Some years ago, I attended a lovely luncheon given for a friend’s birthday. The hostess laid tables on beautiful linens with her best silver and crystal and magnificent flowers. All the ladies in attendance were dressed in their spring best. It was a very sophisticated event that made me feel like a true grown-up in the best possible way. The first course was a fresh shrimp bisque, served in antique soup cups, and given the occasion and surroundings it seemed like an impossibly chic dish. The hostess told me that her grandmother used to serve shrimp bisque at luncheons, and though she had tried to duplicate that version, she just had to take shortcuts, using bottled and boxed stocks. Ever since, I have wanted to make a refined shrimp bisque from start-to-finish, but just didn’t have the patience.
For a good shrimp bisque, you need to use shrimp shells to produce a rich stock that creates layers of flavor. But peeling shrimp is a kitchen task I just hate. I can’t explain why, it is hardly the worst kitchen task, and many people I know do it without thinking. I simply do not like it. You can buy raw, peeled shrimp, of course, but then you don’t get the shells. I recently discovered, however, that the fish counter at a good market will peel and devein shrimp for you, and if you ask, they’ll save the shells for you. I should have figured this out years ago, but there you go. I soon went to work on a shrimp bisque recipe and this is where I landed.
The pale pink you and delicate shrimp flavor make this a sophisticated dish for entertaining, ladies luncheon or grown-up dinner party. And curled, blushing shrimp balanced on the top of the soup make a beautiful presentation. But I also find this a comforting soup meal, with some crusty bread or corn muffins.