What Is Bisque, Anyway?

Don't let the fancy French name scare you, because bisque is as simple as it is delicious.

It’s the perfect season to curl up on the couch with something warm. For cold nights, a bowl of creamy bisque will fulfill all of your comfort food cravings. So many people throw that French-sounding word around, but really, what is bisque?

The answers to all your questions are below. You’ll be talking about bisque like Julia Child in no time!

Here are more cooking tips from our favorite French chef.

What Is Bisque?

A traditional French chef would define a bisque as being a thick, creamy soup made with shellfish and thickened by a paste made from their shells. Julia Child was one chef to popularize lobster bisque in the United States; her recipe uses both the shells of the lobster and rice to thicken the bisque.

Today, the definition of bisque has expanded to include vegetable bisques, like tomato and butternut squash. The word is more related to the smooth texture of the dish and the use of cream. Most modern bisques are thickened using rice. Some cook the rice in the broth and strain it out later, using only the left-behind rice starch to thicken the soup. Others puree the rice into the soup to thicken it. Almost all bisques are finished with hot cream for a velvety texture. The richest bisques also include butter!

Bisque should feel smooth and luxurious so it must be very thoroughly blended. In the past, chefs would’ve used a vintage tool called a food mill to ensure everything was absolutely smooth, but you can use an immersion blender.

How Is Bisque Different Than Soup?

Bisque is a specific kind of soup. So all bisques are soup, but not all soups are bisques.

The most similar type of soup to bisque is chowder. Unlike bisque, which should be smooth and creamy, chowder has hearty chunks of meat or vegetables. Chowder is almost always thickened with a roux instead of blended ingredients. Check out our favorite chowder recipes.

How to Make Bisque

Generally, a bisque recipe will follow these steps:

  • Heat onions, mirepoix (another French cooking word you should know) or other vegetables with seafood shells or another main ingredient until fragrant.
  • Cover with stock or other base, add rice and bring to a boil; then, reduce to a simmer.
  • Remove large shells and puree or blend soup. This is a great time to use your immersion blender! Here’s the model our Test Kitchen loves.
  • Finish by stirring in hot cream and/or butter.
  • Garnish with large chunks of seafood or finely chopped vegetables in the center of the soup.

Each recipe will have slight variations on this method, depending on the ingredients, but the basic steps don’t change. Who knew French cooking could be so easy?

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Mandy Naglich
Mandy is a food and beverage writer with bylines at WNYC, Munchies, Mic and October. She's a Certified Cicerone and award-winning homebrewer living, writing and cooking in New York City.