MAKING shellfish bisque isn’t something you’ll do every day, but you may be planning for the festive season it is definitely worth trying. Since the mid-1980s I must have made hundreds of pots of bisque using Skye shellfish at the restaurant. Crab, lobster and prawns were the most common ingredients, but I also made one with squat lobsters, or “squatties” as they are affectionately known.

Our native shellfish are in season throughout the winter months, a time when the meat is most firm and flavoursome. Scottish seafood thrives in the cold, clear waters around our shores, particularly off the coasts of the Highlands and Islands, where lobster, langoustine and crab are caught using creels, an age-old method of sustainable fishing. The best bi-valves – scallops, mussels and oysters – are either cropped from the seabed by divers, or farmed naturally in nets or rafts in our sheltered sea lochs.

Weather can play havoc with supplies for the lucrative Christmas market and some fishermen “ranch” their lobsters to meet high Christmas demand from the continent, particularly Spain. To do so, lobsters are stored at sea in an underwater “keep”, ready for sending fresh to the market. There are many large, refrigerated trucks on the roads throughout Scotland, transporting this precious cargo. Although these are carefully packed for the long journey, Scottish shellfish is best enjoyed locally. A little bit of indulgence now and again is definitely worth it.

Having a really good, flavoursome stock is the secret of making a great tasting shellfish bisque. Throughout my years as chef at The Three Chimneys, I had an endless supply of shells to keep aside for making this, but I have cut down the quantities to suit a family kitchen. You could make this in stages over two days, starting with the stock and finishing the soup when you want to serve it. Leftovers will keep refrigerated for several days. Any unused stock can be frozen for another occasion. It would make a wonderful risotto or paella, adding genuine depth of flavour to the rice.

Skye prawn and lobster bisque

(Serves up to 12)

For the stock:

1 fresh Scottish lobster, weighing around 700-800g

8 large, fresh Scottish langoustines

2 heaped tsps sea salt or dulse seaweed flakes

50g unsalted butter

1 large onion

1 bulb fennel, including feathery tops

1 stick celery, plus a few leaves taken from the centre of the bunch

2 large sprigs flat parsley, including stalks

½ lemon, sliced

4 bay leaves

1 tsp white peppercorns

4 tbsp brandy

250ml dry white wine


1. Bring a large pan of cold water to boiling point.

2. Add 2 tsps sea salt or dulse seaweed flakes.

3. Drop the langoustines into the boiling water, cover with a lid and cook for no more than two minutes, by which time the water will be returning to boiling point.

4. Using a slotted spoon, lift out the langoustines and place in a bowl of cold water.

5. Return pan of water to a fast boil and immerse the lobster into it. Cover with a lid, return to boiling point and cook the lobster for about 5-6 minutes, by which time it will be bright red and beginning to float to the surface.

6. Lift out carefully and place in bowl of cold water with langoustines, to cool.

7. Discard the cooking water.

8. Once the shellfish is cold enough to handle, remove meat from the shells, keeping all the shells, legs, heads etc, to make the stock. You can use the tail meat from the langoustines, plus the creamy pulp from inside the heads. The meat from the lobster tail and claws should be removed completely. Scoop out any pulp from inside the head, particularly if this is dark green tomalley, a special delicacy which will add flavour and colour to the bisque.

9. Set the meat aside.

10. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 7 or 220°C.

11. Put shells in a roasting tin in a single layer and place it on the middle shelf of the hot oven. Roast for at least 30 minutes until shells are dry and beginning to colour.

12. Wash and roughly chop the stock vegetables; break up the parsley.

13. Melt the butter in a stockpot or large saucepan.

14. Add the chopped vegetables, parsley, lemon, bay leaves and peppercorns. Stir in the hot butter until the mixture turns soft.

15. Add the roasted shells, mix together well and break up the shells into smaller pieces using the end of a rolling pin.

16. When all is hot, pour over the brandy and ignite it to burn off the alcohol.

17. Pour over the white wine, plus enough cold water to just cover the contents of the pan.

18. Cover with a lid, bring to boiling point and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

19. Once cooked and cooled, strain the liquid through a colander into a bowl. Strain a second time through a finer mesh sieve, to ensure that any tiny pieces of shell are captured. Retain the liquid, but discard the cooked ingredients.

For the bisque:

1 medium leek, white and pale green part only

1 small bulb fennel

1 medium onion

2 medium carrots

1 stick celery, plus leaves, taken from centre of bunch

50g unsalted butter

50g Basmati rice, rinsed through a sieve under cold running water until water is clear

4 level tbsps good-quality tomato passata

1.5 litres shellfish stock

½ large lemon, juice only

Meat from the cooked lobster and langoustines, chopped into small pieces

4 tbsps. double cream

1 tbsp freshly chopped parsley

Sea salt or dulse seaweed flakes and ground white pepper for final seasoning


1. Wash, prepare and finely chop vegetables.

2. Melt butter in a large saucepan until hot and foamy.

3. Add vegetables and stir in the butter, until turning soft.

4. Add the washed rice and tomato passata and stir well.

5. Pour over the shellfish stock and bring to boiling point.

6. Reduce heat, cover with a lid and simmer for 25 minutes.

7. Add the lemon juice.

8. Liquidise the bisque and adjust the seasoning with additional sea salt or seaweed flakes and pepper, if required.

9. Stir through the chopped lobster and langoustines.

10. Add chopped parsley and cream just before warming through and serving.