My fascination with crabs started at a very early age. I had the great fortune to grow up with a rocky beach just a hop and a jump down the hill. As soon as I could walk I spent hours (with Mom nearby) exploring it, delighting in the rubbery texture of seaweed and the way sea anemones squirt water when gently pressed (or accidentally stepped on!). At low tide rocks normally underwater were wet and exposed. I could pick up a rock and find dozens of tiny rock crabs scurrying beneath. Most of the rock crabs were no larger than a quarter; when I picked them up I would giggle as their tiny legs tickled my hands while they tried to crab walk away. One day I decided that I would like to take the crabs home and keep them as pets. My parents tried to dissuade me- explaining that crabs do not make very good pets- yet, I persisted and finally carried about a dozen crabs home in my little yellow bucket.
Once home I filled the bottom of the bucket with sand and added a small bowl of water. The crabs milled around on the sand and seemed happy enough in their yellow bucket world. I set the bucket up on my dresser and went to sleep. In the middle of the night I woke up to the sound of scratching. It was dark in the room and I couldn’t see the crabs, but I assumed they were just moving around in the bucket. Unconcerned, I quickly fell back asleep. As soon as my feet hit the floor in the morning I eagerly ran to check on my pet crabs. Peering into the bucket I gasped- it was empty! The crabs had escaped from the bucket and were now loose in the house!
To say my mother was distraught is a bit of an understatement. We spent quite a while looking for crabs, exclaiming when we would see one scurry out from underneath a chair across the carpet. Unfortunately many of the crabs were very good at hiding in small dark places and nearly impossible to find. In fact, a few were not found until days later once they had ‘expired’ and began to smell. One poor crab crawled underneath the refrigerator leaving my mother to wonder what in the fridge had such an awful smell for at least a week. Finally it dawned on her and my father had to move the fridge to locate the offender. Needless to say that was the last time I was ever allowed to bring crabs home from the beach!
Little crabs grow into big crabs, and living near the ocean I also enjoyed catching fresh crab to eat at home. Until I moved thousands of miles away to a place with oceans of corn instead of water I didn’t realize how lucky I was to enjoy fresh crab frequently. Now, whenever I have the opportunity to cook fresh crab it is cause for great celebration.
This recipe pulls out all the stops with cream and sherry to create a rich and fragrant broth. Decadent and indulgent, it is worthy of your good china and a dinner party for your favorite people. Big lumps of sweet crab are offset with cayenne pepper providing the perfect balance of sweetness and spice.San Marzano tomatoes are an Italian variety that provide a beautiful ripe tomato flavor and an acidic undertone to this soup. If you can’t find San Marzanos, use the highest quality canned tomatoes that you can find. I also highly recommend making or buying quality fish stock as the base for this soup, it will enhance the flavor of all your ingredients. This bisque will leave you intently scraping the bottom of the bowl to chase down every last drop- and daydreaming of pet crabs…
Crab Bisque (Printable Recipe)
As with any soup this is infinitely adjustable. I’ve noted below ingredients that I feel could be easily adjusted to meet your tastes without compromising the overall quality of the soup.
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
1/2 cup diced Shallots
1 14oz can San Marzano Tomatoes
1/2 cup Medium-dry Sherry (I like Dry Sack)
6 cups Fish stock (or chicken in a pinch)
1/2 Lemon, juiced
1 1/2 – 2 cups Heavy cream (adjust to taste)
2 teaspoons Fresh thyme
2-4 teaspoons Salt (adjust to taste)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon Cayenne pepper (adjust to taste)
1 lb Cooked lump crab meat (check it over for any bits of shell)
Place a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add olive oil and shallots, stirring frequently until the shallots are softened- about three minutes. Next add the tomatoes, and sherry (be careful when adding alcohol with an open flame) and simmer while stirring for about two minutes. Add fish stock and lemon juice to the pot. Turn down heat to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook for fifteen minutes, allowing the flavors to develop. Reduce the heat to low, and add in the initial quantities of cream, thyme, salt, and cayenne pepper. Stir to combine, and then taste- adjusting the ingredients as necessary until it is flavored to your liking. Once the broth is finished add in the lump crab. Stir the soup and cook for five minutes, or just until the cream and crab are warmed through. Turn off the heat and serve immediately.