This is a recipe I’m posting at least half for my own record keeping as anything else. I still have some lingering questions about the recipe and I don’t have great photos, but I’ll share what I’ve got and try to update the next time we make it. But man, it’s too good to lose!
Backstory: Last week we went to Sweet Tomatoes as an atta-boy for Ben who had been struggling a bit with behavior at school and is now happily doing amazingly well, literally OFF-THE-CHARTS. Sweet Tomatoes (this is a salad, soup, pasta buffet with some baked goods and soft-serve ice cream thrown in) is a perennial favorite restaurant of the kids and Matt and I like it, but in a sort of we’ll put up with it for your sake kind of way. It’s generally not too innovative or interesting, but everyone can find something they like and it’s reasonably healthy if you’re careful with how much and what you pick.
So we got our salads and ate those and then Ben begged to go get mac ‘n’ cheese and I accompanied him, served his pasta for him and sent him back to the table. Then I wandered over to the soup bar where they had the usual array of 6 soups. They always have a bunch of the same ol’ but then have some seasonal offering … and this time, it was Lobster Curry Bisque. The seasonal soups are very largely hit or miss, but I almost always try them and this one was … OMG. Amazing. It was all I could do not to go back for seconds, thirds, fourths and bribe the people to send me home with the absurdly large vat of the stuff.
It was all the yummy stuff about regular lobster bisque but with coconut and curry flavors and just so so so good. It was kind of like a mixture between Tom Kha (a thai soup with a lovely coconut base) and regular ol’ lobster bisque. Awesome. I was already planning a return trip for this week when I realized that we were on the LAST DAY of the soup special. Disaster. Only if the soup is a huge hit do you ever see it again and even then, it could be easily a full year!
So I did what any sensible person would do. I googled. And I came up with the delightful recipe for Coconut Curry Lobster Bisque by a Ms. Natalie Paramore. I’d never been to her site before, but she showed a pretty good method and so I decided I’d give it a whirl. And just a couple of days later, I stuck it on the menu for Sunday night … along with another tried and tested soup (Beef Barley with Mushrooms) just in case.
Acquiring the ingredients was a bit more hassle than normal and included a trip to an Asian grocery store. But happily, an H-Mart has just cropped up on one of my more frequently traveled paths and Ben in tow, we were able to get lemon grass, lemon thyme, coconut milk and coconut cream powder (as well as some other Asian grocery store treats) while Tabby was testing for her orange belt on Saturday.
So Sunday was the regular crazy Nichols affair. We had a swim birthday party in the morning that we followed up with lunch with friends and then we met up with other friends back at our house shortly after that to do a little crafting (they wanted to make a CO pallet flag as well). They’d offered to bring dinner (after I’d already menu planned and done most of the shopping) but since I had something in the works, I said I’d just go ahead with that.
So while the wife was working with Matt on the pallet flag, I was in the kitchen cooking it up … and watching some football. I basically followed the original recipe with some modifications:
- 4 Lobster tails (I forgot to see what weight I used, but they were small and I’m betting they totaled in the 3.5 lb range)
- 6 cups water
- kosher salt
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 2 stalks lemon grass
- 2 sprigs lemon thyme
- 1 T peppercorns
- 3 teeny onions
- 9 cloves garlic
- 3 T red curry paste
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1/4 C coconut cream powder
- 1 lime
- cilantro for garnish
As I said, this was all a bit on the experimental side. To my knowledge, I’d never even cooked lobster before, but what the heck! I’ll try anything.
So first step was to steam the lobster. I placed them in my soup pot with the water and about 2 tsp of kosher salt. Then, as the recipe directed, I brought them to a boil and covered to steam for 12 minutes. While that was in the works, as suggested, I chopped up the veggies. Lemon grass is no joke! It was crazy hard to cut and I ended up more or less sawing it with my serrated bread knife. Since the recipe said we’d be blending these things up, I just did the rough chop.
After the 12 minutes had elapsed, I removed the lobsters to a plate to let them cool. Once they were cool enough to handle, I dug out all the meat. I did this over the plate to capture the juices and dumped the juices and meat back into the soup pot. Then I added the chicken stock, lemon grass, lemon thyme, peppercorns, onions and garlic back to the pot and set it to boil for 45 minutes to make the stock.
Though this step was obviously not difficult, it is what would keep me from making this on a weeknight. In this case it worked out beautifully because I could prep everything for my other soup while the stock formed.
Once the stock was done, I strained it back into another pot as the recipe called for and here’s where it got a bit jinky. The author said to remove the whole ingredients and the lobster tail shells, but then it clearly showed those things being blended up and had referenced this fact before. Not wanting to lose out on any flavor, I opted to just remove the lobster tail shells and blend with my immersion blender. That technique works wonderfully on many of the soups I make, but the crazy lemon grass was really resistant and it was clear that ingredient would not blend nicely into soupiness. It just more or less ground it up. Therefore, I decided to run it back through the strainer once more. I was very happy with this move because it was clear that this fiborous stuff did not belong in there. I ended up squeezing it out to get all the liquid back out.
From there, the finish was easy. Stir in some curry paste (I just did a bit over half the jar, an estimated 3 T) and the can of coconut milk. The author had suggested that coconut cream was preferable but even at the Asian grocery store, there was none to be had. So I picked up the powder. The directions said to make it by putting the whole packet in a cup of water. But rather than do that, I stirred in about a 1/4 cup into the soup for just a little extra creamy. Next time I’d like to order the coconut cream off Amazon to see what difference it makes. Then I stirred in the lobster and squeezed lime over the whole thing and served it up!
All 10 of our guests (my dad and sister had joined us by this point) agreed – it was amazing. The kids all gamely tried it and ate at least half of their bowls. Any leftovers the adults were glad to bat clean-up on.
Work wise, this was honestly very manageable. I would guestimate that my hands-on time was around 1 hour and then add in the cook time around 1 hour. As I said, the only hard part was the uncertainty in straining the soup. I think I would be much quicker making it next time around, probably cutting my hands-on time to 30-40 min.
One might wonder though, how it compares to its Sweet Tomatoes inspiration. The answer is … quite a bit different, but possibly even better. The main difference was the texture. Sweet Tomatoes’ was much more thick creamy and this was definitely thinner, but still creamy. This had more the consistency of a thai coconut soup (Tom Kha). The flavors in this were a bit more subtle as well. You tasted everything, all at once, and nothing overpowered anything else. Lobster, coconut, curry, citrus.
To top it all off, the Broncos won, Payton captured the TD pass record, our friends have their very own CO pallet flag and we all had a very lovely evening.