Sautéing the shells — be they crab, shrimp, or crawfish — is the true secret to a good rich bisque and the key to its signature nutty flavor. The farther west you go in Louisiana, the less cream and the more rice you’ll find in the bisque.
Adapted from My New Orleans: The Cookbook by John Besh.
Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over high heat. Crush the whole crabs with a rolling pin, then add them to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, for 15 minutes.
Stir the flour into the pot, mixing it into the oil and crabs. Then add the onions, garlic, and celery. Reduce the heat to moderate and cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes.
Add the ground rice, thyme, bay leaf, pepper flakes, and tomato paste, stirring to mix well. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add the brandy and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 more minutes.
Increase the heat to medium-high and stir in the stock and heavy cream. Bring the bisque to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 25 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat. Purée the bisque in a blender, then strain through a fine sieve. Season with Worcestershire, Tabasco, salt, and pepper.