HALLIE EPHRON: I grew up in Southern California where I developed a taste for lobster bisque at Hamburger Hamlet. At least once a week we ate at the one on Bedford Drive in Beverly HIlls, long before HH had turned into a chain. (They also served the best coconut cream pie I ever had until I had a piece at Jestine's in Charleston.)
In my memory, their lobster bisque was thick (not sludgy), full of chunks (not shreds) of chewy lobster meat, and redolent (but not reeking) of sherry. It was an orangey-pink, a few shades lighter than their radioactive-orange "California French" dressing.
Though that lobster bisque has long ago passed into legend (along with C. C. Brown's hot fudge and Lawry's roast beef), I've tried many recipes, trying to recreate what I remember.
Here's the closest I've come -- it's an adaptation of a recipe that ran in the New York Times.
Rich as it tastes, it has no cream or butter it at all. It's thickened with rice, contains the meat from two lbsters, and makes enough to generously serve four. It's so much work that I would never ever ever make it if it didn't taste so unbelievable delicious. I make it once or twice a year, and only for the people I really love.
Lobster bisque (serves 4)
2 live chicken (sized) lobsters
2 T olive oil
1 carrot chopped
2 ribs of celery chopped
2 cloves of garlic crushed
1 onion chopped
Fresh thyme (4 sprigs) or 1/2 tsp dried
Fresh tarragon (4 sprigs) or 1/4 tsp dried
2 T tomato pate
1 c white wine
2 cups clam broth (or if you have it fish stock works instead)
1/2 cup uncooked rice
Sherry to taste
Cooking the lobsters and removing the meat from the shells
- Put one inch of water in the bottom of a large pot with 1 tsp salt.
- Bring the water to a boil.
- Toss in the live lobsters and cover tightly.
- Cook for 12 minutes (lobsters should have turned bright red.)
- With tongs, remove the lobsters to a bowl. SAVE the cooking liquid.
- When lobsters are cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the tail and claws and from as much of the rest as you have the patience for; dump any liquid that comes out of the shells back in the pot.
- Chop the meat into bite-sized chunks and smaller and set aside in a bowl in the refrigerator.
- Break up the shells and all the remaining bits of lobster innards. All of will go into the bisque!.
- In a large saucepan, sautee the vegetables and herbs in olive oil until onions are translucent.
- Add tomato paste.
- Add the lobster shells and remains.
- Add white wine.
- Add clam broth and 1 cup of lobster cooking liquid.
- Simmer and cook covered, 1 hour. Cool.
- Remove all the shells and lobster remains from the liquid; try to preserve as much of the tasty liquid and vegetable sludge that was stuck to the shells before you discard the shells and remains.
- Add the rice and cook for at lest 30 minutes until grains are mushy.
- Use an immersion blender (or food processor) to blend the liquid, vegetables, and rice together until smooth.
- Stir in the sherry
- If it's too thick, add more lobster cooking liquid (or fish stock or water).
Up to this point, this can be done a day before, refrigerated, and assembled the next day.
- Add the lobster meat to the bisque.
- Heat through and season with salt and cayenne pepper to taste.
- Ladle into bowls
- Top each with a swirl of cream and fresh chopped tarragon