History of She-Crab Soup
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.
She-Crab Soup Recipe Basics
You’ll find some variations, but purists know that 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.)
Blue Crabs 101
If you're lucky enough to get the meat for your she-crab soup from fresh crabs, keep these tips in mind:
- For steamed crabs, combine ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. pickling spice, ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. Old Bay seasoning, 3 Tbsp. pickling spice, 2 Tbsp. celery seeds, and 1 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes. 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. 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.