The first time I went to Congress, a five-star restaurant in Austin, TX, headed by renowned chef David Bull, I was with two of my best eating buddies on our monthly outing to try a new place. Per usual, between the three of us we ordered almost every version of the three-course tasting menu and among the roulette of beautiful dishes passed between us, one plate reigned so memorable I recall secretly praying it would end up in front of me and losing all desire to share.
That epic deliciousness was Chef Bull's White Lobster Bisque served with Fresno tomato jam and topped with a piping hot lobster fritter. Our waiter brought the bowl to the table with the deep red smoked jam, fresh lobster meat and fritter at the center of the plate and partially submerged the middle round as he decanted the creamy liquid into the dish. The varying textures, dramatic presentation and gorgeous ingredients created equal parts impressive visual appeal and delight in the prospect of eating it, as well as a bisque that was incredibly luxurious in flavor but not overwhelmingly heavy.
I have spent some time since dreaming about that meal, so when I recently had the chance to speak with Chef Bull in person right before the Austin Food & Wine Festival, I figured it my golden opportunity to ask, without any idea what the response would be, exactly how he creates this magic; after all, the famous bisque has been on the menu since Congress's day one and he joked that if they removed it there could be anarchy.
To my surprise, however, the man graciously shared his secrets:
The lobster bisque has obviously got a ton of cream in it, ricotta cheese in the fritter, and then there's the smoked element with the tomato jam. And then when you mix it together, I think part of the excitement of that dish is that you actually see the bisque form within the bowl and together it turns from white to red. It's kind of that interactive soup which really brings a lot to the dish as well... it's crunchy and smooth and velvety, it's sweet lobster, but then it's tart tomato and smoke behind it.
My mouth was watering just hearing him talk about it and whether it's the perfect combination of textures or spot-on flavors, the dish amounts to an extremely special soup experience. Read on for the recipe below and for my own part, I'm grateful the low maintenance version is served a few blocks from my house and for the potential to create this sublime, fancy take on an old favorite at home.
White Lobster Bisque | Fresno-Tomato Jam | Lobster Ricotta Fritter
1 Quart / 4 Cups
White Lobster Bisque (recipe to follow)
Fresno-Tomato Jam (recipe to follow)
Lobster Ricotta Fritters (recipe to follow)
Micro Celery or Celery Hearts for Garnish
For the Assembly:
1. In four large soup bowls, mold the fresno tomato jam in the center of the bowl using a two-inch ring mold.
2. Top the jam with one fritter and garnish the base of the bowl with micro celery.
Using a small creamer pitcher or beaker pour the hot soup into the bowl at the table.
For the White Lobster Bisque:
Yellow Onion, chopped
Celery Ribs, chopped
Fennel bulb, chopped
Garlic cloves, chopped
Lobster or Chicken Stock
1. In a large sauce pot, add the canola oil over medium heat.
2. Add the onion, celery, fennel, shallot and garlic and sweat for 10-15 minutes, being careful not to gain any color on the vegetables.
3. Add the peppercorns, fennel seed and bay leaf and toast for 2-3 minutes.
4. Deglaze with the brandy, sherry and white wine. Bring the mixture to high heat and bring to a boil.
5. Add the lobster stock and lobster heads and reduce the liquid by half.
6. Add the heavy cream and bring mixture once again to a boil.
7. In a separate bowl combine the cornstarch and water. Whisk in the cornstarch slurry into the
boiling cream. Turn heat down and cook the bisque for 20 minutes at a low simmer.
For the Fresno Tomato Jam:
(recipe makes more than needed for above recipe)
Mesquite Wood Chips, as needed
Whole Canned Tomatoes, completely drained, medium diced
(reserve tomato juice)
Fresno Chilis, seeded, stemmed and small diced
Red Wine Vinegar
Reserved Tomato Juice from above
1. Smoke the diced tomatoes using an outdoor smoker or stove top smoker for 30-35 minutes at 155 degrees or until the tomatoes have retained a medium smoky flavor.
2. In a large sauce pan add the butter and sweat the shallots and fresno chilis for 3-4 minutes.
3. Add the sugar, red wine vinegar and tomato juice and bring liquid to a boil. Reduce mixture to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes or until a syrup consistency is reached.
4. Remove the mixture from the heat and fold in the smoked tomatoes.
5. Allow mixture to cool to room temperature before attempting to mold for assembly.
For the Lobster Ricotta Fritter:
All Purpose Flour
Fine Sea Salt
Parsley, finely chopped
Cooked Lobster Meat, small diced
Oil as needed for frying
Salt to taste
1. Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and parsley.
2. In a separate bowl combine the ricotta, whole milk and maple syrup.
3. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and mix to incorporate.
4. Fold in cooked lobster meat and combine. Allow mixture to rest for 30 minutes.
5. Heat frying oil to 350 degrees in a cast iron skillet or heavy gauge sauce pot or deep fat fryer.
6. Using a small quarter sized ice cream scoop, scoop and drop the fritter batter carefully in to the hot oil. Fry the fritters for 2-3 minutes on all sides or until golden brown and crisp.
7. Remove fritters from oil and immediately season with salt. Reserve fritters warm on paper
towels until ready for assembly.