In making this shrimp bisque, we use the power of heat and boiling water to extract flavour and minerals from crustaceans’ shells and vegetables. It provides a large richness, because they contain hearty tasting amino acids. Raw shrimp contains roughly 50% meat and 50%  head, tails and shells by weight.  But we use the latter part for making the broth. Some cooked shrimp meat contributes, but the uncooked shells provide this dish with the deep taste. 

Origin of the shrimp bisque

This soup originates from France. Bisque may refer to Biscay.  The Bay of Biscaye is an often rough part of the Atlantic ocean bordering France’s south-west coast and Spain’s north-east coast. It is also a region in north-east Spain. Shrimp, crab and lobster soups are the most well known of the bisque family. As the taste is unique among all fish and shell fish soups.

The art of making shrimp bisque

Two things are important: heat to brown shrimp shells and vegetables and then simmering water to extract the flavorful vegetable juices and minerals. For making this soup, all the taste is actually extracted by the water and a little bit by the oil. All extracted solids such as the shrimp shells and heads  but also the vegetables are discarded after a brief simmer.

Special equipment

  • strainer
Shrimp bisque 3 photo: ©️Nel Brouwer-van den Bergh

Shrimp bisque

Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 25 minutes
Course Appetizer
Cuisine French, Spanish
Servings 6


Ingredients for the broth

  • 14.1 oz (400 g) uncooked shrimp shells, tails,(cleaned) heads
  • 1 medium sized brown onion
  • a large tomato
  • one white stem of a leek
  • 1/2 carrot
  • 1/2 fennel
  • bunch parsley stems only
  • 2 cellery sticks
  • 2.5 oz (70 g) tomato paste (concentrate)
  • 1/4 cup Pernod, Ricard, Rakki or Ouzo (anice liquor)
  • 2 cloves garlic (optional)
  • few twigs thyme and/or rosemary
  • 1 bay leave
  • 1 tbsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 15 raw, mid-sized shrimps (may be peeled) (frozen uncooked also fine)
  • 2 tbsp brandy
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tsp sugar

Ingredients for the bechamel thickener

  • 5 tbsp white wheat flour
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup milk

Ingredient to make the final bisque

  • 1/4 cup cooking cream


Instruction to make the broth

  • Wash the vegetables and herbs to ensure there is no sand or rubbish
  • Cut the onion (skin on), the leek, the cellery sticks, the fennel, the carrot (skin on), the tomato (skin on) in course pieces
  • Measure the anice liquor and ready the tomato paste
  • Heat up the olive oil in a pan on high heat
  • Add the shrimp shells and mix. The shells will become orange. Keep the high fire but ensure there is no black burning. But brown spots on the pan and shrimp shells are fine
  • Under stirring, add the onion parts
  • After one minute add the leek. Followed by the cellery parts, the carrot, and the fennel and the parsley stems, each added after 30-60 seconds
  • Add the tomato and the tomato paste and bring the fire to low-medium. Wait 2 minutes
  • Then add the anise liquor and the brandy, stir and scrap the bottom and add so much chicken broth that the mixture of shells and vegetables is almost submersed. Do not add too much broth!!! Err on the low side
  • Cook the raw shrimps in little water, until orange. Add the cooking water to the broth and reserve the shrimps
  • Add the salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary and continue to simmer for 25 min
  • After 25 minutes, strain the broth and press out the shell/vegetable mixture with a spatula. Take time to press, as there is a lot of great taste in the juices that are pressed out
  • Let the broth cool down a bit, taste and where needed correct the salt level and use for the next step

Instruction to make the beachamel thickened broth

  • In a separate pan, melt the butter and then add the flour. Mix with a whisk
  • Let heat through at low-medium fire for 1 minute
  • Add the milk on low heat and use the whisk to mix in the milk. A course non-fluid crumbly 'dough' is formed
  • To this add in portions the broth at medium heat. Every time let thicken and then add more broth while stirring often. 
  • Cut the cooked shrimp in pieces and leave some whole. Mix the cut shrimp with the soup and let the lightly thickened bisque simmer (low heat!) for 15 minutes.

Instruction to finalize the bisque

  • Serve with the whole shrimps and a little cooking cream in each bowl or plate.


Method: pan frying, simmering
Food allergy & intolerance information: shell fish, gluten, cow's milk


  1. Adding some cream is preferred, but not essential
  2. The bisque is lightly bound by making a béchamel sauce, which also makes the soup taste more gentle and soft.
  3. If you use the head, ensure they have been cleaned inside and taken off when the shrimp was freshly harvested. Otherwise only use (more of) the shells and tails.


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