She Crab Soup is a rich, deliciously creamy bisque that I discovered on a visit to Charleston, SC. Whether you use fresh crab or canned, this easy recipe will become a favorite.
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What is the “She” in She Crab Soup?
One summer we took a family trip to Charleston, South Carolina. When traveling, I like to find out the one dish the city is famous for and try to eat it as many times as I can. After all, how can you know what the “Best She Crab Soup in Charleston” is unless you sample a pretty fair share of them?
She Crab Soup, also called She Crab Bisque, was the dish of the trip. I discovered that the soup is made with female crabs. Makes sense. In addition, the roe (fish eggs) of the female crab is added to the recipe.
How do you know the difference between a male and a female crab? I went to a food conference in NYC one spring and got a “crab anatomy” lesson from a crab vendor.
He flipped over two crabs and explained that the male crabs have the Washington Monument on their undersides.
The females have the wider Capitol Building on their bellies.
What are the Ingredients in She Crab Soup?
After returning from that trip to Charleston, I was determined to re-create the recipe for She Crab Soup. For inspiration, I leaned on The Joy of Cooking’s recipe for lobster bisque, from which this recipe is loosely adapted.
Most recipes call for fresh crab. In a perfect, very French world, you would also use the shells of the crabs to make a super rich stock. Obviously this is not always practical. And unless you live in an area where crabs are regularly harvested, you will probably have a more difficult time finding “female” crabs.
Since I wanted this She Crab soup recipe to be fast and easy, I’ve used canned, lump meat crab from the seafood counter of my grocery store and bottled clam juice in place of fish stock. If you can find fish stock, substitute that for the bottled clam juice and chicken stock.
You’ll also need shallots, carrots, celery, red bell pepper, butter, dry white wine, white rice, tomato paste, Old Bay seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, heavy cream, and spices.
What gives this bisque that certain ineffable quality, is the addition of sherry. Don’t skip that unless you must! I also like to add a shot of sherry just before serving for an extra kick.
How to Make This Soup
Many recipes for she-crab soup start with a thicker bechamel sauce, but I prefer a lighter soup. I use rice as a thickener in this bisque, which also makes this soup gluten free.
Rice is traditionally used bisques as a method of thickening. The rice is either cooked in the broth and strained out, using the starch to thicken, or it is pureed right into the soup, as is the case in this recipe.
This is a very rich soup, yet it surprisingly uses only a bit of heavy cream at the end.
Start with finely diced vegetables. These will be cooked and then pureed with the stock. The pureed vegetables will give the soup base flavor and body.
Deglaze the pan with the white wine. Add tomato paste and stir until blended.
Add seasoning. Old Bay seasoning will give it a bit of a kick. Add more if you like.
After the vegetables are tender, remove the soup from the heat and blend the base in a blender. You can use an immersion blender, but I find that a blender makes a much smoother soup.
A word of caution when blending a hot soup. Only fill the blender jar up about 1/3 of the way.
Then cover the lid with a towel and hold the lid while blending. Hot liquids will expand, and we had many ‘blender explosions” in culinary school.
Transfer the blended soup to a sauce-pan. Add the crab meat and warm just until the soup is heated through.
Pour in the cream and adjust the seasonings to taste.
Add a shot of sherry just before plating and garnish with parsley, paprika, and some additional crab meat.
This She Crab Soup recipe makes a rich meal all on its own. Just add a simple salad and maybe some crusty bread and butter to sop up the dregs!
Looking for more seafood and fish dishes? You might like:
This post was originally published on July 13th, 2012 and has been updated to contain nutritional information.
She Crab Soup
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 shallots diced
- 1 small carrot diced
- 2 stalks celery diced
- 1/4 cup red bell pepper diced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup white rice un-cooked
- 2 Tablespoons Tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
- 3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Kosher salt and white pepper to taste
- 2 cups clam juice (bottled)
- 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 1 lb. fresh crab meat
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup dry sherry
- Fresh chopped parsley and paprika for garnish
- Melt butter over medium low heat, add shallots, celery, carrots and bell pepper, and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Deglaze pan with 1/2 white wine, scrapping up any browned bits.
- Whisk in clam juice and chicken broth (or fish stock), rice, tomato paste, Worcestershire, Old Bay seasoning, nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer, cooking until vegetables are tender and rice is very soft, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat.
- In batches to avoid burning yourself, puree crab soup in a blender until smooth. Once soup is pureed, bring it back to a simmer over a medium low heat.
- Add in crab meat, and whisk in 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Cook just until hot, adding 1/2 cup sherry the last 2-3 minutes for additional flavor. If necessary, thin soup with additional broth to desired thickness.
- Ladle into soup bowls, garnish with fresh chopped parsley and a dash of paprika and an additional shot of sherry if desired.
- Instead of 5 cups clam juice and chicken stock, you can substitute fish stock.