She Crab Soup

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 – – 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.




Maryland Style Crab Cakes

One of the things I loved during my teen years in Maryland was crabbing in Ocean City Maryland under the 11th street bridge in the marshy saw grass  with a steel net basket and an ice filled cooler and later, eating crab cakes made from our catch.  Now the term ‘Crab Cake’ can mean a lot of things to different people but to me it is a prime delicacy with almost no filler type ingredients.  Indeed if you were to purchase a crab cake frozen dinner at your local grocer you would very likely end up with crab broth flavored bread crumbs which is an insult to the original intent of this dish.

In its earliest form, people would pick through steamed crabs removing meat by hand until they’d collected enough to start making these sweet lumps of heavenly goodness.  But most restaurants today will use canned, pasteurized crabmeat from a wholesaler.  Today I confess I do the same but it still brings me back to the days when my buddy Sam and I would go crabbing as teenagers in Ocean City.  In my recipe here I will use 2 lbs of crab meat (1 lb of colossal lump crab meat and 1 lb of backfin crab meat).  I start by preheating my oven to 350 degrees.

The process of making the cakes themselves is very simple.  Put all crabmeat into a large bowl and make sure there are no bits of shell in them (to the best of your ability).  You do not want to break up the chunks of crab meat if you can help it.

Then you will mix the other ingredients separately which will include 1 egg, 1/4 cup of mayonaise, 1 tsp dijon mustard, 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning, 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce and 1 tablespoon of bread crumbs.  That’s right – I said just one tablespoon of bread crumbs for 2 lbs of crab meat.

Beat the egg and combine with the other wet ingredients with a whisk.  Then gently fold in the crab meat, mixing all the ingredients together being careful not to break up the larger lumps.  You want this mostly dry (no wet ingredients pooling at the bottom).  If you do get liquids pooling at the bottom, you added too much and you will want to drain that off.  That should not happen with the proportions I provide here however.

I take a large ice cream scoop and put the scooped out crab meat on a cookie sheet lined with foil that I spray with Pam or some other non stick cooking spray.

Above I have eleven 3 oz crab cakes dusted with paprika.  I will bake these at 350 degrees for 15 minutes and remove them.  I then put the oven on the low broil setting.  I put a generous pad of unsalted butter on each crab cake and put them back in the oven on the highest rack.

In they go under the low broil for 12 minutes.  I like to watch them carefully as you do not want them to burn here.  The reason I bake them before broiling is because baking them sets the egg and makes the crab cakes stay together better with what little breading we have in them.

After 12 minutes, the cakes are done.  I like to allow them to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving them.

Now you can serve them with a dijon mustard and mayonaise topping or dip with capers or an aioli.  But I like to eat them just as they are.  These are extremely rich and I can manage about 1 and a half cakes before I am full along with a vegetable.

Here is the complete recipe:

Maryland Style Crab Cakes (serves 10 as an appetizer or 6 as a main course with a vegetable side)


  • 1 lb jumbo or colossal lump crab meat picked clean of shell bits
  • 1 lb backfin crab meat picked clean of shell bits
  • 1 TBS bread crumbs (panko or standard)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup mayonaise
  • 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • Paprika (enough to dust each crab cake)
  • 1 pad of butter for each crab cake


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Combine everything but the crab meat and butter in a large bowl, whisking well to combine.
  • Gently fold in all the crab meat.
  • Onto a cookie sheet lined with foil prepared with non stick cooking spray, scoop out as many crab cakes as you can with a large ice cream scoop
  • Dust each crab cake with paprika
  • Bake for 15 minutes and remove from oven.
  • Move the top oven rack to its highest position.
  • Set the oven to broil (low setting).
  • Place a pad of butter on each crab cake
  • Broil for 12 minutes or until the paprika starts to darken.
  • Remove from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
  • Serve