Professionals, look away now. Serious cooks who have created this lovingly from a classic text, do likewise. This is a true mongrel of a recipe, born of improvisation on my part, and vague memories of seeing folk on the telly doing bisque-y type stuff. All I will say in my defence is that the end product was absolutely delicious.
Who in their right mind would fork out a fortune on lobsters to make soup? Even the blessed Julia Child comments on it. Anthony Bourdain suggested cultivating his fishmonger for lobsters which were on their last legs, or even recently deceased, and freezing them until he had enough. I was welcoming a long lost Californian friend.
Not with the soup, I hasten to add. Lobster, simply boiled, with mayo, saute potatoes and a green salad is, I suggest, a fit welcome for any returning hero, and very well received it was too. Cunningly I provided a central bowl for the shells. I ended up with the shells of two and a half lobster, plus a half of one, meat intact. Normal recipes would have you cutting up the whole lobster, and starting off with that. I have only the shells. Hmm.
So firstly, some stock. I bashed up the shells in a heavy pan, using the end of a solid rolling pin. Added chopped onion, carrot and celery and about 1.2 litres of water. The only problem is that, lacking any lobster meat, this is likely to lack flavour. I chucked in a small handful of frozen prawns. In an ideal world you would use the little cheap ones. I also added a generous glug of fish sauce and simmered for about 45 minutes. The James Martins of this world would blitz the whole thing, shells and all. I get enough criticism of my kitchen techniques without knackering our machine, so I sieved mine. Fairly bland, but a start.
For stage 2 I took the meat out of the remaining half shell and smashed that up. I chopped an onion, a head of fennel and a celery stick, and sauteed them for a few minutes with a couple of cloves of garlic. If you like a little heat you could add a mild red chilli at this stage. In went the remaining lobster shells and about 75ml of brandy. (Note - it's customary to see the brandy being flambéd, just for show. If you're going to do this, do it before you add the shells.) I simply let the pan bubble for a minute or two to get rid of the alcohol.
Stir in about 4tbsp of tomato purée, then return your stock to the pan with a few more frozen prawns. Simmer for another while - 30 - 45 minutes - then drain. The flavour will be getting there, but still a bit insipid. Boil rapidly to reduce the liquid by at least a third.
This should be tasting pretty good by now, but it will be very thin. In a separate pan boil 60g rice in some of your soup until the rice is completely soft. Blitz the mixture and return to the main pan.
For the final stage I had a batch of big frozen uncooked prawns. I defrosted them, cut them in half and cooked them gently in the soup. Near the end I added the remaining lobster meat (remember this had already been cooked). Some would add cream at the end. If you're going to do this, be sparing as you don't want to mask the delicate flavour.
As you will have noted, this is a narrative, not a recipe. All I can say is that mine was blooming good.