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What makes a bisque a bisque and not a soup?

Bisques and soups are both beloved comfort foods, but what sets a bisque apart? There are a few key differences that distinguish a bisque from other creamy soups.

Definition of a Bisque

A bisque is a smooth, creamy soup that is made with shellfish, milk or cream, and thickened with rice or puréed vegetables. The name comes from the French word “bisque” meaning cracked or broken piece, referring to the cracked shells of the crustaceans used to make the soup.

The main ingredients in a classic bisque are:

  • Shellfish – shrimp, lobster, crab, etc.
  • Aromatics – onions, celery, carrots
  • Herbs – parsley, thyme, bay leaf
  • Dairy – milk, cream, butter
  • Thickener – rice, puréed vegetables
  • Seasonings – salt, pepper, cayenne

The shellfish is simmered in stock along with vegetables and seasonings. The broth is strained, and cream or milk is added along with a starch to thicken the bisque. The bisque is finished with extra shellfish meat and garnish like fresh herbs or brandy.

Difference from Cream Soups

Both bisques and cream soups have a smooth, velvety texture from the addition of dairy. However, there are some differences:

Bisque Cream Soup
Contains shellfish as main ingredient Made with various ingredients like chicken, mushrooms, asparagus, etc.
Thickened with rice or puréed veggies Thickened with a roux or beurre manié
Richer, decadent flavor More delicate flavor

While cream soups get their richness from dairy alone, bisques get an extra boost of flavor from shellfish. The starchy thickener also gives bisques a thicker, heartier texture than cream soups.

Difference from Chowders

Like bisques, chowders are seafood-based soups thickened with starch. So what sets them apart? Here are the key distinctions:

  • Bisques are made with shellfish, while chowders contain fish, clams, or a combination.
  • Bisques get their flavor from shellfish stock, chowders use a milk or cream base.
  • Bisques are thickened with rice or purées, chowders use diced potatoes.
  • Bisques are smoothly puréed, chowders have chunks of seafood and veg.

While both hearty and creamy, bisques are more refined and elegant dishes compared to rustic chowders. The smooth texture highlights the deep shellfish flavor.

Classic Bisque Recipes

Here are some classic bisque recipes showcasing how they are made:

Lobster Bisque

This luxurious bisque is packed with lobster flavor. Lobster shells are simmered to make a stock, before cream and rice are added to create a rich, decadent bisque.

  • Main ingredients: lobster meat and shells, onions, celery, carrot, tomato, brandy, cream, rice
  • Garnish: lobster meat, fresh parsley

Shrimp Bisque

Sweet shrimp shine in this creamy bisque with the added kick of cayenne pepper. Puréed rice helps thicken it without muting the shrimp flavor.

  • Main ingredients: shrimp, carrots, onion, celery, stock, rice, milk, cream, cayenne
  • Garnish: shrimp, parsley, paprika

Crab Bisque

This quick and easy bisque lets the sweet crab meat take center stage. There’s no need for a long simmering stock with canned crab meat.

  • Main ingredients: canned or fresh crab meat, onion, carrot, celery, cream, rice
  • Garnish: crab meat, Old Bay seasoning

Tips for Making the Perfect Bisque

Here are some top tips for bisque success:

  • Make a flavorful stock – Simmer shells and aromatics to extract maximum flavor
  • Don’t skimp on cream – The rich dairy is key for the signature bisque texture
  • Thicken carefully – Add just enough rice or purée to thicken without overpowering flavor
  • Finish with finesse – Garnish with extra seafood and fresh herbs just before serving
  • Season assertively – Bisques can handle ample salt and pepper to balance richness

Serving Suggestions

Bisques make an elegant starter for a fancy meal or a comforting entrée with crusty bread. Here are some serving ideas:

  • As a first course for a seafood-centric meal
  • Topped with puff pastry for a quick appetizer
  • In sourdough bread bowls for a hearty lunch
  • Garnished with crab cakes or seared scallops
  • With a salad and bread as a light dinner

A bisque can also be converted to a sauce for seafood dishes by thinning with extra stock or cream.


So in summary, bisques stand apart from other soups thanks to their velvety smooth texture and deep shellfish flavor. The additions of cream and puréed starch make them rich and creamy without compromising the star ingredient. With a few basic principles, it’s easy to make restaurant-quality bisque at home.

Served as a starter or entrée, a bisque is sure to impress guests while satisfying cravings for a comforting, decadent dish. Just resist the urge to drink it straight from the bowl!