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Jan 6, 2009 06:32 PM

Pet Peeve: "Bisque"

Does this bug anyone else?

I hate when I go into a restaurant and I see items such as "Tomato Bisque" or "Squash Bisque" listed. Being such a food bioche, I politely say to the server, "Oh, so there's shellfish in it?" "No," they reply. "It's a vegetable cream soup." Since when did everything become a "bisque"? By definition, doesn't a bisque have a shellfish base? Have I overstepped my food arrogance?

Look forward to thought!

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  1. From Wikipedia: "Bisque is also sometimes used to refer to cream-based soups that do not contain seafood, in which the ingredients are pureed or processed in a food processor or a food mill. Common varieties include tomato, mushroom, and squash bisque."

    1. You are a traditionalist. IMHO a bisque can refer to cream based soups without seafood. As long as it's cream based and the ingredients are pureed. I understand your side because traditionally a bisque contains crustaceans. But mushroom bisque sounds so much more appetizing than cream of mushroom soup.

      1. You are right - yes and no. Yes traditionally bisque was a shellfish base, but recently other cream-based soups that are pureed are referred to as bisque. Why? No clue.

        2 Replies
        1. re: torontoboy

          like some of you have said, it's all about marketing, selling a dish. Slap "bisque" on there because it sounds fancy.....

          I agree with mitzimouse.

          1. re: aser

            And therefore, the restaurant can get away with charging a few extra bucks.

        2. Mitzimouse, I'm in full agreement with you on this one. And, after my 'feta' rant on another thread, I'm just left frustrated that traditionalists seem to be a dying breed...

          1. Mitzi

            according to Penguin Companion to Food, a bisque is "a rich soup of creamy consistency, especially of crayfish or lobster... an earlier use (was) for soups of game birds, (and) has fallen into desuetude". so strictly speaking I would have interpreted bisque to mean any type of creamy soup.

            Larousse Gastronomique states the original term "bisque" was used to describe a highly spiced dish of boiled meat or game (pigeons or quails) garnished with crayfish or cheese croutes, and was not until the 17th century that crayfiish became the principal ingredient. The word is now used imprecisely for several pink pureed soups.

            so strictly speaking, if one is a true "traditionalist", we would be looking for a Spanish spiced dish consisting of boiled meat or game from the Spanish province of Vizcaya!

            perhaps we're getting a little technical here, i suspect most diners would interpret a "mushroom bisque" as a nice creamy mushroom soup rather than some weird crayfish mushroom soup. like "lobster cappucino" you wouldn't expect any espresso in a foamed up lobster soup!

            12 Replies
            1. re: doctorandchef

              Yes. Language evolves over time, especially when loanwords are considered!

              1. re: doctorandchef

                Nice Doctor! you just taught me something I appreciate your effort.

                1. The color "bisque" comes from bisque ware ceramics, not the food. It's a light cream color with a tinge of gray. Some would say a light beige.

                  As for the culinary bisque, yes, it absolutely unequivocally *IS* a flavor base of shellfish and mirepoix.

                  Yes, I am a traditionalist. I like to think the reason is primarily because communication of ideas is sooooooo much easier when everyone understands that red is red, hot is hot, and bisque is shellfish. I can't help but freak when I see things like "Carrot Bisque" or "Confit of Eggplant" on a menu. Drives me nuts! I realise that "confit" and "confiture", very different things in the classical culinary sense, are being used interchangeably, but why not let the language retain clear meaning? I have no problem with a confiture of eggplant, but a confit of eggplant drives me up the wall. And from Thomas Keller, no less! Does a Confiture of Eggplant sound less delicious than Confit of Eggplant? Does a Tomato Veloute or even Cream of Tomato sound less delicious than Tomato Bisque? What if car mechanics and the auto industry in general started using "brake" and "accelerator" interchangeably? Wouldn't THAT be a mess!

                  Okay. I'm going to go back to my Curmudgeon Cave and spend some time trying to figure out where the hell Keller gets his eggplant fat to make eggplant confit. <curmudge><curmudge><curmudge>

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    As someone born and raised in New Orleans, to me the word bisque, in a culinary sense, has always and will always refer to a creamy sauce generally of a pink/red color, that contains shellfish, and was made from a basic broth created from mirepoix and shellfish "trimmings'(shells and heads, and claws, usually), the color of which is supposed to be from the stuff(actually composed largely of cholesterol, IIRC) inside the heads of the shellfish. (Much as the reddish coloring of Pad Thai traditionally comes from this substance.)
                    Sometimes it is adulterated with a little tomato, especially if it is made with a broth based off of fish instead of shellfish (as when the cook is using already peeled shrimp or crawfish). It is usually called a "soup", but I have always thought of it as more like a sauce or "gravy" for the shellfish. When I was younger and made this at home occasionally, I loved to cut FRESH pasta(usually linguine) into thirds and cook it in the bisque which made my mother shudder in horror, and ask me what the heck did I think I was eating, etouffee? (My mom was a purist regarding bisque and felt serving it with rice in the center or off to the side should be a criminal offense, never mind pasta!)
                    I was downright offended the first time I saw cream of tomato soup referred to as a "bisque", but now the term seems to generally refer to any vaguely reddish/pinkish/orangy colored cream soup. Not to me, ever.

                  2. re: doctorandchef

                    Lobster cappucino - that's priceless!

                    Oh, and I always love the "carpaccio" of beet, tomato, whatever, anything but the true thing, BEEF!!

                    1. re: Mitzimouse

                      Lobster cappuccino may be priceless, but as you can see, White Miso Clam Chowder Cappuccino costs $6. It's good, also. (Contains no coffee!)


                      1. re: Mitzimouse

                        We were recently served artichoke "cappucino" in Bogota...delicious and interesting presentation in cappucino cup.

                        1. re: Mitzimouse

                          I once saw "pineapple carpaccio" on a menu. It was, you got it, thin slices of pineapple, undoubtedly served with some sort of coulis. Arggg.

                          1. re: MaryishSally

                            Pineapple carpaccio is fairly common in Europe.

                          2. re: Mitzimouse

                            I thought that cappuccino came from the white hoods of Capuchin monks. But it turns out (see the Wiki page) that Capuchins have reddish brown habits, more like what you get from adding a bit of milk to black coffee. The evolution of the name and drink is a lot more complicated than I thought.

                            As for carpaccio - that isn't old or traditional. Again, from Wiki, it's a traditional Italian preparation, but named around 1950 by the owner of Harrys Bar (the epitome of a tourist destination) in honor of a Venetian painter.

                          3. re: doctorandchef

                            It's thought by some that Bisque comes from a stew originally made around the Bay of Biscay, which is on the north Atlantic coast, so it would inevitably have been made from seafood originally. The Bay of Biscay runs right up from Spain into France, so food from that region it isn't necessarily Spanish only.