Shrimp shells contribute a lot of flavor to the bisque, so be sure to purchase shell-on shrimp. Large 21- to 25-count shrimp are a good size to use. If your food processor is small and your shrimp are extra large, process them in two batches. For straining the bisque, if you do not own a chinois, use a china cap or large sturdy mesh strainer lined with a double layer of damp cheesecloth.
- 2 pounds shell-on shrimp, preferably Gulf or Mexican Whites
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/3 cup brandy or cognac, warmed
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 small carrot, chopped fine (about 3 tablespoons)
- 1 small rib celery, chopped fine (about 3 tablespoons)
- 1 small onion, minced (about 6 tablespoons)
- 1 medium garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 11/2 cups dry white wine
- 4 (8-ounce) bottles clam juice (4 cups)
- 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
- 1 small sprig fresh tarragon
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon juice from 1/2 lemon
- Pinch ground cayenne
- 2 tablespoons dry sherry or Madeira
- Salt and ground black pepper
Peel 1/2 pound shrimp, reserving shells, and cut each peeled shrimp into thirds. With paper towels, thoroughly pat dry remaining shrimp and reserved shells.
Heat 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat until very hot, about 3 minutes. Add 11/2 tablespoons olive oil and swirl to coat pan bottom. Add half of shell-on shrimp and half of reserved shells; sauté until deep pink and shells are lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer shrimp to medium bowl and repeat with remaining oil, shell-on shrimp, and shells. Return first browned batch to skillet. Pour warmed brandy over shrimp and wave lit match over pan until brandy ignites, shaking pan. When flames subside, transfer shrimp and shells to food processor bowl fitted with steel blade and process until mixture resembles fine meal, about 10 seconds.
Heat butter in large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat until foaming. Add carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and ground shrimp; cover and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are slightly softened and mixture is fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until combined thoroughly, about 1 minute. Stir in wine, clam juice, and tomatoes, scraping pan bottom with wooden spoon to loosen browned bits, if any exist. Cover, increase heat to medium-high, and bring to boil; then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened and flavors meld, about 20 minutes.
Strain bisque through chinois into medium container, pressing on solids with back of ladle to extract all liquid. Wash and dry now-empty Dutch oven; return strained bisque to Dutch oven and stir in tarragon, cream, lemon juice, and cayenne. Bring to simmer over medium-high heat; add reserved peeled and cut shrimp and simmer until shrimp are firm but tender, about 11/2 minutes. Discard tarragon sprig; stir in sherry, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve hot.
Makes 6 cups, serving 4 to 6