Every Christmas Eve, for as long as I can remember, my family has served lobster bisque. Okay, some years, depending on where we were in the world, or, for that matter, where we were economically, the lobster was swapped for shrimp. But this dead-simple creamy, cheesy, boozy burgoo is a perfect light meal to proceed the festival of eating that is Christmas Day, and always makes my insides feel snuggly and warm, like my grandmother is giving my stomach a big hug.
There’s just one problem. There’s no recipe. I tried to recreate this soup for my father-in-law about five years ago, based on my mother’s over-the-phone directions that “you just kind of keep adjusting as you go.” I ended up with a thin, lumpy, watery bowl of yuck, utterly devoid of any kind of flavor. The ingredients were all present and accounted for; my proportions were just woefully off.
With my mom visiting this week, we made it our mission to finally get this old family recipe down on paper, into a form that was reliably reproducible. “But I don’t measure anything, I just keep tasting,” she explained. And though she resisted, we made her use measuring cups and call out the measurements of everything that went in, as she slurped, and sipped, and adjusted. We watched what she did, not what she said. “Okay, one cup of milk,” she would say, pouring a half of cup of milk into the pot. “Can we just say, ‘a healthy glug of wine,'” she would ask, while sipping white wine directly from the metal measuring cup, as she stirred, tweaked, hummed, and adjusted some more. When all was said and done, however, we ended up with not just a stunning example of this dish, but, for the first time in the family’s history, precise instructions on how to do it again. Here are those instructions.
Creamy Lobster Bisque
- 3 1 1/2 pound Maine lobsters
- 1 stick salted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 6 cups whole milk
- 3/4 cup half and half
- 8-10 dashes Tabasco sauce
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 6 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup white wine
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Fill large stock or lobster pot with 2-3 inches water, and bring to a boil. Add lobster, and cover. Steam for 10 minutes. Drain in sink, allow lobster to cool, and remove meat from claws, knuckles, and tail. Coarsely chop lobster meat.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Stir in flour and cook until flour absorbs, whisking constantly, about one-two minutes. Slowly add milk and half-and-half, whisking constantly, and cook until mixture thickens, about 8-10 minutes. Whisk in remaining ingredients, including chopped lobster, and continue cooking over very low heat, stirring, for 8-10 minutes, or until desired thickness. (Be careful not to let soup simmer after you add the wine. It can break and separate.) Remove from heat, cover and let rest for 20 minutes before serving.