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03/11/2016

~ Get Out Your Whisk & Make this Tomato Bisque ~

IMG_3722You need recipes like this, I need recipes like this, all of us cooks need recipes like this.  This creamy, rich tomato bisque is what I call a "go to" recipe -- one I rely upon for a variety of kitchen encounters.  From unpretentious eat-in-the-kitchen meals to upscale dinner-in-the-dining-room soirees, it's a perfect starter course to plug into a host of menus, and, it pairs great with many salads and sandwiches too.  Plus, there is little risk serving tomato soup because almost all folks like it a lot.  I've handed out this recipe countless times, which is just how I got my hands on it:

Wes1052ex-140500-Galleria_Shopping_Center_PWe were staying at The Westin Galleria Hotel in Houston, TX, circa 1980.  At dinner, both Joe and I ordered "the bisque".  It took restraint for us to not lick our bowls clean, and, when the waiter came to clear our starters and asked how we enjoyed our soup,  I replied with a glowing review.  He asked if I would like the recipe. "Of course I would", said I.  Initially that made me feel very special, but, a moment later I was given a photocopied handout.  He explained, "so many people asked for the recipe, the Westin Group decided to allow Bon Appetit magazine to publish it, and, all customers who order it are given a copy."

A bit about bisque:  It's a thick, rich, finely-textured 'soup' usually consisting of pureed seafood and/or vegetables (and occasionally poultry), along with a copious amount of cream and spices suited to each version, which varies regionally and from cook  to cook.  Bisques originated in France, but nowadays, they're made all over the world -- with lobster bisque being the universal favorite.  Bisques are easy to make, but, the cooking process is a bit lengthy because it relies on time to concentrate the flavor.  Bisque is often referred to as "the refined city relative" of "the less-sophisticated country" chowder (a rustic, chunky, cream-based soup).

A bit about my version of their recipe:  The ingredients list is theirs (plus two additions of mine) and the text is mine.  I also made this change to the method:  If you are not a restaurant chef with expert, full-throttle knife skills, using the food processor to get the onion and celery extra-finely diced (which gives bisque its signature uniform texture) is going to save you a lot of time and angst.  My additions were:  adding sea salt and white pepper to the tomato mixture.  In the Westin recipe, neither were added (until "seasoning to taste" at the very end), which I found odd because when I made their recipe, it was bland as compared to what I tasted at their restaurant.

IMG_36251/4  pound bacon

4  large garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2  cups extra-finely-diced yellow or sweet onion + 1/2 cup additional finely-chopped onion (two cups total throughout recipe)  (Note from Mel:  If you are using my food processor method for "extra-finely-diced", coarsely chop 1 pound onion & follow the directions in Step 1.

2 cups extra-finely-diced celery (Note from Mel:  If you are using my food processor method for "extra-finely diced", coarsely chop 1 pound celery & follow the directions in Step 1.

2  bay leaves + 1 bay leaf (3 bay leaves total throughout recipe)

1  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

1  28-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

4  tablespoons tomato paste

4  tablespoons salted butter (1/2  stick)

2  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1  quart heavy or whipping cream at room temperature

4  whole cloves

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_3610 IMG_3613 IMG_3616 IMG_3619~Step 1.  In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, place 1 pound of coarsely-chopped onion.  Using a series of 18-20 on-off pulses, process the onions to a very fine dice, just short of mincing or pureeing them, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with a rubber spatula once during the process.  Transfer to a 2-cup measuring container. Repeat this process with 1 pound of coarsely-chopped celery.  This takes less than 5 minutes! 

IMG_3628 IMG_3629 IMG_3631 IMG_3634~Step 2.  In a 12" nonstick skillet, over medium-high heat, cook bacon until very crisp, turning only once, about 6-8 minutes.  Transfer bacon to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.

IMG_3636 IMG_3638 IMG_3644 IMG_3647~Step 3.  Add the garlic to the  drippings and saute until lightly browned, 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Add 1 1/2 cups of the onion and all the celery to skillet along with the 2 bay leaves, dried thyme leaves, sea salt and white pepper. Adjust heat to saute until vegetables are softened, 5-6 minutes.

IMG_3651 IMG_3648~ Step 4. Add the can of diced tomatoes (undrained) and the tomato paste.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to a slow, steady simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, 40-45 minutes.  

While tomato/vegetable mixture is simmering:

IMG_3654 IMG_3655 IMG_3660 IMG_3665 IMG_3673                                       ~Step 5.  In a 2-quart saucepan, melt butter over low heat.  Stir in the flour and bring to a boil while whisking constantly.  Lower the heat heat (to low) and slowly, in a thin stream, whisk in the cream, followed by the remaining 1/2 cup of onion, bay leaf and the cloves.

~ Step 6.  Adjust heat to simmer very gently, uncovered, whisking frequently while monitoring it for 40-45 minutes, especially during the first 15 minutes, as, until it reduces a bit, it wants to, and will, boil over.

IMG_3695 IMG_3700~ Step 7.   Remove the cream mixture from the heat.  

Pass/pour the cream through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl or a measuring container.  As you work, use a spoon to keep stirring the mixture as it passes through the strainer (which is collecting all of this bits on onion, the bay leaf and the cloves).  You will have about 3 cups of nicely-thickened, nicely-flavored, silky-smooth cream.

IMG_3704 IMG_3707 IMG_3711 IMG_3715~Step 8.  Stir  cream mixture into  simmering tomato mixture and stir it thoroughly in. Season with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, to taste. Partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, 15-20  minutes.  Turn heat off, cover and allow to steep 15 additional minutes.

Portion & serve garnished w/crisply-fried bits of bacon:

IMG_3727Get Out Your Whisk & Make this Tomato Bisque:  Recipe yields 7 1/2-8 cups/about 2 quarts, depending upon how much the tomato and cream mixtures reduce.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; large rubber spatula; 12" skillet; large slotted spoon; paper towels; 2-quart stockpot; whisk; fine mesh strainer

IMG_3427Cook's Note:  Classic, creamy, and chocked full of chunky goodness, my recipe for ~ Creamy New England-Style Clam & Corn Chowder ~ has been served at many a Summer-holiday picnic (Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day), and, at Fall tailgates for over thirty years.  It's a requested favorite, and you can find the recipe by clicking into Categories 2, 14, 17, 18 or 19.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

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