If you’re looking for a special meal to serve on an elegant occasion, lobster bisque answers the call. It’s a bit of work, but it's not hard and the payoff is a knockout. Lobster bisque is always on my festive Christmas Eve menu, and it would also be perfect for New Year's Eve or Valentine's Day.
It is light and luscious and doesn’t spoil your appetite for the feast that follows. The silky and creamy yet light bisque is the star of the show, while small chunks of lobster play a supporting role. It has a rich lobster flavor and a velvety, sumptuous texture.
An Updated and Easier Lobster Bisque
I learned to make traditional lobster bisque from a mentor-chef while working at a restaurant. Lobster bisque used to be fancy French restaurant fare, not typically under the purview of home cooks. It was a recipe created to put lobster shells to good use.
Traditionally, the shells were ground up and strained to make a lobster stock thickened with rice or beurre manié (a softened butter and flour mixture) and cream. The mixture is then flavored with sherry. The lobster meat was reserved for dishes like lobster thermidor—none were added to the bisque.
This updated lobster bisque recipe is similar: the lobster shells, cream, and sherry are used to flavor the stock, which is thickened with beurre manié. In my version, I don’t grind the lobster shells—it's too much work and necessary to get lots of lobster flavor. Plus, I steam the lobsters, pull the meat, and add it back to the bisque with a little lemon juice to cut the richness and brighten the flavor.
What’s a Bisque Anyway?
A bisque is an intensely flavored, smooth, and creamy soup. It’s not chunky and doesn’t have large bits of meat or vegetables like chowder or other soups. It is often associated with crustaceans like lobster, shrimp, crayfish, and crab. Modern versions are made with vegetables like mushrooms, tomatoes, or red bell pepper.
The Best Lobster for Lobster Bisque
A live lobster is the best choice because the water used to cook the lobster becomes the stock for the bisque. You could buy a pre-cooked lobster and use fish stock or clam juice to flavor the bisque. This is also a good option if you can’t face cooking a live lobster.
Could you use frozen lobster tails? I do not recommend it because there aren’t enough shells—this is where all the flavor comes from—to make a good stock. You would also need to buy a lot of them (about 2 pounds), which gets pricey.
The best bang for your buck would be to buy a live lobster. If you can’t find live or pre-cooked lobster locally, refer to this post for some of our favorite lobster delivery options.
How to Serve Lobster Bisque
Open a bottle of bubbly. You deserve to and the bisque pairs beautifully with it. Chilled white wine would be good, too. It is a light meal, so serve it with a crisp salad and some French bread for something special but not too substantial.
If you’re planning ahead for a special occasion, here are some tips on how to prepare the lobster bisque:
- Three months ahead: Add the lobster meat to the thickened stock, but do not add the cream. Cool it to room temperature first, then freeze it in a freezer-safe container. When you’re ready to serve, thaw it in the fridge overnight then reheat it in a pot over low heat. Stir in the cream and lemon juice.
- Two days ahead: Store the thickened stock and the lobster meat separately in the refrigerator for up to two days. When you’re ready to serve, reheat the stock in a pot over low heat. Stir in the cream and lemon juice. When it’s hot, add the lobster meat.
More Seafood Soups and Stews
If you’re using a cooked lobster, do not steam it again. Remove the meat from the shells and use 3 cups bottled clam juice and 3 cups water to make the stock as directed in the recipe.
7 cups water, divided
3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 large (2-pound) or 2 small (1-pound) live lobsters (see Recipe Note)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 medium carrot, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Pinch cayenne pepper or to taste
1 dry bay leaf
1 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cream sherry
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Cook the lobster:
Skip this step if using a cooked lobster. See recipe notes above for instructions on how to proceed.
In an 8- to 10-quart pot set over high heat, bring 6 cups water and the salt to a boil. Add the lobster, head first and cover the pot with a lid.
Adjust the heat to a low boil, and steam for 18 to 20 minutes for a large lobster or 15 to 18 minutes for two small lobsters. The lobster will not be fully submerged in the water. When it’s done, the shell will be bright red. You should be able to twist off a leg easily.
With tongs, remove the lobster and set it on a rimmed baking sheet to cool. Pour the lobster cooking water into a second pot and set it aside for when you make the stock.
Pick the lobster meat from its shell:
When the lobster is cool enough to handle, use a knife, kitchen shears, and if necessary, a mallet or lobster cracker to break or cut the shells and extract the meat. For detailed instructions, check out this post. It will walk you through the process. Work over the rimmed baking sheet to catch the juices, so you can add them to the stock later.
Transfer the meat to a bowl:
Transfer the lobster meat into a medium bowl. If the lobster has roe—the tiny red lobster eggs from a female lobster—add it too. Run your fingers through the smaller pieces of meat to find and remove any rogue shells.
Rinse off any tomalley—the green gunky stuff stuck to the meat—under cold running water. Pat the meat dry with a paper towel. Cut the large pieces of meat into smaller bite-sized pieces and transfer them to the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
With your hands or kitchen shears, break or cut the shells into 2- to 3-inch pieces. These will be used to flavor the stock.
Make the stock:
Heat the same stock pot you used to cook the lobster over medium heat and add the oil. Add the cut-up lobster shells and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes until they turn a deeper shade of red.
Stir in the onion, carrot, celery, thyme sprigs, and garlic. Cook stirring often for 5 minutes, until the vegetables soften. Stir in the tomato paste, cayenne pepper, and bay leaf. Cook and stir for 2 minutes to concentrate the flavors.
Add 5 cups of the lobster cooking water and the reserved juices on the baking sheet. If you don’t have the full amount of lobster cooking water, add additional water to make 5 cups of liquid.
Add the wine and the remaining 1 cup water. Bring it to a boil then lower the heat to maintain a simmer. Cover the pot with a lid and cook for 45 minutes.
Strain the stock:
Set a colander over a large bowl and strain the stock to remove the shells and aromatics. Discard them. Rinse out the pot and strain the stock again into it, but this time through a fine mesh strainer.
Make the beurre manié:
In a small bowl, stir the butter and flour together until combined.
Finish the bisque:
Add the sherry into the strained stock and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. Whisk the beurre manié into the simmering stock and continue simmering for 5 minutes, whisking occasionally, until the beurre manié dissolves and the bisque thickens. It should be the consistency of heavy cream.
If the bisque is too thin, whisk in more beurre manié using a ratio of 1 part butter to 1 part flour. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes for the flour to thicken the bisque. The consistency should be light and creamy, not thick and heavy. If the bisque thickens too much, add more lobster stock or water, a little at a time.
Add the cream and bring it to a simmer again. Stir in the lobster meat and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until the lobster is heated through. Stir in the lemon juice. Taste and add more salt if you’d like.
Serve the bisque:
Ladle the bisque into bowls and serve warm.
Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 2 days in a lidded container. It can be frozen for up to 3 months, but you do run the risk of it breaking (the cream curdles and separates) when you reheat it. To mitigate this, slowly reheat the bisque in a pot over low heat, whisking often and diligently so that it stays creamy and smooth.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 30g||38%|
|Saturated Fat 16g||80%|
|Total Carbohydrate 13g||5%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||5%|
|Total Sugars 4g|
|Vitamin C 6mg||28%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|