Scot­tish flavour

Skye prawn and lob­ster bisque by Shirley Spear

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - NEWS -

MAK­ING shell­fish bisque isn’t some­thing you’ll do ev­ery day, but you may be plan­ning for the fes­tive sea­son it is def­i­nitely worth try­ing. Since the mid-1980s I must have made hun­dreds of pots of bisque us­ing Skye shell­fish at the restau­rant. Crab, lob­ster and prawns were the most com­mon in­gre­di­ents, but I also made one with squat lob­sters, or “squat­ties” as they are af­fec­tion­ately known.

Our na­tive shell­fish are in sea­son through­out the win­ter months, a time when the meat is most firm and flavour­some. Scot­tish seafood thrives in the cold, clear wa­ters around our shores, par­tic­u­larly off the coasts of the High­lands and Is­lands, where lob­ster, lan­gous­tine and crab are caught us­ing creels, an age-old method of sus­tain­able fish­ing. The best bi-valves – scal­lops, mus­sels and oys­ters – are ei­ther cropped from the seabed by divers, or farmed nat­u­rally in nets or rafts in our shel­tered sea lochs.

Weather can play havoc with sup­plies for the lu­cra­tive Christ­mas mar­ket and some fish­er­men “ranch” their lob­sters to meet high Christ­mas de­mand from the con­ti­nent, par­tic­u­larly Spain. To do so, lob­sters are stored at sea in an un­der­wa­ter “keep”, ready for send­ing fresh to the mar­ket. There are many large, re­frig­er­ated trucks on the roads through­out Scot­land, trans­port­ing this pre­cious cargo. Al­though these are care­fully packed for the long jour­ney, Scot­tish shell­fish is best en­joyed lo­cally. A lit­tle bit of in­dul­gence now and again is def­i­nitely worth it.

Hav­ing a re­ally good, flavour­some stock is the se­cret of mak­ing a great tast­ing shell­fish bisque. Through­out my years as chef at The Three Chim­neys, I had an end­less sup­ply of shells to keep aside for mak­ing this, but I have cut down the quan­ti­ties to suit a fam­ily kitchen. You could make this in stages over two days, start­ing with the stock and fin­ish­ing the soup when you want to serve it. Left­overs will keep re­frig­er­ated for sev­eral days. Any un­used stock can be frozen for another oc­ca­sion. It would make a won­der­ful risotto or paella, adding gen­uine depth of flavour to the rice.


(Serves up to 12)

For the stock:

1 fresh Scot­tish lob­ster, weigh­ing around 700-800g 8 large, fresh Scot­tish lan­goustines 2 heaped tsps sea salt or dulse seaweed flakes 50g un­salted but­ter 1 large onion 1 bulb fen­nel, in­clud­ing feath­ery tops 1 stick cel­ery, plus a few leaves taken from the cen­tre of the bunch 2 large sprigs flat pars­ley, in­clud­ing stalks ½ le­mon, sliced 4 bay leaves 1 tsp white pep­per­corns 4 tbsp brandy 250ml dry white wine


1. Bring a large pan of cold wa­ter to boil­ing point. 2. Add 2 tsps sea salt or dulse seaweed flakes. 3. Drop the lan­goustines into the boil­ing wa­ter, cover with a lid and cook for no more than two min­utes, by which time the wa­ter will be re­turn­ing to boil­ing point. 4. Us­ing a slot­ted spoon, lift out the lan­goustines and place in a bowl of cold wa­ter. 5. Re­turn pan of wa­ter to a fast boil and im­merse the lob­ster into it. Cover with a lid, re­turn to boil­ing point and cook the lob­ster for about 5-6 min­utes, by which time it will be bright red and beginning to float to the sur­face. 6. Lift out care­fully and place in bowl of cold wa­ter with lan­goustines, to cool. 7. Dis­card the cook­ing wa­ter. 8. Once the shell­fish is cold enough to han­dle, re­move meat from the shells, keep­ing all the shells, legs, heads etc, to make the stock. You can use the tail meat from the lan­goustines, plus the creamy pulp from in­side the heads. The meat from the lob­ster tail and claws should be re­moved com­pletely. Scoop out any pulp from in­side the head, par­tic­u­larly if this is dark green toma­l­ley, a spe­cial del­i­cacy which will add flavour and colour to the bisque. 9. Set the meat aside. 10. Pre­heat oven to Gas Mark 7 or 220°C. 11. Put shells in a roast­ing tin in a sin­gle layer and place it on the mid­dle shelf of the hot oven. Roast for at least 30 min­utes un­til shells are dry and beginning to colour. 12. Wash and roughly chop the stock veg­eta­bles; break up the pars­ley. 13. Melt the but­ter in a stock­pot or large saucepan. 14. Add the chopped veg­eta­bles, pars­ley, le­mon, bay leaves and pep­per­corns. Stir in the hot but­ter un­til the mix­ture turns soft. 15. Add the roasted shells, mix to­gether well and break up the shells into smaller pieces us­ing the end of a rolling pin. 16. When all is hot, pour over the brandy and ig­nite it to burn off the al­co­hol. 17. Pour over the white wine, plus enough cold wa­ter to just cover the con­tents of the pan. 18. Cover with a lid, bring to boil­ing point and sim­mer gently for 30 min­utes. 19. Once cooked and cooled, strain the liq­uid through a colan­der into a bowl. Strain a sec­ond time through a finer mesh sieve, to en­sure that any tiny pieces of shell are cap­tured. Re­tain the liq­uid, but dis­card the cooked in­gre­di­ents.

For the bisque:

1 medium leek, white and pale green part only 1 small bulb fen­nel 1 medium onion 2 medium car­rots 1 stick cel­ery, plus leaves, taken from cen­tre of bunch 50g un­salted but­ter 50g Bas­mati rice, rinsed through a sieve un­der cold run­ning wa­ter un­til wa­ter is clear 4 level tb­sps good-qual­ity tomato pas­sata 1.5 litres shell­fish stock ½ large le­mon, juice only Meat from the cooked lob­ster and lan­goustines, chopped into small pieces 4 tb­sps. dou­ble cream 1 tbsp freshly chopped pars­ley Sea salt or dulse seaweed flakes and ground white pep­per for fi­nal sea­son­ing


1. Wash, pre­pare and finely chop veg­eta­bles. 2. Melt but­ter in a large saucepan un­til hot and foamy. 3. Add veg­eta­bles and stir in the but­ter, un­til turn­ing soft. 4. Add the washed rice and tomato pas­sata and stir well. 5. Pour over the shell­fish stock and bring to boil­ing point. 6. Re­duce heat, cover with a lid and sim­mer for 25 min­utes. 7. Add the le­mon juice. 8. Liq­uidise the bisque and ad­just the sea­son­ing with ad­di­tional sea salt or seaweed flakes and pep­per, if re­quired. 9. Stir through the chopped lob­ster and lan­goustines. 10. Add chopped pars­ley and cream just be­fore warm­ing through and serv­ing.

Pete Ste­wart chooses the drinks to ac­com­pany Shirley’s recipes: P22


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