Crab bisque

Serves 4-6
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Bisque refers to a shellfish soup with cream. The name is thought to have come from the Spanish Biscay region. With this type of soup the flavour really comes from the shells, and after I've cooked shellfish at home I always keep the shells in the freezer for this. For crab bisque you can remove the meat from the crab first and use it for the crab cakes, salads or a sandwiches, and make up the weight with extra shell. A fishmonger might save you some shells. If you can't get whole crabs, use cooked or raw prawns, with the shells and heads on, and just follow the recipe in the same way.

Bisque refers to a shellfish soup with cream. The name is thought to have come from the Spanish Biscay region. With this type of soup the flavour really comes from the shells, and after I've cooked shellfish at home I always keep the shells in the freezer for this. For crab bisque you can remove the meat from the crab first and use it for the crab cakes, salads or a sandwiches, and make up the weight with extra shell. A fishmonger might save you some shells. If you can't get whole crabs, use cooked or raw prawns, with the shells and heads on, and just follow the recipe in the same way.

1kg freshly cooked or raw whole crab, or the same weight of shells
1tbsp vegetable oil
1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small leek, trimmed and roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
12tsp fennel seeds
A few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
40g butter
2tbsp tomato purée
3tbsp flour
1 glass of white wine
1.5 litres fish stock, or a couple of good fish-stock cubes in 1.5 litres of hot water hot water
100ml double cream
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

If you have live crabs, plunge them into boiling water for 2 minutes. Then - whether or not you have already removed the meat from the crab - use the back of a heavy chopping knife or the flat side of a meat cleaver to break the crab body and legs shells up into small pieces. (Doing this in a plastic bag stops the shells flying everywhere and saves on the clearing up.) If the meat is still in the crab remove the green feathery gills known as "dead man's fingers".

Heat the vegetable oil in a large heavy-based saucepan and fry the crab shells over a high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring every so often until they begin to colour. Add the onion, leek, garlic, fennel seeds, thyme and bay leaf, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes or so, until the vegetables begin to colour. Add the butter and stir well, then add the tomato purée and flour, stir well and cook for a minute or so over a low heat. Add the white wine, then slowly add the fish stock, stirring to avoid any lumps. Bring to the boil, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 1 hour.

Drain the soup, shells and all, in a colander over a bowl, stirring the shells so that any small pieces go into the liquid. Remove about one-third of the softer white body shells (not the very hard claw and main shell) and put them in with the liquid - discard the rest. Blend the shells and liquid in a liquidiser or strong food processor until smooth, then strain through a fine-meshed sieve.

Return to a clean pan, season with a little salt and pepper, if necessary, and bring to the boil. To serve, add the cream and any remaining crab meat. Adjust the seasoning again, if necessary, and stir well.

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