Re: She-crab soup, the secret is in the details. Like Jambalaya or other Cajun/Creole food, this Southern soup also has a relatively standard recipe or foundation. It is the execution that makes all the difference.
There a 2 bases, one a cream sauce, the other containing a large portion of crab roe. Getting hold of this amount of good quality uncooked, fresh roe is not easy.
Then, get picked crab meat, large lump pieces from claws, AND back fin meat => 3 separate types. This is your entire crab, that yields these 3 types: the fine shreds from the body cavity, the delicious but limited claw, and the back fin. To supplement claw meat, you can buy stone crab claws. I have no experience with Dungeness crab. Frozen King crab and Snow crab will make an adequate, not excellent, soup. They have NO ROE in their frozen packs.
To achieve the results you remember use large, LIVE, US BLUE crabs. Make sure they are from US blue crabs, not imported picked meat nor Maine peeky-toe crab, which comes as picked meat. Use the latter as a supplement in the soup, if you like.
The crab should be lightly steamed, picked, and the crab bodies & legs simmered in a very light chicken and veal white broth, made according to STANDARD procedure [see M. Kamman, Making Of A French Chef]. This will give you the FUMET.
If you do not have enough crab bodies, cook a bag of live clams AND live mussels in water & wine and filter/strain the liquor into the FUMET.
With the FUMET, make a WHITE SAUCE with unsalted butter, good quality milk that has been scalded with 1 bay leaf.
Make the roe base: unsalted butter and chopped good quality bacon or pancetta or mix,saute. Depends on the smokiness you choose to impart to the soup. Be generous with butter & bacon.
Then chopped shallots or onion, a small amount of the tender heart of the celery, and either a little green bell pepper OR red bell pepper, roasted, skinned, chopped, or both. Painstaking attention to details changes a dish from the prosaic to excellent. So does years of practice. Again, I emphasize that it is completely mistaken to believe that a recipe or any recipe holds the secret. A recipe can but guide.
Old Bay seasoning near end of saute phase, but in moderation, mix in SHE CRAB ROE. Stir around. Then, GOOD quality sherry [amontillado] wait a few seconds, a touch of Lea & Perrins. Amalgamate and see if smells are "balanced" because tastes will be very intense at this stage.
Gradually mix in with hot cream sauce and enrich with high quality Jersey cream. It makes a huge difference in taste if one uses non-homogenized milk from a good farm and good cream and butter. Each little thing adds up: again the difference between institutional mass production and excellence.
Taste to balance everything to your liking. Sometimes, a few drops of Tabasco or vinegar are useful : they must not rise to the threshold of detection but their merest presence sharpens other flavors, especially in cream based soups.
Sometimes, modern green peppers have no taste, or a grassy flatulent taste that I dislike. However, the traditional recipes call for the onion-celery-pepper sofrito, begun at an age when peppers carried a better body & aroma than at present. So we continue. If you find AHI DULCE in Puerto Rican or Hispanic groceries, you might wish to experiment with those.
After you have your soup base at just below a simmer, add your crab meats and gently mix in. Serve immediately. It should be quite thick and creamy and not dark, but a light tan color.
post edited by pimple2 - 2010/06/06 12:11:06