Crayfish bisque Louisiana-style

Serves 6-8

Bisque refers to a shellfish soup with cream, and 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 purpose. In Louisiana, where rice is commonly grown, bisques are often thickened with rice instead of a heavier roux. This is the soup that Donald Link served us for breakfast, of all meals, after a visit to his other restaurant Herbsaint.

1kg freshly cooked crayfish, tail meat reserved and the shells chopped
1tbsp vegetable or olive oil
1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 small leek, trimmed and roughly chopped
2 sticks of celery, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2tsp fennel seeds
A pinch of saffron
A few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
2tbsp tomato purée
80g long grain or Carolina rice
1 glass of white wine
1.5 litres fish stock, or a couple of good fish-stock cubes dissolved in 1.5 litres of hot water
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
A few dashes of Tabasco (optional)

Heat the vegetable oil in a large heavy-based saucepan and fry the crayfish shells and vegetables over a high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring every so often until they begin to colour.

Add the garlic, fennel seeds, saffron, thyme and bay leaf, and continue cooking for another 5 minutes or so. Add the tomato purée and rice; stir well, then add the white wine and fish stock, bring to the boil, season and add a few drops of Tabasco and simmer for 1 hour, skimming and stirring every so often.

Blend the soup, shells and all, in a liquidiser or strong food processor until smooth, then strain through a fine-meshed sieve, pushing the mix through with the back of a spoon or ladle.

Return to a clean pan, season with a little salt and pepper if necessary, and bring to the boil. To serve, add the tail meat and a little cream if you wish.

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