My astrological sign is Cancer. The crab. I really don’t know much about the whole astrology thing, but I read that we are supposed to be crab-like emotionally: we have a tough exterior but a soft and sensitive interior. We have a little suit of armor to protect us for when we could get hurt.
I guess that seems like me.
The funny thing about the crab: I have never been pinched by one in all my years of going in the ocean. Not even in the Chesapeake Bay. As a result I have built up an irrational fear of how scary and painful it must be to be bitten by one and am very, very afraid of going into any salt water unless the water is crystal clear and I can see all the way to the bottom. That and I have the same issue with jellyfish. So you can only imagine the army of monsters I fear are lurking around any part of my submerged body in the abyss that is The Ocean.
The other thing about crabs and me is that I love to eat them. I can very vaguely remember sitting on the end of a pier on the Chesapeake Bay with newspapers spread carefully on the wooden planks replete with fresh, steamed crabs yanked right from the water. I must have been really young, maybe 6 years old. I can’t recall if I was with a Mom or a Dad group of people. I just remember the metal crab pot that was brought up from the water, brimming with live crabs, steaming them on site, and eating them with our hands - making a huge mess. I remember how free it felt to give into the mess and how fresh and wonderful those little buggers tasted.
I have never done that since. But I do eat a lot of crabs. I particularly like the steamed Alaskan king crab leg with grain mustard butter and toast at Hungry Cat. I love crab cakes. I’m not a big fan of soft-shell crab, though. About 10 years ago, when I was living in Atlanta, I visited a friend who was working at Watershed for lunch. I had a memorable hangover. She brought me a soft-shell crab sandwich. I don’t rattle easily in the food department but this looked like an alien spider, or something from Starship Troopers, crawling out of a bun. I’ve never been able to hang with them since. Clearly I blame the hangover.
I had a pile of crabmeat leftover from the red pepper soup garnish and didn’t want it to go bad. And as I had a relatively light real work day, I thought I’d find something fun to do with it. And as you guys must know by now, my brain will beeline straight to soup.
I was remembering the fated soft-shell crab sandwich that day and thinking about how huge Watershed is today. The chef, Scott Peacock, is a major player in the Southern food world and was very close with one of my heroes, Edna Lewis (who also made a lot of she crab soup in her day)! So, of course I started missing the South again, y’all.
The choice quickly became clear: the she-crab soup, a recipe heralding from Charleston, South Carolina - an unabashedly Southern mecca. I prepared this soup, but re-imagined, with a California twist. It was like Ghost meets Manchurian Candidate. With a heart. In the right spot.
I am actually more proud of this soup than I’ve been of anything I’ve made in some time. Partially because I made it entirely from the hip. Or maybe because it was so pretty. But most likely because it was simply divine.
The soup is a cross between a bisque and a chowder. It is creamy, rich and elegant with a delicate and smooth texture. It was also Soupy Sales’ favorite soup.
And hey, I promise I’ll try to bond with my fellow crabs this Summer and get into the ocean at least once, and maybe even all the way… Perhaps they have never hurt me, and never plan to, as I am one of them. I just won’t let them know that I’d eat them right there if I could.
She-Crab Soup, Re-imagined, with Avocado-Crème Fraiche Puree
2 cups flaked crabmeat
½ cup dry sherry
2 Tablespoons butter
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium tomato, peeled & chopped
¼ cup of flour
1/2 cup milk
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon red (cayenne) pepper
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 cup cream
Salt and pepper to taste
(Avocado-Crème Fraiche Puree)
1 Tablespoon crème fraiche
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt & pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in food processor until smooth and creamy.
Marinate crabmeat in the sherry and refrigerate for about an hour.
Sauté shallot, thyme, and garlic in butter until soft, approximately 15 minutes. Add tomato and cook on medium heat for about 5-7 minutes.
Add flour and chicken stock, whisk until smooth, and cook on medium high heat for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add milk, Worcestershire, lemon zest, and cayenne pepper.
When somewhat cool, puree the soup in a blender. Note: If using an immersion blender or food processor you will need to strain and press the soup through a chinois or sieve.
Return to pot on medium low heat. Add cream, and crab with sherry and cook for about 20 minutes longer. Salt & pepper to taste.
Serve with a dollop of the avocado crème fraiche puree, and a crust of bread.