I know why crabs are called crabs. It’s because they’re crabby. These are some mean, vicious, unhappy, ugly little creatures. Look at that face, I don’t even think a mother could love it. Maybe that’s the real reason. Years of abandonment by the parental unit and having to live life looking…, well, like that.
But OH! How I love crab meat! Here’s some lessons learned. Blue crabs are way sweeter than the variety I got when I made my test run a couple of weeks ago. Blue crabs are also smaller, though. So getting the meat out was a SHORE! On the flip, the little blues I got this week, actually had roe in them. I guess next time it will be a call between the ease of the larger crab vs the sweetness and possible roe to be found in the blue ones. Who knows.
What I do know, is that this bisquey-chowdery-creamy soup goodness is out of this world delicious! Aside from making the stock from the live crabs, it was also a breeze. Not that the broth making was difficult, it was the crab meat pulling that proved tedious.
I did learn a little trick for dealing with the live critters. See, I’m not perturbed by their ugly little mugs. I don’t have a problem eating food that looks back at me. I can look ’em in their beady little eyes and still eat them. But if there had been a candid camera in the kitchen the day I was trying to get these in a pot, it would’ve made for funny footage. Every time one of the little suckers moved, clawed or reared up, I had a similar and equal reaction. Plus I kept picturing them getting on the floor and scurrying around while I tried to catch them. That’s why this tip is so awesome.
If you put them in the freezer for a few minutes-30 or so, they go into a little slumber that gives you enough time to clean’em up and pot them. All I did was leave them in the bag they came, shove it in the freezer and ignored them for a while.
While the crabbies chill out, pun intended, get started on the stock. Any veggies you have laying around will do. I had onions, garlic, celery, carrots, the tops of some leek bunches. No need to get fancy with any of these, a quick rinse and rough chop is good enough. I even left the skins on the onions, garlic and carrots.
Just put the whole thing in a stockpan, add enough water to cover the crabs once you put them in (about 12 cups or so). Add a couple of bay leaves and if you have whole peppercorns, throw about 1 tbsp of those in. I put them on the cutting board and squashed them with the handle of a heavy knife, just enough to break them a bit. Add 2 tbsp of sea salt, cover the pan and bring it all to a boil for about 5-10 minutes. While this is happening, get back to your crabs.
Once you’ve gotten the crabs good and drowsy, it’s easy to remove the big front claws. You want those off before they wake up again or you may end up missing a finger. With the claws removed, you can now give them a little scrub to get any debris off. Don’t forget these are bottom-feeders.
After cleaning them, remove the little plate that protects their underbody. Don’t dispose of it, though, any and all shell matter will enhance the stock you’re about to make.
Next, take a knife and break straight through the crab. Essentially, cut the sucker in half. When you remove any pieces from the crab, there will be a bit of liquid that comes out, make sure you’re breaking the crab over a bowl and do the best you can to hold on to that liquid. I can’t be sure, but I would think it is similar to the juice you find when you open an oyster.
In any case, place the crab pieces into a bowl until you’re ready to throw them into the stock. Break apart the little legs too, there’s hardly any meat in them and you can leave those in the stock while you shell the meaty parts.
With the crab cleaned, you’re ready to cook them. While the stock is still boiling, drop all the crab pieces in and allow them to cook for about 10-12 minutes. After that time, you’ll want to remove the pieces that hold meat and shell them.
The shells will turn a pretty shade of orange. Lower the temperature on the stock, you now want it to simmer. As I mentioned, any portions that do not hold meat can stay in the pot. Allow the meaty pieces to cool before you begin handling them. As you remove the meat from the shells, throw the empty shells back into the stockpot.
Allow the shells to cook in the stock for about an hour or so. Then turn off the heat and let it cool. Remove all the large bits out of the stock and strain it through a fine sieve. Set the stock aside. Next, we’re starting the soup.
As luck would have it, I didn’t have an actual working recipe, I found a ‘how to make it’ blurb that sounded as authentic as this soup can get and I went with that. I will share a ‘this & that’ recipe with you since I made it twice. I can tell you that it’s not one of those dishes you can mess up. Once you have the stock, it’s easy-breezy.
Back in the day, this soup was made with female crabs and their roe was harvested and added to the broth. You may have a difficult time finding crabs with roe, as crabbers are required to toss them back in the water. The little blue crabs I purchased for the second soup, had tiny bits of roe inside. Yep, I kept it and added it to the soup; I didn’t have any the first time and I couldn’t tell a difference in the taste. What I’m trying to say is, roe isn’t a deal breaker.
She Crab Soup
To make about 12 cups of soup:
2 tbsp extra virgin oil
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 cps whole milk
1 cp sherry, plus more to serve
10 cps crab stock
1 cp long grain rice
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Sea salt & black pepper
1/4-1/2 tsp mace
1/2 cp heavy cream
About 3 cps crab meat (whatever you pulled from the live crabs, plus 1 store-bought container–approx 8 oz)
In a medium sized pan, heat the oil before adding the onions, garlic and celery, cook them until they are clear. Add 1 cp of sherry to deglaze any drippings that may be stuck to the bottom of the pan. If you found any crab roe, add it now together with the bay leaf, rice and stock. After it begins to boil, add the milk and lower temperature to a slow simmer. It will need to cook for about 30 minutes for the rice to soften. Make sure you stir it every once in a while.
Once the rice has cooked and exploded, remove the bay leaves and ladle this broth into the glass of your blender and puree it. This part can be made ahead of time and refrigerated until you’re ready to serve it. The rice thickens this soup nicely and makes it unnecessary to add lots of cream.
Just before serving, heat the blended broth, add the cream, Worcestershire and mace. You can add some hot sauce or cayenne pepper, if you’d like. Finally, add the crab meat and season with salt and pepper, if needed.
To serve, add about 1 tsp of sherry to the bottom of the bowl before ladling the soup. This soup saves quite well in the freezer.