Out of all the over the top savory dishes I make that might come out of a 5 star restaurant this one has to be the easiest to make. Provided you can get all the ingredients. She crab soup is a South Carolina favorite but it can be found in Georgia, Alabama as well as around Louisiana. It is a personal favorite of mine and my younger brother Rick. My children have come to love it too. There are many variations on this dish but one thing they all have in common is that you can’t really call them “She crab” soup unless they have that ubiquitous roe from the female crab. And that ingredient is not easy to come by. I get mine from the very kind people at Charleston Seafood who are very helpful and about the only seafood purveyor that has it – http://www.charlestonseafood.com – and I do highly recommend them for their outstanding customer service.
Many recipes call for 8 oz of lump crab meat. But I start with a lb. You could add backfin crabmeat too for the small pieces but the standard recipe generally calls for 8 oz to 1 lb of the lump.
In addition to fresh crabmeat (the above has already been cooked) you need a few other ingredients.
Above I have some dry sherry, two large shallots, a pair of bay leaves and some mixed peppercorns (white, Telicherry, Malabar and some pink). And lastly I have crab base there in the upper right corner – the stuff I have there is made from Dungeness crab and seasoned before it’s concentrated which is why my spice mix above is rather scant. I also don’t like to add any salt at this stage (besides my base has some in it).
Above I have been sauteeing my peppercorns, bay leaves and chopped shallots in butter for about 10 minutes at medium heat before adding a cup of whole milk. I’ll let that cook for a while (maybe 3 minutes) while I whisk that together and then you will want to strain all solid ingredients out of the milk broth.
The above solid ingredients can be discarded. They’ve done their part and are no longer needed. Pour the strained milk broth back into the pot.
At this point I aill add 1/4 cup of that crab base and a quart of half and half and whisk it well over medium high heat. You will want to stir this often to avoid build up or scorching on the bottom.
I will mix 4 Tbs of corn starch with 1/4 cup of dry sherry and 1/2 cup of milk. Whisk that together in a separate container until all of the starch is dissolved in the liquid. Once it becomes a slurry with no lumps, pour that into your pot and whisk well.
After the crab, the roe is the most important ingredient if we’re going to call it “she crab” soup. I like to take out 1/4 to 1/3 cup of this amber-gold treasure and break it up into my pot with my bare fingers. Then whisk everything together well. From a dining exploration standpoint that roe reminds me of a high end Bottarga without all the salt. You get that crab-fish taste and a barely perceptible (And I mean barely – you have to be looking for it) faintly wax texture that you get with Sardinian Bottarga. And that really pleases me and is one of the many reasons I love this dish so much. If you’ve ever had food that had Bottarga with it in any shape or form, this dish will seem to have vestiges of that experience. It did for me anyway.
When the soup starts to thicken because of the starch – I add two cups of heavy cream and whisk well. The only ingedient left now is the crab meat. You can wait to add it and divvy it up at the table and distrubute it among your diners, putting it in the center of the bowl for presentation which many restaurants do. Or you can just add the meat and stir it in as I did.
See those little orange and yellow specs? That’s your she crab roe and it does add some balance and extra character to the dish. It adds a delicate crab flavor that distinguishes She Crab Soup from just an ordinary bisque. You really want to make the effort to get the roe and not just for the right to use the “She” label. Trust me it’s a different experience without it. When serving you will want to make extra sherry and maybe some hot sauce available to your diners. This is a very rich dish with so much history. Some have it that President Taft was visiting Mayor Rhett in the early 1900’s when she-crab soup was created. They were dining at the John Rutledge House when Mayor Rhett asked his butler to create a fancier version of the Scottish recipe of partan-bree (or crab and rice). The butler simply added crab roe (crab eggs), making the soup creamier and therefore creating she-crab soup.
Now I have seen versions in restaurants that are more pinkish looking and I will tell you it’s not because of the crab roe. Some restaurants will add tomato paste for color and to mellow the flavor some. But I like sticking with the authentic recipe. But you can do what you want with yours. This is a fall or winter dish that you’d serve in the same fashion they do with Oyster Stew up North.
It’s a warming, heavy dish suited for colder weather and is a signature dish from the Carolina and Georgia coast. To many of us Southerners it is a true delicacy. I invite you to enjoy this recipe.
She Crab Soup (Serves 8 as a starter soup or main meal)
- 1 lb lump crab meat
- 1 large shallot chopped well
- 1/4 cup crab base
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 tabespoons corn starch
- 1 1/2 cups milk divided
- 1 quart half and half
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/4 cup dry sherry
- 1/4-1/3 cup blue crab roe
- 1 tablespoon mixed peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 8 tsp chopped chives (optional)
- In a stock pot, begin sauteeing the butter, peppercorns and bay leaves on medium heat for a few minures.
- Add 1 cup of milk to the pot and whisk well.
- Simmer for about 5 minutes to get the flavors out of your spices and then strain, keeping the liquid and discarding the solids.
- Mix the sherry, 1/2 cup milk and starch together well to completely dissolve the starch.
- Add the half and half and the corn starch/sherry slurry to the pot and whisk very well.
- Add the crab base to the pot and whisk in well.
- Agg the crab roe to the pot, breaking up lups with your fingers ehere necessary and whisk in well.
- At this point I like to taste the soup and see if it needs anything. It shouldn’t but you can add pepper or sherry as needed. It should not need salt because of the crab base.
- Cook a few more minutes whisking gently until the soup thickens.
- Remove from heat.
- Fold in your crab meat and stir gently.
- Ladle into bowls and serve. You can add chopped chives as a garnish.