually intend to sit down and eat.
The second, and perhaps more important, element is the crawfish butter, which is made from slowly simmering a handful or two of the crushed bodies in a deep reservoir of butter. In my opinion, it’s the one item that takes this dish from good to great.
Fair warning, bisque making can sometimes be a long, labor intensive process, but done correctly, is worth every second.
Take the time and see for yourself.
Cook time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Heads, tails and bodies of roughly 50-60 crawfish
¼ cup olive oil
2 onions, roughly chopped
4 carrots, roughly chopped
1 large bunch wild fennel, 20-30 fronds
5 cloves garlic
6 ounces tomato paste
1 cup dry vermouth
Bodies, claws and shells of 10 crawfish
⅓ cup butter
6 cups crawfish stock
⅓ cup crawfish butter
Crawfish meat from 60 crawfish
½ cup onion, rough chopped
⅓ cup rice
2 tablespoons heavy cream, plus a dash for garnish
2 tablespoons dry vermouth
To start, you’ll want to place all 60 or so of your crawfish bodies, claws and shells into a large, 2 gallon plastic ziplock bag. Seal them up and use a meat tenderizer to pound them into pieces no larger than a quarter of an inch. When you’re done, the should be roughly the size of flaked oats. Once pulverized, set aside about two handfuls of the pieces for use in making the crawfish butter, with the remainder to be used in making the stock.
Note: You can use a food processor here if you like, but I find cleanup from the bag method to be much easier. Plus there’s something immensely satisfying about smashing things with a meat mallet.
In a large stockpot, add the oil and 2 chopped onions. Saute the onions until translucent, but do your best not let them brown. Once they’re ready, toss in the crushed up bodies and let this cook together for about five minutes. The heat here should be high, similar to what you would use when stir frying.
After five minutes, add the tomato paste, fennel, garlic and carrots. Stir as these ingredients cook. After another five minutes or so, toss in the vermouth. Once you see it beginning to boil, add enough water to the pot to cover all the ingredients by at least an inch.
Let this simmer for 3 hours, being careful to keep the action below a boil.
About an hour and half after you start the stock, you can get to work on your crawfish butter.
In a small sauce pan, combine the butter and reserved crawfish bodies. Melt the butter on the stove top and once it’s completely melted, place the entire sauce pan in an oven set to 190 degrees.
Leave the butter in the oven for 90 minutes. Once done, remove the pan, strain off the butter and discard the shell pieces.
At the end of the stock’s three hour simmer, use a mesh strainer to separate your liquid from the bodies and vegetables.
At this point, both your stock and butter are complete. Now we can get down to the actual bisque.
Take about two tablespoons of your crawfish butter to a medium sized pot, likely something much smaller than your stock pot. Add your onions and saute them until translucent, but again be careful to not let them brown. Toss in the vermouth and let this simmer for a minute or so.
Add the rice and about six cups of the stock, freezing the rest for later use. Let this cook for about 20-30 minutes, or until the rice is fully cooked.
When the rice is done, you’ll want to transfer the whole mess into a blender and puree until the texture is smooth and velvety. Wipe clean your pot and add the bisque back. Add your cream and slowly pour in the remaining crawfish butter, being sure to stir the bisque as you do.
Ladle out into bowls and garnish with some chives and a splash or two of the cream. The bisque pairs well with a crusty baguette and a rich Chardonnay, but a good pilsner or pale ale should also do the trick.