Freshwater bisque

Freshwater bisque

French Lessons
2 litres
25 mins
Cooking time
45 mins
Steve Brown

The more earthy quality of freshwater shellfish gives this bisque an earthier, sweeter dimension. The method is the same, substituting yabby, crayfish or marrons for the lobster or prawns. You’ll probably struggle to find yabby shells, so buy whole live yabbies or crayfish and reserve the tail meat to serve as a garnish, grilled or sautéed with a little butter.


Quantity Ingredient
2kg live yabbies or crayfish
50ml vegetable oil, plus 30 ml extra
150g butter, plus 50 g extra
2 carrots, chopped to a large mirepoix, (see note)
1 onion, chopped to a large mirepoix, (see note)
2 celery stalks, chopped to a large mirepoix, (see note)
4 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
100ml white wine
50ml cognac, armagnac or cooking brandy
4 sprigs thyme
3 litres water
80ml cream
few drops fresh lemon juice


  1. Place the yabbies in the freezer for 10 minutes or so to put them to sleep (no longer, or they’ll freeze). Twist off their heads, and pull out the intestinal tract by twisting and pulling the middle part of their tail base. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the yabby tails, still in the shell, for 30 seconds. This is just enough to ‘set’ the meat so the shell can be easily removed. Refresh the tails in iced water to stop the cooking process. Drain well and gently peel off the shells, being careful not to damage the meat. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy-based roasting pan. Add the yabby shells and heads (not the tails) and sauté until bright pink and lightly caramelised. Add the butter, the vegetable mirepoix and garlic. Sauté for another 10 minutes, until everything is aromatic and coloured. Add the tomato paste, stir well and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in the white wine and deglaze the pan, stirring well. Add the Cognac (reserving a splash to finish the soup) and the thyme.
  3. Add the water and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 40 minutes, stirring from time to time to prevent the shells sticking and burning.
  4. Strain the soup through a sieve, pushing forcefully with the back of the ladle to extract as much of the juice and pulp as you can. Pass through a finer sieve and return to a clean saucepan over a medium heat. Use a whisk or hand blender to whisk in the remaining butter and the cream. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Serve immediately with an extra splash of Cognac and fresh lemon juice, or transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate. The butter, cream, Cognac and lemon juice should be added just before serving.
  5. Just before serving, heat the extra oil in a heavy-based frying pan over a moderate heat. Season the yabby tails and add to the pan. Sauté gently for 1–2 minutes. Raise the heat and add the additional 50 g butter to the pan, allowing it to foam, but not colour. Turn the yabby tails around in the foaming butter so they are just coloured, but still translucent in the middle. Add the lemon juice and divide the yabby tails between 4 serving bowls. Pour on the hot bisque and serve straight away.
  6. This bisque will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 2 days or up to 2 months in the freezer.


  • A mirepoix is a rough dice of vegetables which are to be used to enhance the flavour of stocks, soups and sauces. Traditionally a mirepoix consists of carrot, onion, leek and celery, and sometimes fennel and garlic. A white mirepoix is used for white stocks, and contains no carrot.
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