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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.

        1 Reply
        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.

        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!

            10 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. re: mpjmph

                  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: 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: 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.

                        3. BBQ = grilled
                          Lox = smoked salmon

                          The imprecision of language is indeed irritating. I hate it mainly because you now have to explain your terms, where the conciseness of a specific, well-accepted definition used to be very handy. Now you have to say BBQ, you know, the real stuff, low and slow cooking over embers. Or Lox, you know, the real stuff, brined but not smoked. Or Bisque, you know, the real stuff, made from shellfish.

                          But it is actually very arrogant to try and fight these general misappropriations of terms. Language does that - you can't stop the rain, and it's arrogant to think you can fight it.

                          So I'm arrogant. Sue me.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: applehome

                            BBQ spread to grilling a long time ago, at least in places other than the American South. It's only with the evangelizing by BBQ champions, TV hosts, and food columnists that there has been a partial return to that original meaning. Even that original meaning is somewhat debatable if you look at some of the drawings of BBQ as first seen by Spaniards - those show all kinds of critters laid out on racks high above a fire. Which is that closer to, grilling, or smoking in a steel behemoth? And how about Mexican barbacoa, pit 'steaming'? But then we've debated the true origins and meaning of BBQ many times before.

                            There are some parallels with 'bisque'. A particular usage at a specific time becomes codified, declared to be the true meaning. Dig further and you find that earlier usage wasn't quite so specific or that there were, and still are, regional variations. We had similar debates over the pronunciation of certain words, such as caramel.

                            1. re: applehome

                              yes, I know I'm 5 years late, but someone else resurrected this thread.

                              Lox = smoked salmon?

                              Lachs, pronounced Lox is merely the word for salmon in Germanic languages including Yiddish. Since the only way the poor inland eastern Europeans got salmon was preserved (via salting and/or smoking), lox became the name for the preserved fish. Once they came to the New World, Lox became the American English word for salted and or smoked salmon while the fresh fish was called salmon. My great grandparents and grandparents either ate lox or salmon that came out of a can. It was only my parents generation (born in the 1920s) that first ate fresh salmon in the NY area.

                            2. Just to add in more dictionary definitions, my Food Lover's Companion defines bisque as "A thick rich soup usually consisting of pureed seafood (sometimes fowl or vegetables) and cream."

                              I don't really eat seafood, so I guess the seafood connotation didn't stick with me. Tomato bisque doesn't bother me, and I expect something richer than a tomato soup.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: cyberroo

                                That's a good parameter - it has to offer something richer or deeper than your regular cream soup. Maybe I can suck it up and live with that :-)

                                1. re: cyberroo

                                  But in Louisiana a bisque is made with a roux, contains no dairy, and may or may not be pureed. It may be served with rice, but the rice is never pureed. And the only variations I'm familiar with are shrimp, crawfish, and crab.

                                2. The classical definition of a bisque, IIRC, is a puréed soup thickened with rice, and sometimes, but not always, made with cream. Any addition of seafood or any other ingredient is outside of that.

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: maria lorraine


                                    I just carted 50 lbs of books to my desk to look this up. I had always been taught that rice is the thickener in a bisque, as in tomato bisque, but not so.

                                    Quoting from chapter and verse:

                                    Larousse Gastronomique, 1961:
                                    Nowadays this is the French name of a culinary preparation in the form of a purée, more particularly a purée of crayfish, or other shellfish, served as a thick soup. In the olden days it was something quite different. In the beginning of the nineteenth century, the word bisque was not exclusively applied to shellfish preparations...

                                    Joy of Cooking, 1975:
                                    About Thick Soups
                                    If you like to attach a label to your creations, know that a purée is a soup that gets its major thickeining from the vegetable or other food put through a sieve or blender and has butter swirled into it at the very last moment. By omitting the butter or lessening the amount of it and adding cream or egg yolk, you get – guess what?—a cream soup! If that soup is on a shellfish base—and only if it is—you may call it a bisque. If you add both eggs and cream and a Velouté sauce, to a purée base, you achieve a velouté soup.

                                    The Professional Chef, The Culinary Institute of America, 8th Edition, 2006:
                                    Traditionally, bisques are based on crustaceans, such as shrimp, lobster or crayfish, and thickened with rice, rice flour or bread...Contemporary bisques may be based on ingredients other than crustaceans and rely on a vegetable purée or roux as the thickener. A vegetable-based bisque is prepared in the same manner as a purée soup. If the main vegetable does not contain enough starch to act as a thickener, rice, roux or a starchy vegetable like a potato may be used to provide additional thickness. When the vegetables are tender, the soup is puréed until smooth. Consequently, the distinction between a purée and a bisque is not always clear.

                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                      I learned this same definition as an Apprentice

                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                        There is no rice in Jacques Pepin's "Cold Tomato Bisque." He uses potato.

                                      2. Everything became a "bisque" about the same time everything became a "fajita." Fajita came from Spanish, faja, belt or little belt strip of meat, a cheaper cut of meat eaten by caballeros in northern Mexico and southern Texas, popularized at Ninfa's restaurant in Houston in the mid 70's. Now, everything is a "fajita," chicken, shrimp, and even veggie fajita, all oxymorons. Ironically, the fajita craze came about the same time as the "buffalo wing" phenomenon, now they are everywhere.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: James Cristinian

                                          Yeah. Just chop up some veggies, throw them in a ramekin, and you have a terrine.

                                        2. I was thinking the same thing, today, after a series of events that paired bisque with something wholly non-crustacean. The straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, was NYT's Melissa Clark's Tomato Bisque with Goat Cheese...lovely! But, what constitutes bisque?Am I wrong? Obviously, I need to exercise greater ego caution, but I am willing to be more flexible. Still, I rather despise the creative writing aspect of a menu. I like being enticed, seduced but...it's not like when I retried cherry tomatoes, oh so many years ago, and exclaimed with glee, "They're sweet!" Not at all like their earlier versions I became acquainted with - as garnish on my TV dinner "salad" - on my many flights, elsewhere, especially, home to Greece. So, my great departure to Greek salad (doesn't have lettuce, people!) was the addition of any sweet tomato, incuding cherry. Someone earlier mentioned feta...don't even get me started on that. My recommendation, buy goat feta or feta from Arahova. Forget the Franco-Bulgaro shepsmilk product. One is too pretentious, too creamy and too expensive (French). The other, not very complex, but, a decent replacement for feta, if you aren't picky. But creamy and spreadable (almost) and expensive...not what feta is.

                                          Anyway, great discussion! I may have learned patience. :)

                                          1. "Bisque: A thick, creamy, crustacean-based soup." (from The Elements of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman). He goes on to describe application of the term to a thick, creamy vegetable purée as a "slipshod extension." Jacques Pepin uses it in the slipshod sense, so while I prefer the traditional usage, it's difficult to insist that its use in "tomato bisque" by others in incorrect.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: GH1618

                                              All this time I understood there was a culinary connection between 'bisque' and 'Basgue' and 'Biscay'

                                            2. Somewhere back in time, I seem to remember reading that bisque means a soup thickened with rice.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: monavano

                                                You are correct.

                                                Cream of tomato. Tomato bisque. Tomato velouté. You could make all 3 and put them side by side and they would likely look very similar. The difference is how they are thickened.