Stone Soup #25: Bisque-y Business

Are you ready to bisque it all?

Stone Soup is an ongoing quarantine feature in which I come up with a recipe that uses the impossible thing in your cupboard, without making you go to the store or wasting any of your ingredients. Last time, we made mending sauce.

Clara says:

Since you asked for Stone Soup submissions, here is mine: I keep getting evaporated milk as a 'substitution' for sweetened condensed milk. But of course it's not the same. I can't put it in espresso for homemade Vietnamese iced coffee, for example. I tried, even adding sugar, but it wasn't the same. There's only so much rice pudding and pumpkin pie I can stomach. What savory dishes can I make with evaporated milk?

Clara followed with a list of ingredients that are readily accessible, including fresh and canned tomatoes, garlic, onions, and assorted greens.

Evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk are close relatives, but they can’t stand in for each other. Evaporated milk is what you get when you remove 60% of the water from regular milk, then can and seal the result. It’s shelf-stable in this form, meaning you don’t need to refrigerate it, and it will last for a long time. You can then reconstitute it by adding water to get a product that’s, like, pretty much milk.

Meanwhile, sweetened condensed milk is evaporated milk with sugar added — but the sugar is added before the canning process, so I’m guessing the heat-sealing and sterilization change the chemical structure of it a little bit. That might be why you can’t quite substitute evaporated milk + sugar for sweetened condensed milk. Or maybe it’s just magic! Who knows!! Not me. I don’t go knowin’ stuff.

The thing that matters is that evaporated milk is super-versatile, and it’s really ideal for savory cooking! It gives you a way to add richness to your recipes without having to deal with milk or cream. Y’all know I’m on my soup bullshit lately, so let’s take a run at a dead-easy version my favorite genre of soup:

Bisque (Quick)


Bisques are creamy and smooth and heavily-seasoned, making them the best kind of soup. Other soups are mortified to be seen in the same room as bisques, and they’re right to feel that way. We’re going to make a tomato bisque, but you can use these methods on a wide variety of vegetables. Try subbing in diced mushrooms, chopped red and orange bell peppers, or cubed butternut squash. I promise you’ll be happy.

Step One: Prep.

  • Grab some tomatoes and wash the everloving fuck out of them. You can use whatever kind of tomatoes you want for this recipe — tomato varieties are super different, but you’re cooking this recipe to your desired taste and texture, so I’m not gonna boss you about it. You need roughly four fists worth of tomato-mass, total. Whatever kind of tomatoes you have, chop them into large hunks. If you’re using wee tiny baby tomatoes, like cherries or romas, cut them in half.

    You can also use canned tomatoes for this — just drain and gently rinse them first.

  • Chop up an onion or a couple of shallots. Again, different genres of alliums are really different, but you’re not going to be able to go wrong with any of them in this recipe, so use what you have. I’ve been getting a ton of green onions in my CSA lately, so I’m using those instead of onions when I cook, and guess what? It’s fucking fine. I have not run into a single problem. Onion purists, calm down.

  • Peel a few cloves of garlic and either smash them or roughly chop them into big chunks.

  • Constitute, thaw, or prepare some stock. I like chicken stock, but vegetable stock will be great here too.

  • Open a can of evaporated milk. You can also use coconut milk for this recipe, which I often do!

Step Two: Heat. Put a nice big pot or a high-sided skillet over medium heat. Pour in a good glug of olive oil. Throw a pat of butter in, too, if you have it, because around here we like to sin boldly.

While the oil heats, crack a good amount of black pepper into the pan, then sprinkle in some red pepper flakes. Give them a minute to bloom, then add the chopped alliums and give them a stir. The moment they start to soften, add your tomatoes to the pan. Stir them to coat them with that nice, flavorful oil, and then turn the heat up to high.

Now back away. Do it. I know you want to stir them! I know! But don’t. You’re trying to blister these tomatoes over the heat before they start to really break down. It’ll happen pretty fast, but to make it happen, you have to be willing to sit tight for a couple of minutes. Once you can’t stand it anymore, give a gentle stir. Do that a couple more times, until everything in your pot has brown somewhere on it.

Step Three: Deglaze. Pour in about two cups of stock and stir thoroughly, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan. If this seems familiar, it’s because these steps aren’t too far off from the first few movements that get you mending sauce. Here’s where things start to get different: you’re going to let that stock cook partway down, stirring frequently, until what’s left of the tomatoes are no longer fully-covered.

Step Four: Enrichment. Pour in a whole can of evaporated milk (or coconut milk, including the solids), stirring as you go. This will look pretty magical — the white of the milk will bloom with color as you continue stirring, more brown than red at this point, but we’ll fix that soon. Keep stirring just until the milk starts to simmer, then take it off the heat.

Step Five: Blend it. Use an immersion blender to whiz this soup into a smooth, even consistency. If you need to use a blender or food processor, work in batches or you’ll have regrets. When everything is smooth and velvety, add salt and pepper to taste.

That’s it! You did it! You have tomato bisque! Serve this by itself, or alongside grilled cheese, or with a drizzle of hot sauce. Jazz it up by adding fresh basil just before you blend it. I recommend going easy on the dried herbs when you’re seasoning this one, because they can fuck up the texture, but spices and sauces and chili pastes? Go absolutely wild. You can add whole vegetables, chickpeas or beans to this to make it heartier. If you somehow have crab or lobster, this bisque is an extremely hospitable environment for shellfish-flesh. Chicken tends to get overshadowed by the intensity of the tomato flavor, but gamier meats like elk would probably hold up well as an addition.


Just the recipe:

Bisque (Quick)

  • Chop up 4-5 cups worth of tomatoes, an onion, and some garlic.

  • Put a high-sided pan or large pot over medium heat. Add oil, butter, black and red pepper. After a minute or so, add onions and garlic to the pan.

  • Once onions and garlic are soft and fragrant, add tomatoes. Stir infrequently to brown.

  • Add two cups of stock and simmer to significantly reduce, until very little liquid remains.

  • Add a can of evaporated milk. Heat, stirring, just until milk starts to simmer.

  • Blend with an immersion blender or food processor, then season to taste.


If you have a pantry dilemma, send it to stonesoup.substack@gmail.com. If you’re enjoying this feature, leave a comment below or share it on social media. Stay safe, stay healthy, and for pete’s sake, stay home.