Take a trip down the Southern coastline and you'll discover a smorgasbord of regional delicacies. From crab cakes to catfish, the low country states are brimming with delicious seafood recipes. In Charleston, South Carolina, you'll find a quintessential Southen town that's rich in culture, history, and the home to one of the most iconic Southen specialties-- She Crab Soup, a dish that's as luxurious and decadent as the city for which it's named. However, if you can't make it to the coast, it's easy to replicate the sophisticated tastes of Charleston by making She-Crab Soup in the comfort of your own home.
What Is She-Crab Soup?
She-crab soup is a classic creamy seafood soup from the Low Country region of South Carolina traditionally made from local female blue crabmeat and crab roe. Similar to crab bisque, the base of this soup includes diced vegetables, heavy cream, tomato paste, and dry sherry. However, it's the addition of crab roe, which adds an earthy-briny flavor and vibrant color to the dish and makes She-Crab soup so unique.
History of She-Crab Soup
According to culinary historian John Martin Taylor, the author of Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking, the Scottish settlers introduced their chowder-like seafood soup recipes like partan-bree to the Carolinas when they arrived in the early 1700s.
The origins of Charleston's signature she-crab recipe can be traced back to a special dinner served at the home of Mayor Rhett for President William Howard Taft in the early 1900s. When asked to make a prepare a presidential dish for the evening, the Mayor's cook William Deas headed towards the sea. He returned with freshly harvested female crabs which he added whole into a stock of vegetables and cream. By using the whole crab, the roe was mixed in and gave the soup a distinct coral color and an umami flavor, unlike any dish the region had ever seen-- thus inventing the Charleston delicacy known as She-Crab Soup.
Things To Know About She-Crabs and Crab Roe
Although the crab meat and roe itself create the signature flavor of the dish, these essential ingredients may be difficult to come by. In recent years, to help preserve the dwindling supply of crabs fishing regulations have been put into place making it illegal to harvest mature female crabs who carry eggs outside their shells. Some states have banned the harvest of any female crabs, although immature female crabs (that carry eggs inside the shell) may be imported from states where they have been legally caught.
How to Make She-Crab Soup Without Roe
There are plenty of ways to enhance the crab flavor if you don't have access to roe. The next best option is using sea urchin roe --also called uni or fish roe, both of which are more readily available than crab. You can also try using a crab, fish, lobster stock, or clam juice which will provide the soup with so much seafood flavor that you'd never know it was missing the roe.
What Crab Meat to Use in She-Crab Soup
The traditional she-crab soup calls for lump crab meat but you can use whole crabs or claw meat instead. Try to avoid canned crab meat, if you can't find it fresh then frozen will work in a pinch as well.
Charleston She-Crab Soup Recipe
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups onion finely chopped
- 2 cups celery finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons garlic minced
- 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 cup dry sherry
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 cup fish stock
- 1 Tablespoon hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- 1 quart heavy cream
- 1 lb. crabmeat
- 1/2 cup crab roe
- sea salt
- ground black pepper
- Garnishes: paprika and fresh chives
- In a large stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat. Slowly stir in the flour to make a roux, and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add in the onion, celery, garlic, salt, and white pepper. Stir and cook for about 4 minutes.
- Add the sherry, Worcestershire, broth, tomato paste, and hot sauce, and then gradually whisk in the cream so that no lumps form.
- Bring to a simmer, cover, and let cook for about 30 minutes, until soup has reduced by 1/3.
- Stir in 3/4 of the crab meat and all of the roe and simmer for another 10 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and season with salt and black pepper to taste.
- Ladle soup into bowls, and top off with the remaining crab meat and a sprinkle of fresh chives and paprika.
- Serve with crusty french bread.