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The Best Recipe: Soups & Stews, Cook's Illustrated Magazine

Serves 4 TO  6

Shrimp shells contribute a lot of flavor to the bisque, so this recipe calls/or shell-on shrimp. A good size to use is large shrimp (about 21 to 25 to a pound. If your food processor is small and your shrimp are extra large, process them in two batches. For straining the bisque, if you do not own a chinois, use a china cap or large sturdy mesh strainer lined with a double layer of damp cheesecloth. Because this recipe contains chunks of shrimp, it cannot be prepared in advance. If you like, you can prepare the soup up to the point that the base is strained and then refrigerate the strained base and the shelled shrimp for several hours. When ready to serve the soup, heat the soup base along with the tarragon, cream, lemon juice, and cayenne, and proceed as directed.

• 1  pounds large shell-on shrimp, preferably Mexican or Gulf Whites
• 3   tablespoons olive oil
• 1/3   cup brandy or cognac, warmed
• 2   tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1   small carrot, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
• 1   small stalk celery, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
• 1   small onion, minced (about 6 tablespoons)
• 1   medium clove garlic, minced
• 1/2   cup all-purpose flour
• 1 1/2   cups dry white wine
• 4   (8-ounce) bottles clam juice
• 1   (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
• 1   small sprig fresh tarragon
• 1   cup heavy cream
• 1   tablespoon lemon juice
• Pinch ground cayenne
• 2   tablespoons dry sherry or Madeira
• Salt and ground black pepper

1. Peel 1/2 pound shrimp, reserving the shells, and cut each peeled shrimp into thirds. With paper towels, thoroughly pat dry the remaining shrimp and the reserved shells.

2. Heat a 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat until very hot, about 3 minutes. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and swirl to coat the pan bottom. Add half of the remaining shell-on shrimp and half of reserved shells; saute until the shrimp are deep pink and the shells are lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer the shrimp and the shells to a medium bowl and repeat with the remaining oil, shell-on shrimp, and shells. Return the first browned batch to the skillet. Pour the warmed brandy over the shrimp and flambe, shaking the pan. When flames subside, transfer the shrimp and shells to a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until the mixture resembles fine meal, about 10 seconds.

3. Heat the butter in a Dutch oven or large stock-pot over medium heat until foaming. Add the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, and ground shrimp; cover and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are slightly softened and the mixture is fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until combined thoroughly, about 1 minute. Stir in the wine, clam juice, and tomatoes, scraping the pan bottom with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits. Cover, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil; then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened and flavors meld, about 20 minutes.

4. Strain the bisque through a chinois or fine-mesh strainer into a medium container, pressing on the solids with the back of a ladle to extract all liquid. Wash and dry the now-empty Dutch oven; return the strained bisque to the Dutch oven and stir in the tarragon, cream, lemon juice and cayenne. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat; add the reserved peeled and cut shrimp and simmer until the shrimp are firm but tender, about 1 1/2 minutes. Discard the tarragon sprig; stir in the sherry, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.


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