A culinary icon of Charleston, South Carolina, she-crab soup was traditionally a rich combination of cream, crabmeat, roe (eggs), and a splash of sherry. The meat from a female crab is said to be sweeter, but it was the addition of her red-orange roe that created the dish's depth of flavor and beautiful pale color and resulted in the name "she-crab" soup.
These days, roe is not harvested in an ecological effort to preserve the supply of crabs. Is it still she-crab soup if there's no roe? Yes--and no. The heart of the recipe remains the same. But when you can, try it made with roe, and savor every precious spoonful.
You'll find some variations, but purists know the basic recipe is the true Southern tradition. Fresh crabmeat is essential. For all of you lucky enough to catch your own crabs, you'll need about a dozen. If you remove the shell of the female crab and discover what looks like a mass of tiny red-orange beads inside, you've struck gold--I mean roe. Remove it carefully; stir it into the soup with the crabmeat. (Note: Female crabs with roe on the outside must be returned to the water.)
Whether your crabmeat is from crabs you caught yourself or from the supermarket, enjoy a taste of the region.
Blue Crabs 101
Blue crabs are the star of this soup. If you're lucky enough to get the meat from fresh crabs, keep these tips in mind.
- Choose live crabs that are active and heavy for their size.
- For steamed crabs, combine 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt, 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning, 3 tablespoons pickling spice, 2 tablespoons celery seeds, and 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional). Bring 1 cup water and 1 cup vinegar to a boil in a stockpot. Place a rack in stockpot. Add 1 dozen live crabs; sprinkle with seasoning mixture. Cover and cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until crabs turn bright red. Rinse with cold water; drain well.
- To get to the cooked meat, twist off crab legs and claws. Crack claws; remove meat with a small fork. Next, remove the apron, or tail flap, from the underside; discard. Insert thumb under shell by apron hinge; remove top shell. Pull away the gray gills; discard them along with internal organs. Break the body; remove meat from pockets. Pick through meat to remove all shell fragments.