The authentic lobster bisque… with my personal twists

Let’s define first what a bisque is exactly, as this term is commonly applied to crustacean (lobster…), but also to vegetable (tomato) or even to game (squabs…) soups. In fact, the bisque refers first to the latter, since the book Le cuisinier françois already mentioned in 1651 a bisque made of young pigeons… and decorated with rooster combs! Do you want to try it? Now, it essentially applies to crustaceans such as lobster, crab, crayfish, langoustine… although it has become very trendy to use it for vegetable soups where the vegetables are cooked twice, first as such, and second as a soup. As a matter of fact, this 2-step cooking refers directly to the etymology of the word as bisque would originally mean cooked twice. Yes, exactly like biscuit! Although there are versions mentioning other origins of the word, none of those really contradicts the double cooking version.

Cooked twice, the (crustacean) bisque is also a byproduct as it is made from the heads, shells and other trims not used in the main crustacean recipe. You don’t buy a lobster to make a bisque, you make a bisque because you buy a lobster for another recipe using the animal’s noble parts, the tail and the claws. This is why I mentioned below the bisque as a cheap dish, although it is made from an obviously expensive purchase. A French humorist said once that artichoke was a dish for the poor as there was more in the plate after than before… But for the bisque, lobster would have been too!

To make a good bisque, those are the principles that I follow:

(1) I use live lobster(s),

(2) I don't use any commercial stocks (no merit, I hate those), but just the lobster boiling water (see recipe below) aromatized with onion, vegetables, spices, herbs, and eventually the lobster parts...

(3) I recuperate preciously all the organs (tomalley, coral...) and liquids rendered by the lobster(s) all around the process: if any, this is the secret of a tasty bisque!

(4) I don't use any "meat" from the tail or the claws, just the head and the shells. Why use those noble parts while you obtain a very tasteful soup without those? Furthermore, if you mind my humble personal opinion, a well-made bisque has more flavors than any noble part by itself. Of course, nothing prevents you from adding, for instance, a claw or a tail medallion as a decorative item in the bisque, but please, don’t blend them. Furthermore, I encourage you to use a ladle of bisque as a sauce with, for instance, a lobster tail poached in melted sea-weed butter. Just emulsify it before serving to create a foamy aspect or complete it with crème fraîche and lemon… and call it a sauce homardine!

Little tip: don’t pitch the lobster boiling water after you use some of it to moisten your bisque. Put into it the shell and shell purée from the broth, and keep it in the fridge and next time you cook pasta, use this lobster flavored water, after straining of course!

Levels of difficulty








5 minutes

+ 30 minutes for the bisque


5 minutes

+ 15 minutes for the bisque

Ingredients 4 servings


§  1 medium (~2.5 lbs.) or 2 small (<1.5 lb.) lobsters*


For the court-bouillon:

§  1 shallot clove (or ¼ onion) roughly chopped

§  1 stalk of celery, chopped

§  1 carrot, chopped

§  Herbs (thyme, bay leaves…)

§  Spices (cloves, pepper, piment d’Espelette, allspice, saffron…)

For the bisque:

§  1 shallot clove (or ¼ onion) roughly chopped

§  1 or 2 garlic cloves, crushed

§  1 stalk of celery, chopped

§  1 carrot, chopped

§  Herbs (thyme, bay leaves…)

§  Spices (pepper, piment d’Espelette, allspice, saffron…)

§  1 tbsp of neutral oil and 1 tbsp of butter (or 2 tbsp. of olive oil if you want to give it a Mediterranean flavor)

§  1 shot of Cognac

§  1 glass of dry white wine

§  1 tbsp of tomato paste (optional**)

§  1 tsp of achiote (optional**)

§  1 tbsp of butter (or 2 tbsp. of crème fraîche)

§  Fleur de sel or sea salt (optional and in any case in moderate quantity)


Helpful utensils:

§  a wooden pestle

§  a steamer basket

§  a chinois strainer


* sorry for the sexist comment, but preferably a female for its coral

** in case of a male or a female with no coral, to reinforce the bisque’s orange-red color. Ftr, in French bisque is also a color named after the soup.



§  To kill your lobster, the less painful way for the animal is to stud a sharp meat knife in the center of its head. If you are reluctant to do that, put your lobster for ½ hour in your freezer to numb it before killing it… or ask your fish monger. You could also plunge it ½ into boiling water, but -and I will not open any debate here !- this practice is now forbidden in restaurants of certain countries, Switzerland, France… among others

§  After you kill your lobster, detach the claws and the head from the tail, recuperate preciously the tomalley (green), the roe or coral (red or black depending on its “status”) and all the liquid rendered

§  Cut the head in two and remove and pitch the sandbag, looking like a small plastic bag located at the top of the head

§  Remove and pitch the (bitter) gills covering the small leg joints

§  Reserve in the fridge the solid (shells, small legs and the meaty cells on which they are attached…) and liquid (tomalley, coral, liquid…) parts kept from the head

§  Poach the tail and the claws for respectively 2/3 minutes and 4/5 minutes (depending on their size), in boiling water that you will have previously aromatize with the court-bouillon ingredients, or others, detailed on the left column

§  Remove the tail and the claws from the boiling water, cool them down in iced water, remove their shells, then reserve them in the fridge for another dish or for completing/decorating your bisque (totally optional as a real bisque is normally just served as is)

§  Keep on simmering the court-bouillon (you will use it for your bisque) 

1st cooking :

§  Take all the solid parts of the head, and the tail and claw shells, and cut and crush them roughly, and once again recuperate all the precious rendered liquid and substances

§  Remove the shell from the tail and from the claws and reserve the meat for another dish or for completing/decorating your bisque (totally optional as a real bisque is simply served as is)

§  Put the butter/neutral oil (Britton way and generally my way) or the olive oil (Mediterranean way) in a pot and heat it (moderately in case of butter), add all the crushed head parts in the pot and let them caramelize in the oil/butter. The smell becomes then totally addictive

§  Add roughly chopped onions and/or shallots, carrot segments, celery stems, crushed garlic cloves and mix them with the lobster shells, coating them with the fat

§  Add the herbs (thyme, bay leaves, rosemary, sage, oregano…) and spices (ground pepper, piment d’Espelette, allspice, cloves, saffron…) depending on your availabilities and preferences; but don’t add salt as the lobster parts and water are already salty, plus your broth will reduce, and mix thoroughly the whole

§  Add a shot of Cognac and flambé it, scratching the bottom of the pot to get all the flavors

§  Add a glass of dry white wine and let it boil 1 minute to eliminate the alcohol

§  Add all the rendered water recuperated from the lobster

§  Ass a few ladles of the court-bouillon in order to cover all the shells

§  Simmer, lid on, for around 1 hour

§  Pour the whole content of the pot, including the shells (this is the secret of a genuine bisque), with the exception of the toughest parts such as the claws, and mix the whole in a blender, possibly in two times

§  Strain the mixture obtain first in a large steamer basket or a similar device, then in a tighter chinois or strainer, press with a wooden pestle (or the back of a ladle) to extract as much as possible of this tasty broth

§  Little tip: You may want to keep pitch the shells and the strainer content, and mix it with the rest of the court-bouillon. Later on, after straining of course, it will make a fantastic flavored water to cook pasta or rice for instance.

2nd cooking:

§  Simmer the bisque so obtained to further reduce it

§  When it reaches the right texture, take a ladle of the bisque, mix it with the tomalley and the coral, and reintroduce it in your bisque. You will see that the bisque starts to turn orange/red, depending on whether you have coral or not.

§  Normally, the classical bisque recipe calls for tomato purée and/or tomato paste. Personally, I am not a fan. But if there was no, or not enough, coral in your lobster, this will contribute to make your bisque more “orange/red”. My little tip here is to use a couple of tbsp. of achiote instead of this tomato “stuff”, but once again, this is a personal choice.

§  If you have lumps after you add the tomalley/coral (the reaction is similar to blood coagulating in a meat sauce), just mix the whole bisque with an immersion blender.

§  Let it simmer 5 or 10 more minutes, stirring it up regularly. You should obtain a relatively thick and creamy texture

§  Adjust the seasoning, pepper and only here salt if needed, and why not, they go well together, some curry, saffron... or Kari Gosse

§  Add either a (generous) tablespoon of butter or 2 tbsp. of crème fraîche, depending on your preferences, and gently stir up the bisque out of the burner

§  You can also use an immersion blender to create some foam on the surface, and serve as is in a bowl, with few herb leaves or edible flowers, and possibly, but once again, this is just optional, some the claws and tail medallions that you will have, for instance, poached for 2 or 3 minutes in the bisque