Spot prawn bisque

Posted by & filed under Savoury.

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If you live in British Columbia, Canada, you probably already know that this month was spot prawn month. They are a seasonal seafood item, and chefs go absolutely crazy over them! And for good reason!! Spot prawns are sooo much better than those imported tiger prawns from Asia, and for many reasons, both culinary and ecological. As I work in the marine/restaurant domain, one of our staff meetings was naturally preceded by a private spot prawn cooking session by executive chef, Quang Dang, from West Restaurant in Vancouver. I couldn’t have been happier. I took copious notes, furiously typing into my phone, and now I’m about to share all of them with you! He showed us how to make spot prawn ceviche, sauteed spot prawns in white wine, and spot prawn tartare. I was in heaven. Best meeting EVER. While he didn’t show us how to make bisque, he told us how. And after he was done with all 10lbs of spot prawns that he’d cooked, he asked who wanted the leftover heads, and my hand shot up while I yelled “ME I WANT THEM!!!”. And so it was done. He packed up a whole pile of spot prawn heads in a styrofoam cooler for me (see above). Little did I know that my colleagues wanted to hit up a patio after work, and so I had to carry the whole cooler full of prawn heads, 12 blocks to the bar, then beg management to store the cooler in their fridge so that they wouldn’t go bad in the sun. Then I came all the way home, and at 10pm, started freaking out about what to do with them at this hour of the night before they went bad. After all, Quang Dang had told us that they only last 24hrs. I obviously hadn’t thought this through when I claimed all the heads as my own. WHAT TO DO?!?!! And thus, the 10pm bisque began. At midnight, I finally went to bed, exhausted but happy despite the fact that my place reeked of shrimp carnage for a whole 3 days. I literally heard my neighbours shut their balcony door when I opened mine up to air out the place. The price we pay for bisque… But So. Worth. It.

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Ingredients

1 pound large shrimp
4 cups seafood stock
3 tablespoons good olive oil
2 cups chopped leeks
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups half-and-half
1/3 cup tomato paste
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
K so suck it up, you’re going to have to pull the heads off those cute looking prawns. I did so, gingerly, and respectfully placed them in a large pot with water and salt (Quang Dang says you should always cook seafood in water that is as salty as the sea). Boil until you think it’s done, and voila, you have seafood stock. I didn’t use all of it, but reserved 4 cups for the bisque. The rest, I froze.
Brown the leeks and garlic in some butter, then add cayenne and the shrimp meat. After a few mins, add the cognac and sherry. Trust me, I thought I wouldn’t need the liquor, because I was lazy to walk to the liquor store, but noooo, it makes SUCH a huge difference. Get your ass over to the liquor store and buy sherry that you’ll never use again apart from the 1/4 cup you put in this bisque, because it’s worth it. Then, process the whole lot into a puree. It’ll look disgusting, but be patient.
Then you’re going to make a roux, by melting butter and adding the flour, then the half-and-half. Once whisked to a good consistency, add the shrimp puree back in, followed by the tomato paste, and don’t forget to salt and pepper it.
I served it with some cilantro and a drizzle of olive oil. It is by far the most flavourful bisque I have ever made, and chef Dang definitely knew what he was saying when he told us that spot prawn bisque made from the heads of the prawns was the best and most intense. I ate it for a whole week and never got sick of it.
Oh, ALSO, while your bisque is cooking, save some of those heads and toss it into some oil with garlic and chilis. Let the oil slowly bubble for a few hours, and when you finally sift the stuff out, you’ll be left with amazing prawn-infused oil. I popped some popcorn in that stuff and topped with shredded Japanese seaweed, and it was amazing. Thanks, Quang for the tip, and to executive chef Chris Whittaker for the inspiration from his menu at Forage!
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