Tortilla Soup de Urbán

Our recent post on bone stock covered the process of making a big batch to store for a while. Our favorite versions of stocks aren’t nearly so involved – They’re the quick, simple stocks made most often from a chicken carcass, maybe a turkey, some fish, or fresh veggies. Recently, M got the crud, and was jonesin’ for tortilla soup. That is not only serious comfort food, it’s actually been proven to be good for you when you’re sick. She had some at several local restaurants, but they weren’t quite cutting it – It needed our mojo to be just right.

Tortilla Soup

You wouldn’t be terribly out of line in assuming that tortilla soup is something invented to appease Gringos, but it ain’t necessarily so. While there are claims that the dish originated in the American Southwest back in the 1960s, there are far more, (and far older), roots in Mexican regional cooking. The dish is popular in Mexico City, as well as generally throughout central Mexico, where it’s called Sopa de Tortilla. Add beans and it’s Sopa Tarasca. Leave out the chicken and it’s Sopa Azteca – There are a bunch more variants, of course. It’s a sure bet that the folks that begat Tex Mex and Southwestern cooking brought their recipes with them from down south.

As with so many touchstone dishes, there isn’t really one master recipe, which is good – The one you love will do. Tortilla soup is so popular and so good because it comes in so many varieties, in so many homes – It’s made most often because there are things in the kitchen that need to get used, like a leftover chicken – We don’t make it exactly the same every time here, and I don’t believe most Mexican cooks do either – The consistency lies in a few fundamental ingredients. What needs to be in there? Homemade stock, chiles, aromatics, tomatoes, proper herbs, and crisp corn tortilla strips, far as I’m concerned.

Your stock will most times be poultry, but pork or veggie wouldn’t be out of line either. Chiles are a must, and those do need to be a dried, venerable variety – Pasillo, Ancho, Guajillo, Colorado, Chipotle, Mulato – whatever floats your boat. Those add a depth and richness of flavor, (and various levels of heat), without which tortilla soup is just soup. Check out our Chile page for the scoop on what each is packing. Any great soup needs an aromatic base; here I think onion and garlic are the must-haves. Tomatoes should be tasty, and fresh if possible – no mass produced red cardboard. Most folks call Mexican oregano and cumin the must-have herbs, but you can certainly cut that back to just cumin and sub something else you love for the oregano, like we do. The tortilla strips could be from corn tortillas that need to get used – Often enough, that’s another trigger that leads to this lovely stuff getting made.

Meat isn’t necessary in tortilla soup – remember that Azteca version I mentioned. If you do add it, it should really be something that needs to get used up. A chicken carcass with some meat on the bones is probably the primary trigger for whipping up a batch. You could use turkey, or pork, or fish if you wanted or needed to. Again, there really isn’t a ‘classic’ version of tortilla soup – it’s as individual as Mamma’s bolognese. So, here’s my swing at this heavenly stuff. The method we employ yields wonderful depth and breadth of flavor, which is really what it’s all about. If you’ve got homemade stock at the ready, good for you – You can go down to the part that reads, For the Tortilla Soup – Just in case you don’t, we’ve throw in a recipe for that too.

Homemade Chicken Stock

This recipe is a perfect opportunity to go explore your local Latin grocery. You’ll find the chiles, crema, queso, veggies, tortillas, herbs, and maybe even a chicken there.

Sopa de Tortilla Urbán

1 Fat and Happy Roasting Chicken – you’ll want about a pound of meat for the soup, plus the whole carcass for stock.

3 medium White or Yellow Onions

3 Fat Carrots

5-6 Stalks Fresh Celery

5-6 Cloves Fresh Garlic

2-3 dried Ancho or Pasilla Negra Chiles

4-5 large fresh Tomatoes (or a bunch of little guys – You want around 2 cups worth)

4 Tablespoons Tomato Paste

1 Tablespoon Lemon Thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground Cumin

6-10 Corn Tortillas

For the Toppings – 

2 ripe Avocados

1 pint Mexican Crema 

Fresh Mexican Cheese – I recommend Cotija if you want something that won’t melt much, and Chihuahua otherwise.

The day before you’re ready for soup, go and get your ingredients.

Mire Poix

Rough chop one onion, 1 carrot, and a couple celery stalks, (AKA Mire Poix)

Stuff a fresh chicken with the mire poix, and spread the rest across a low sided baking dish or cast iron skillet, and set the chicken on top of that.

Roast the chicken and enjoy a great meal.

Next day, strip all the meat you can, (light and dark), from the carcass – pull or shred that as you’re doing the deed. 

Set that meat aside in an airtight container, in the fridge.

Preheat your oven to 350° F and set a rack in the middle position.

Arrange the carcass along with the veggies you stuffed it with on a baking sheet or shallow roasting pan. 

Add a couple of cloves of trimmed, peeled, and smashed garlic.

Smear 3 or 4 tablespoons of tomato paste evenly over the carcass.

Roast all that for 30-45 minutes, until the bones are lightly browned.

Rough chop another onion and the remaining carrots and celery.

Remove the pan from the oven.

Add all the roasted stuff, the freshly chopped veggies, and a couple of Turkish bay leaves into a 16 cup stock pot.

Add 10 cups of fresh water to the stock pot and set it over a medium high flame.

When the stock starts to boil, turn it down to maintain a low simmer. 

Let everything cook for at least 3 hours, and as long as 6 hours.

Homemade Chicken Stock

Set up a colander in or above another stock pot or mixing bowl large enough to handle 6-8 cups of liquid.

Carefully pour the stock through the colander, and discard all the solids – You’ve cooked pretty much everything out of that stuff by this point, so it can sure go into your compost pile.

Cool the stock by filling a stoppered sink as high as you can with a 50%-50% mix of ice and water, around the freshly filled stock pot.

Drop the temp of the stock to below 70° F within 2 hours, and from 70° F to under 40° F within 4 hours after that – Total cooling time, 6 hours or less.

Refrigerate the stock overnight. This will allow a lot of the suspended solids to drop out of the solution, and also allow the fat to rise. In the morning, you’ll find clearer stock with a nice, solid layer of fat on top.

Use a wide slotted spoon or handled strainer and carefully skim off the layer of fat, and discard that.

This stock is now ready to make soup. You’ll need 8 cups for the tortilla soup. You can freeze the rest in sanitized quart mason jars, leaving at least 2” headroom for expansion.

Tortilla Soup

For the Tortilla Soup

Preheat your oven to 350° F, with a rack in the middle position.

Peel and trim a whole onion, then cut in half.

Rinse tomatoes and leave them whole.

Trim and peel 4 cloves of garlic, leaving them whole.

Arrange onion, 3 tomatoes, and garlic on a baking sheet.

Roast veggies for 30 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool enough to handle.

Dice the 4th (and 5th if you like lots) tomato, and set aside in a mix en place bowl.

In a cast iron comal or skillet over medium heat, toast your whole chiles – lay them flat, pressing them down with a spatula, for about 15 seconds, then turn and repeat – Do this for two turns on each side, total of about a minute, tops – Don’t over-toast!

Dice roasted onion and set aside in a mis bowl.

Add toasted chiles, roasted tomatoes, and garlic to a blender vessel with 2 cups of chicken stock.

Pulse this mix into a smooth purée, about 1 minute, tops.

In a soup or stock pot over medium heat, add the purée and the diced onion. 

Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, whisking steadily. The purée will reduce notably, to a thick sauce.

Add remaining 6 cups of stock and about a pound of shredded chicken, stir to incorporate.

When the soup starts to simmer, reduce heat to just maintain that.

Add lemon thyme and cumin, stir to incorporate.

Preheat oven to 400° F, with a rack in the middle position.

Slice tortillas into strips about 1/4” wide by 3” or so. 

Bake strips until they’re golden brown and crispy, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool a bit.

Soup should simmer for 30 minutes to fully marry and develop flavors.

Grate chihuahua or cotija cheese.

Peel and cut avocado into roughly 1/2” cubes.

Serve soup hot, with tortilla strips, cheese, and crema for topping.

Tortilla Soup Toppings

You might also like more chopped fresh onion, or even fresh pico de gallo, crunchy iceberg lettuce, fresh diced jalapeños, fresh tomato, and fresh cilantro for additional toppings, and if you do, you should have them.

Well, tequila, of course!

What does bay leaf do for our cooking, anyway?

When you make soup, or stew, or any number of sauces at home, you add a bay leaf or two, right? Ever wonder why you do that – I mean, really give it some thought? I’ll be honest – I hadn’t, so I guess it’s time to ask – What does bay leaf do for our cooking, anyway?

Full disclosure, a social media acquaintance sent me a link to a new-agey treatise on bay leaf. This thing claimed that, ‘recent scientific studies have proven’ that bay leaf converted triglycerides to monounsaturated fats, eliminates heartburn, acidity, and constipation, regulates bowel movements and blood sugar, makes the human body produce insulin, eliminates bad cholesterol, protects the heart from seizures and strokes, relieves insomnia, anxiety, kidney stones and cures infections – No freakin’ wonder we put them in soup!

Most if not all of those claims are, at best, gross exaggeration and distortion of facts. The real dead giveaway was this line – ‘Do you know that if you boil some bay leaves in a glass of water and taste it, it will have no flavor?’

My answer to that is, ‘do you know that that statement is complete bullshit?’ Either the author has never actually done the experiment, or did so with bad bay leaves. Had they done it properly, they’d have discovered a much more potent and nuanced result.

Sweet bay laurel tree

Before we dive into that, let’s define what exactly the bay leaf in our pantry is – it’s Sweet Bay, AKA Bay Laurel, or Lauris nobilis. It’s native to the Mediterranean, and cultivated commercially all around that region, as well as France, Spain, Mexico, and Portugal. Now for the record, the other bay we see in a lot of pantries is California Bay, and that’s a whole different beast, Umbullularia californica – it’s far more potent than sweet bay, with longer, narrower leaves.

Dried Sweet Bay leaves
Dried Sweet Bay leaves
Dried California Bay leaves
Dried California Bay leaves

Problem is, a lot of purveyors just call their stuff ‘Bay Leaf,’ and that can make things tough on us home cooks. Different growing areas produce leaves with subtle differences you may like or not – In any event, it’d be nice to know from whence yours came, wouldn’t it? Good outfits like World Spice and Penzey’s will tell you that information. 

It’s good to keep both the sweet and California versions on hand, by the way. Because they both do have a place in our cooking. While California bay is intense and medicinal, the sweet, (often called Turkish), is lighter, more nuanced and savory. The latter is far and away my personal go to, for the record. California bay is nice, in moderation, in low and slow soups and stews where time and temperature can simmer out the lion’s share of the more volatile constituents that spring forth early on in the cooking process. In any event, you’d be well advised to find out what variety you have, and like best.

Sweet Bay is complex, with dozens of volatile compounds onboard each leaf. The heavy hitters are cineole, pinine, linalool, and methyl eugenol. Interestingly enough, most of those compounds are also found in basil. California Bay is a bit different, packing cineole, pinine, and sabinine – that last one is responsible for things like the spiciness of black pepper, nutmeg, and carrot oil. Cineole, linalool, and pinine are terpenes, a rather volatile chemical family that has much to do with a wide variety of powerful scents in the natural world. Their highly reactive nature makes them some of the first things we smell when bay leaves are used in cooking. Methyl eugenol is a phenolic found in over 450 plants, and plays a vital role in pollination – how about that in your spaghetti sauce? These compounds are fascinating, especially when we think about how they’ve made that journey from chemical warning sign, or pollination attractor, to our dining table.

On to that experiment then, since that’s the best way to ascertain that what you’ve got in your pantry is packin’. Set a small pan of water to boil and then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Toss in a couple bay leaves of your choice, let them do their thing for 3 to 5 minutes, and then stick your nose down there.

The first things you get will be those fleeting terpenes. If you’ve got California bay, those notes will be the big medicinal ones, menthol and camphor. If you’ve got sweet bay, you’ll still get some hefty initial notes, like camphor from the cineole, but as simmering time progresses, you’ll catch a sort of floral skunkiness – that’s the linalool’s influence. Piney, sagey notes come from the pinine, while the methyl eugenol might remind you of general earthy, savory notes. If you let that simmer go for 45 to 60 minutes, as you would for a soup or stew, and then taste your bay leaf tea, you’ll get hints of all these things – If you don’t, then what you’ve got is old, or old, crappy bay leaf – and that’s not at all uncommon.

Bay leaf’s contribution to your cooking is subtle – it’s a background stalwart, not a lead singer. What makes a sauce, soup, or stew great is the layering of flavors, and for that, a solid aromatic base is critical. Bay lends a raft of minor notes that, while perhaps not missed in and of themselves, certainly will be if they’re absent from the mix.

So what to do in your kitchen? Start by finding your bay leaf, opening the jar and giving it a big sniff. Do you get a nice, complex but subtle whiff of the stuff discussed herein? Do you remember where and when you bought those leaves? Does the container say anything about provenance? If the answer to those questions is, ‘no,’ then trash what you’ve got and get some fresh stuff. World Spice is a great go to for bay leaf – They carry both Turkish and California, and they’re always top notch quality. 

Bay does just fine as a dried herb, by the way. If you keep them in a clean, airtight glass jar, out of direct sunlight and wide swings of temperature, they’ll be good to go for 6 months, easy. If you want more from your bay, store them in your freezer and they’ll last for years.

Fresh Sweet Bay leaves
Fresh Sweet Bay leaves

You can use fresh bay leaves in cooking, but know that their potency is quite a bit higher than dried leaves, so adjust accordingly, and again, be sure you know what you’ve got – A freshly crushed leaf of fresh bay from our garden smells subtly savory and complex, just as described, whereas, at least to me, fresh California bay smells like a medicine cabinet – an overdose of the latter will ruin a meal really quickly.

Grow your own bay leaves

Finally, you can grow your own if you’re living in a USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 7 or thereabouts – We’re a 7+ here in the northwest corner of Washington State, and our little sweet bay plant is doing fine, even with a couple of hard frosts under its belt. Granted, it’s a small bush and not a tree – in its native turf, it can reach over fifteen meters in height. Here’s a very nice primer on doing so.

It’s Time to Riff on Gazpacho

This was posted back a few months, when we were having technical difficulties. Now that it’s stupid hot in most of the country, (and we’ve got the technical stuff fixed), I figure it’s a good time to repost.

Gazpacho is often considered a strictly summer dish, although it needn’t be so. A cold, veggie-based soup makes a great side for something heavy like smoked meats, a hot bean dish – anything for which a cool, tart sip would make a nice counterpoint or palate cleanser.

Gazpacho is wholly embraced as Spanish in origin, and may well be, although the roots likely go deeper than that. Rome overran Spain roughly 2,200 years ago, and brought with them, among other things, a gruel or mush made predominantly of bread and oil – and the Latin word ‘caspa,’ a reference to breadcrumbs, and the likely root of ‘gazpacho’. Like all great dishes there are now variants from all over the globe, but the Spanish and Portuguese versions are still the most well known.

Gazpacho Andaluz - The one you’re probably thinking of

The gazpacho you’re likely familiar is Andalusian in origin – that rich orange-red tomato based stuff, redolent of garlic, fresh veggies, and good olive oil. Fact is, this variant didn’t show up until very late in the development of the dish. For literally millennia, it was more likely a close mirror to the original (and relatively boring), Roman version. What made it what it is today is the garlic and almonds from Central Asia, olives from Greece, cucumbers from India, brought to España by the Romans and the Moors. Add tomatoes, tomatillos, avocados and chiles from Mexico and South America hauled home by Spanish and Portuguese conquerors, and that’s the magic that converted the mundane into the sublime. 

Gazpacho Verde - All about New World flavors

There are many variations on the central gazpacho theme – Red, green, and white, smooth or chunky, mild or fiery, some more like salsa than soup, and all are delightful. Not all variants are purely veggie based – Everything from almonds to watermelon and green grapes may find their way into the mix. Fish or meat get in there too, as with Mexican gazpacho ceviche, or Portuguese versions loaded with local ham.

Some Gazpacho variants are more like Pico de Gallo than soup

Traditionally, whatever is to go in the mix is rough chopped and tossed into a large vessel, then pounded with a mortar, strained, and deseeded. Nowadays, a blender or food processor is more often employed. The old ways are preferred by those who insist that a completely smooth and even consistency is contrary to the spirit of the dish and frankly, and I kind of agree – Enough so to approve of using modern methods, but leaving things a bit more on the rustic side, at any rate.

Gazpacho Blanco - Ancient and sublime

While the vast majority of gazpachos are served cold, that doesn’t mean that you can’t heat up the ingredients a bit – Roasting, grilling, or broiling veggies intensifies their flavors and deepens sweetness – That can be a thing to try with just an ingredient or two, or the lion’s share, as you please. Gazpacho is a perfect vehicle for home gardens, when you are looking at your yield and wondering what you can do with all that, as well as a great thing to do with stuff that has to get out of the fridge and go to work before it goes bad, (and if things are kind of on their last legs, roasting may be just the ticket.)

Here’s a few basics to get you going, then you should branch out and make them yours.

Gazpacho Andaluz – I’ve been making this version since the late ‘60s, when a Spanish friend of my mom’s showed me the ropes.

4-5 ripe Tomatoes.

1 Cucumber.

1 medium Bell Pepper, (Red, orange, or yellow, as you like, or that needs to get used)

1-3 cloves fresh Garlic.

2 thick slices Bread, (something with a dense crumb, dried out overnight)

1/3 cup extra virgin Olive Oil.

2 Tablespoons Cider Vinegar.

1 Cup Vegetable Stock

Fine grind kosher Salt, fresh ground Pepper, and ground Chile to taste.

If you want to roast, grill, or char your veggies, do that first, and then allow them to cool to room temperature.

Remove crusts from bread and toss into a bowl just big enough for the slices. Cover with the veggie stock and allow that to soak for 15 to 20 minutes.

Peel, core, seed and rough chop tomatoes, cucumber, pepper and garlic. Throw all those into a blender or processor and pulse just to get them incorporated. 

Grab your bread and squeeze it into a ball as hard as you can. 

Pour off the stock into a measuring cup, in case you need some further on in the process.

Crumble the bread back into the bowl, then add the oil and vinegar. Mix well to fully incorporate.

Slowly add the bread/oil/vinegar blend to the veggie mix while pulsing the blender or processor on low until you get the consistency you like – You want a nice, relatively thick soup that will coat a spoon, but you can leave that mix on the rustic side, or go all the way to a purée, as you wish.

If your mix is too thick, thin it out by pulsing in a little more stock.

You can go with the gazpacho as is, or, if you really want things smooth, pour it into a single mesh strainer and carefully force the soup through with your fingers.

Place soup in a glass bowl or container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to overnight.

When you’re ready to eat, taste the gazpacho and then season minimally with salt and pepper. Provide more of those, plus fine ground chiles, at the table.

Serve with additional garnishes that float your boat – Chopped dry cured chorizo, Jamon Iberico, hard-boiled egg, cilantro, diced tomato, cucumber, onion or shallot, chiles or sweet peppers, pico de gallo, celery leaf, chives, fresh mustard greens, any quick pickled veggie blend you like, sour cream or crema, are all wonderful.

Gazpacho Verde

4 large Tomatillos

4 Green Onions (Scallions)

1 Green Bell Pepper

1 English Hothouse Cucumber

2 Green Chiles (New Mexican, anaheim, jalapeño, or serrano – i.e. heat level as you prefer)

2 cloves fresh Garlic

1 Cup Greek Yogurt

1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

1/4 Cup Veggie Stock

1/4 Cup Cider Vinegar

2 thick slices Bread, (something with a dense crumb, dried out overnight)

1 fresh Lime

Fine ground Kosher Salt 

Freshly ground Pepper

Ground Piment d’Espelette chile 

If you want to roast, grill, or char your veggies, do that first, and then allow them to cool to room temperature.

Husk, stem, and quarter tomatillos.

Stem, seed and rough chop pepper and chiles.

smash, peel, trim, and mince garlic.

Trim and rough chop green onions.

Slice cuke in half, deseed, then rough chop.

Zest and juice lime.

Remove crusts from bread and tear into roughly 1” pieces.

In a large, non-reactive mixing bowl, add lime zest, 2 tablespoons juice, the vinegar, the yogurt, and the avocado oil. Whisk until fully incorporated.

Add the tomatillos, green onions, chiles, cuke, garlic, and bread to the mix and stir to thoroughly coat the bread.

Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

When you’re ready to eat, add the mix to a blender in workable batches and blend until smooth as you prefer – You want a nice, relatively thick soup that will coat a spoon, but you can leave that mix on the rustic side, or go all the way to a purée, as you wish.

Taste the soup and season lightly with salt and pepper. Provide more, and the ground chile, at the table.

Serve with additional garnishes that float your boat – Chopped dry cured chorizo, Jamon Iberico, hard-boiled egg, cilantro, diced tomato, cucumber, onion or shallot, chiles or sweet peppers, pico de gallo, celery leaf, chives, fresh mustard greens, any quick pickled veggie blend you like, sour cream or crema, are all wonderful.

Gazpacho Blanco

1 Cup blanched Marcona Almonds (Must be soaked overnight!)

1 Cup cold Water

1/4 Cup extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 thick slices Bread, (something with a dense crumb, dried out overnight)

1 Apple (Pink lady, honey crisp, crips pink are good options – You want a really juicy one)

1 clove fresh Garlic

1-2 teaspoons Sherry Vinegar

Fine ground kosher salt

Seedless Green Grapes to garnish

Place almonds in a mixing bowl and cover with at least 2” of fresh water. Allow them to soak overnight.

Pour almonds into a single mesh strainer.

Remove crusts from bread and tear into roughly 1” pieces.

Peel, trim, smash and mince garlic.

Peel, core, and chop apple.

Toss bread into a blender vessel and add the water, making sure the bread is covered. Allow that to soak for 15-20 minutes.

Add almonds, apple, and garlic to the blender vessel.

Pile the mix until thoroughly blended and smooth.

Taste and season lightly with salt and vinegar (add vinegar 1/2 teaspoon at a time).

Add the olive oil in a slow, smooth stream while blending the soup on low.

Taste and adjust seasoning as desired.

Chill for at least 2 hours prior to serving, and up to overnight.

Top with sliced green grapes, if you like, (you will).

Real Deal Bisque – It’s all about shellfish and great stockm

I love serendipity. Yesterday, Jerry Lobdill, an old friend from Texas, got in touch looking for a shrimp bisque recipe. When I got home, Monica had bought fresh shrimp – That’s just gotta be a sign, right? I knew I had a recipe, and I do, but it turns out it hadn’t been published yet. Time to correct that glaring omission.

When you think ‘Bisque,’ what does that conjure in your minds eye? These days, it might be anything in a thick, rich creamy soup, and that’s sort of correct, but f we’re talking the genuine article, bisque is made with shellfish – lobster, crab, shrimp or crawfish. The key is starting with a great stock – If you don’t have that as the base of the dish, you ain’t got real bisque – It’s that simple.

Fresh, homemade stock is key to great bisque

That said, many things are called bisque these days, but really, that’s just done to sell stuff – Bisque sounds infinitely sexier than Cream of Whatever, doesn’t it? Fact is, the only thing I found on this site was Butternut Squash Bisque, so I’m guilty as charged. It’s high time we posted up the real deal.

Before we build, a bit of where bisque comes from. This thick, rustic soup goes back at least 500 years in France. Back when, it contained crushed seafood shells, even when the proteins involved were game, rather than shellfish. Bisque languished for a while before returning to the spotlight as a somewhat more refined dish in the late seventeenth century, (shells were still used to make the stock, but not crushed and left in, as they had been). There are many old saws about the name deriving from the Bay of Biscay, but that’s likely romanticizing – ‘Bis cuties’, roughly ‘twice cooked’, which reflects the creation of stock followed by a second cooking of the bisque itself, is the more likely root.

In any event, bisque may seem fussy and difficult, but it’s really not. If you’ve poked around here at all, you know we always start a soup or stew with homemade stock, and so should you. From absolute scratch, this stuff can be made in a couple of hours, and faster yet if you do stock one day and bisque the next.  The other must-have aspects of a genuine bisque are, a solid foundation made with fresh, aromatic bases, the freshest herbs you can get, and thickening done with a buerre manié, (more on the latter technique in a bit.) What we’ll detail here could be used with any of the shellfish I mentioned above, although you might want to tweak things a bit – like crab with mire poix and Irish whiskey subbed for the brandy, lobster with soffritto and rum,  or crawfish with a Cajun Holy Trinity and bourbon, or something else you come up with on your own – You get the idea.

Buerre manié - kneaded butter- The key to thickening soups, stews, and sauces.

A note on buerre manié, since that may be a new trick some of y’all. If you’ve ever wondered how professionals make such lovely, thick, shiny soups, stews, and sauces, this is how it’s done. Buerre manié is a classic French technique for thickening – it couldn’t be easier, and there’s no better way to get the job done. Buerre manié means kneaded butter, and that’s exactly what you do. Equal portions of butter and flour are combined by hand to form a smooth, uniform paste. What this does is evenly coat the flour with butter, allowing us to introduce prodigious thickening power without clumping – A most important thing, oui? Once mixed, you roll up roughly teaspoon sized balls of the stuff and add one at a time to whatever you need thickened, thoroughly whisking that into the mix, et viola – la perfection!

Finally, and as always, you want the freshest ingredients you can get, and that doesn’t just refer to the shellfish – Your aromatics, herbs, and dairy should be top notch as well. So here ya go, Jerry, and the rest of y’all as well.

Shrimp Bisque a la Urban

Medium Shrimp come 41-50 to the pound

For the Stock

2 Quarts Water

Shells from 1 1/2 pounds of medium sized shrimp.

1/2 Cup yellow Onion, chopped

1/2 Cup Celery (Leaves are preferred), chopped

1/2 Cup Carrot, chopped

1/2 fresh Lemon

3 cloves fresh Garlic, crushed, skinned, and minced

5-6 whole peppercorns

2 Bay Leaves, (I like Turkish)

Two 3” sprigs fresh Thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Fresh ground pepper

Pinch fine grind Salt

Shell, devein, and chop shrimp. Return shrimp to fridge and retain shells.

In a stock pot over medium high heat, add the olive oil and heat through. 

Add carrot and sauté for a couple of minutes. 

Add onion and celery, season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté until the onion begins to turn translucent, about 2-3 minutes. 

Add garlic and sauté until the raw garlic smell dissipates. 

Squeeze lemon juice into the pot, then toss the half lemon in as well. 

Add the shrimp shells, water, peppercorns, thyme, and bay leaves – Stir to incorporate.

Bring stock to a boil, then reduce heat to just maintain a simmer – Cook for one hour, uncovered.

Remove pot from heat and carefully pour stock through a single mesh strainer. Set stock aside, and discard the solids.

For the Bisque

4 Cups Shrimp Stock

1/4 Cup Heavy Cream

1/4 Cup Brandy

2 Tablespoons Onion, fine diced

1 Tablespoon Carrot, fine diced

1 Tablespoon Celery, fine diced

2 Tablespoons unsalted Butter 

2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour

2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste

2 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 teaspoon Turkish Oregano 

1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Thyme 

1/2 teaspoon Tarragon

2 Turkish Bay Leaves

2-4 shakes Tabasco

A few sprigs fresh Parsley, chopped fine

Salt

Fresh ground White Pepper

Reserve and set aside 8-10 whole shrimp. The rest should be shelled, deveined, and chopped.

Pull butter from fridge and set aside.

If you have fresh herbs, you can combine and mince them ahead of cooking.

In a Dutch oven over medium high heat, add olive oil and heat through.

Add carrot and sauté for a couple of minutes. 

Add onion and celery, season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté until the onion begins to turn translucent, about 2-3 minutes. 

Add brandy and stir until raw booze smell dissipates.

Add tomato paste, and all herbs – Stir to incorporate and sauté for 2 minutes.

Add stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a bare simmer and cook for 60 minutes.

Carefully process bisque with an immersion blender, until you have a smooth, even consistency.

Add a couple shakes of Tabasco, taste, and adjust salt and pepper as desired.

In a small mixing bowl or cup, combine flour and butter and knead by hand until you’ve got a nice, uniform paste – This is a Beurre Manié – The classic French thickener for soups and stews.

Add beurre manié a teaspoon at a time, whisking it into the bisque – Once that’s all introduced, simmer for another 5 minutes.

Whisking constantly, slowly add cream in a thin stream.

Increase temperature to medium, (you want a rolling boil).

Add the shrimp and cook for another 15 minutes.

Ladle into bowls, garnish with a couple whole shrimp and a pinch of parsley.

Serve hot, with crusty bread and a nice dry white wine or cider.