I’ve recently featured a lot of soup recipes. From a really tasty store cupboard classic to a spicy Thai inspired coconut fish soup. In the run-up to Christmas I’ve just time for one more, a rich Shellfish Bisque. Now as you would expect living on an island and working as a chef, I have recipes for lots of different shellfish bisque recipes. Traditionally a bisque is a French soup. You can make your shellfish bisque can be made from lobster, crab, prawns, and crayfish. The shells are used to make a stock and then you incorporate the meat into the finished soup.
What is the difference between soup and bisque?
Bisque is thought to have derived from either the word Biscay, as in Bay of Biscay. Biscay is famous for oysters and other shellfish. Alternatively, the name could have evolved from the shellfish being twice cooked, in French, “bis cuites”. Certainly, when I make crab or lobster bisques in commercial kitchens the shells are first roasted lightly, then simmered with vegetables and herbs before being strained. Traditionally a bisque is thickened by grinding up the shells and you need some pretty powerful industrial food processors to accomplish this. At home, you can thicken with flour or adding a handful of rice to the cooking stock. The name bisque is now often used for thick and creamy roasted vegetable soups.
I have slightly altered the recipe to allow for the fact the most household food processors are not built to break up extremely tough crab shells. Using prawns gives a slightly sweeter if less intensely minerally flavoured soup but it is never the less a real show stopper. This would be an ideal start to your Christmas day dinner.
Stir up Sunday? Christmas Culinary Countdown? What is that I hear you cry? Well this Sunday is thirty days before Christmas and a week before Advent. Advent, yes the thing with the calendar! Stir up Sunday is a Victorian tradition where the family gathered together to make the Christmas pudding or plum duff. The tradition is believed to originated from families listening to the collect for the day from the Book of Common Prayer for this particular day;
‘ Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. ’
Advent is observed in Christian churches as a time of waiting and preparing for the Nativity. Advent is derived from the Latin for “coming”. So your pudding is bound in the Christian Christmas tradition. And you thought Advent was all about a calendar with little doors and chocolate. So this special time would seem good enough for me to be the perfect start posting my Christmas recipes.
A Christmas Countdown
I am going to post lots of recipes in the run up to Christmas. A collection of classic dishes and a few unexpected twists in case you don’t like Turkey, so that you will be able to cook up a cracker of a Christmas. In this post you will find lots of ideas for home baking this festive season.
Get your Christmas Bake On
Lets look at a couple of the iconic Christmas recipes the Christmas pudding and the fruit cake. Now you don’t have to be scared or be a baker capable of winning the Great British Bake Off to make a great Christmas pudding or cake. As you will see it is really about preparation and making in advance.
“This recipe is from one of my culinary inspirations my Aunty Mary, a brilliant cook, it really is the best I’ve ever encountered with lots of dried fruits, citrus peel and good soaking in some good beer, and now I work for a brewery how the circle has turned. We used to spend most of the day sorting through the dried raisins and sultanas to make sure there were no small stones in the bags, then they would be left overnight in stout.”
“For those of you who like to be organised now is an ideal time to start to prepare your Classic Fruit Cake for the festive season and start preparing your Christmas pudding and your mincemeat. This is my go-to recipe for fruitcake, rich and flavoursome enough for a christening or wedding cake or our family Christmas Cake, it is a sufficiently sturdy bake to carry the weight of marzipan and icing and can be used in tiers.”
“My Christmas biscuits or cookies are a definite family favourite. They are great if you want to make something with your children to decorate the Christmas tree. But don’t worry they are very tasty too.”
Linzer biscuits are made with sable pastry which is cut into rounds and baked. The top biscuit often has a small cut out which allows the jam or fruit preserve to be seen when two biscuits are sandwiched together with jam in between. The finished biscuits are dusted with icing sugar
“Biscotti or cantucci ( most commonly used in Tuscany ) are delicious twice-baked Italian biscuits. They are usually made with almonds. Traditionally they are served with a sweet Italian dessert wine called Vin Santo. You might also find them on the side of a cappuccino or latte. To be honest I’m very happy dipping them in nothing more than a mug of tea. We always make several batches at home, in December, as they are a wonderful handmade small gift at Christmas time.”
“Mince pies are a peculiarly British individual pie now eaten across the English speaking world. They are traditionally served over the Christmas period. Although in America they are more likely to be made in large tart cases and eaten at Thanksgiving. It is thought the name is derived from mince meat and preserved fruit pies first bought back during the crusades. These would have been quite heavily spiced with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. “
See what I did there another terrible pun. But I remember the village fetes when I was growing up and there was always a coconut shy. You aimed a small hard wooden ball to knock down coconuts and win a prize. The only other time I encountered coconut in my childhood was the giant box of Bassett’s Liquorish Allsorts at Christmas. I ate far too many and was violently ill. It then took years to be able to stomach anything coconut flavoured. Thankfully I now like coconut in curries, desserts and love coconut sorbet. So I am not really happy to bring you this very tasty recipe for Thai Coconut Fish Soup. I still think desiccated coconut is made from Satan’s hoof clippings.
I love the contrasts and combinations in Thai cooking, salt, sweet, heat and sour. Recipes such as Thai style crab cakes and Seafood Tom Yam. Most of the aromatic ingredients are now available in a good supermarket or specialist Asian shop. You can use creamed coconut or coconut milk in the recipe and any seafood you really fancy. I have used monkfish but you can use any firm white fish. You can add prawns, squid, and mussels if you wish. This soup honours the spirit of Thai cooking rather than being wholly authentic so uses key Thai ingredients. There are chillies, galangal, coriander, and garlic flavouring the coconut base.
Thai-style Seafood Soup is a tasty favourite, poached monkfish and prawns, simmered in the spicy coconut broth flavoured with classic Thai ingredients. The kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lemongrass and crispy deep-fried shallots are all available in good Asian retailers or markets.
When you work for a brewery ( a big shout out to everyone at the Liberation Brewery, Jersey ) you had better not be afraid to try cooking with beer. In Belgium, cooking with beer is as common as the French cook with wine. I think almost all of the pubs I have cooked in included deep-fried cod or haddock in a beer batter or a steak and ale pie on their menus. Although to this date only one used custard powder in the batter recipe but that as they say is another story. More recently gastropubs and bistros have started cooking with beer and include dishes such as diverse as beer bread, beer ice cream and beer can chicken. For virtually any recipe that calls for a liquid of any sort, you can substitute beer.
As a marinade for meat or poultry, beer penetrates, flavours and tenderizes. Good beer is less acidic than wine so your food can be left in your marinade longer increasing the flavour. When you are roasting or braising and beer is used to baste the food or in the basting sauce, it imparts a rich, dark colour as the sugars caramelise. So, cooking with beer is great for adding flavour to BBQ’s and slow cooked casseroles and stews.
What can I cook with Beer?
In batter, a live ( not pasteurised ) beer can be substituted for yeast and water. The result is a crisp flavoursome coating for deep-fried fish such as cod, haddock, salmon, and squid. Beer is also delicious with shellfish like Mussels, cooking with it, instead of wine. I even developed a recipe in my day job to use with Oysters. Finally, beer and cheese are perfect companions. The famous Welsh Rarebit is the classic dish of cheese, beer and Worcestershire sauce combined together on toast. Today’s recipe is another great beer and cheese combination if a little unexpected. Beer and Cheese Bisque and it is really rather delicious.
How do I use Beer?
As with wine when you boil and reduce beer you will increase some of the flavours and lose others. You will also evaporate off all of the alcohol. If you are using beer as a substitute for stock remember reducing a strong, intensely hoppy beer will leave a bitter residue. A sweetish mild or stout with little hopping will produce a fine gravy in a pie or stew. A top tip when you are cooking is to reserve a little beer and add it when the cooking is finished. This will lift and enhance the beer flavours of your dish. A final note like wine never cook with a beer you would not drink.
Some Recipe and Beer Pairings
Light Larger style Beers – are ideal for batters as the carbonation produces a light, airy result and the sugars caramelise to a deep golden colour.
IPA Indian Pale Ales – the extra hopping makes for an ideal medium for cooking mussels and seafood.
Traditional Ales – use in bread, pies, and stews, the Belgium classic Carbonnade Flamande is very similar to a Beef Bourguignon with beer substituted for wine.
Stouts and Porters – are used in rich flavoured mustards and steamed steak and oyster pudding with Guinness.
Wheat Beer – traditionally used in Waterzooi, a fish stew from the Flanders region of Belgium thickened with egg yolks and cream and the favourite of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, born in Ghent. Wheat Beer is also ideal for batter mixes.
Speciality Beers – fruity lambic beers in chocolate cakes and puddings and raspberry or sour cherry Kriek beers with roast duck and fowl.
Liberation beers are wildly available as are many other great beers like Fullers, Adnams and some wonderful microbrewery ales. I’m not even getting any freebies from anyone. Next time I see the boys from the brewery I might try for a pint.
Beer and Cheese Bisque
Bisque is a term usually applied to creamy shellfish or roasted vegetable soups, where the main ingredients are first roasted and coloured then simmered to form a stock – the soup is therefore twice cooked or ‘ bis cuites ’. This soup is a little bit of a cheat as its ingredients are only cooked once but it sounds too nice a name to seriously quibble. You can substitute a well rounded not too dark beer for the Liberation Ale.