Provencal Seafood Bisque

Hank made this seafood bisque for us the other day and it was so outrageously good I begged him to make it again. I served some of it to a friend from Provence whose eyes lit up upon tasting it, “This is just like we have at home! ‘Bisque de Fruits de Mer'”. The saffron is essential, and even though I usually don’t like saffron, this soup has turned me into a saffron lover. I hope you make it. ~Elise

This is a curious, blended fish soup I’ve been making, in various forms, for many years. I like blended soups, which can seem creamy even without cream – although this one does have a little cream added at the end. They’re just, well, more refined than a typical country soup. And sometimes I feel the need for a touch of elegance, even on a busy midweek night.

One of the things that makes this soup so lovely? It only takes about 30 minutes to make. Yet, eaten with fresh bread and a glass of wine, you feel like you’re sitting at an oceanside bistro in Provence; there is a similar soup made like this in the South of France.

The flavor comes mostly from the stock (shellfish stock or a combination of fish stock and clam juice), the orange zest and saffron. You cannot substitute something else for the saffron; its color and aroma are integral to the soup. A pinch of cayenne adds the faintest zing that brings everything together. For fish I used a Pacific flounder. You can use any mild, white fish: Cod, haddock, any flatfish (flounder, fluke, halibut, sole, turbot, etc), walleye, bluegill, or rock cod.

Blend this soup well. You want a smooth, silky texture, not a grainy one. I puréed the soup first with an immersion blender, then poured it into a regular blender to finish. In the past I’ve even passed it through a fine-meshed drum sieve to make it even smoother. But you need not go to such lengths. The soup will be just fine if it is well blended.

Once its blended and you add the cream in, don’t let the soup boil; it could break. And if you have leftovers, just heat them gently in a pot until warm enough to eat.

  • Prep: 5 minutes
  • Cook: 40 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4-6.

The soup is particularly good served with crusty French or Italian loaf bread for dipping.

Ingredients

  • 3 slices of bacon, roughly chopped (can substitute olive oil or butter, 3 Tbsp)
  • 1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 pound white fish fillets, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of orange zest
  • A pinch of cayenne
  • A large pinch of saffron
  • 1 quart of shellfish stock, OR 16 ounces of clam juice plus 16 ounces of fish stock or water
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Salt to taste

Method

1 Cook the bacon on medium heat in a 6 to 8 quart pot until it is crispy. Remove the bacon from the pot with a slotted spoon. Set aside on a paper towel to use for garnish later.

2 Increase the heat to medium high and add the onions, celery and carrot. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are translucent. Do not brown. Sprinkle some salt over everything as it cooks.

3 Add the fish, tomatoes and the garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring often.

4 Add the orange zest, cayenne and saffron, then pour in the shellfish stock or whatever stock you are using. In a pinch you could even use chicken or vegetable stock, but the flavor of the soup will be different. Simmer this gently – do not let it get to a rolling boil – for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5 Get another pot ready. Fill a blender a third of the way with the soup and blend it on high (starting on low then increasing to high) for 1 minute, or until it is well puréed. Work in batches to purée the rest of the soup. Pour the puréed soup into the clean pot.

6 Put the soup on medium-low heat and add the cream. Stir well and taste for salt, adding if needed. Do not let this boil! Or it might break.

Serve garnished with bacon bits or dill fronds, and alongside some crusty bread. A dry rose or light red wine would go well with this; I’d suggest a Beaujolais or a Pinot Noir.

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