OK, so the boy never made she-crab soup. The soup was all me; however, there is a story behind the soup that the boy never will live down.
It seems clear that the boy and I both have a love of food and a love of cooking. When left to our own devices, we frequently turn on Food TV, or watch “No Reservations” and “Bizarre Foods” on Netflix. In particular, the boy loves Anthony Bourdain. Apparently, Bourdain had an episode about Washington DC, where he highlighted a certain fish market. So, last August, while driving down the east coast after having given a talk at a nearby university, the boy decides to stop at said-fish-market. Around 9AM on a Tuesday morning, I have the following conversation with him:
Boy: Hey, babe. Leaving the DC area. Stopped by that fish market I heard about on “No Reservations.”
Me: Did you get anything?
Boy: Well…why don’t you spend the afternoon looking up crab recipes?
Me: Oh, God. Are they alive?
Boy: Yup. They’re in the seat next to me.
Me: How many and what kind?
Boy: Blue crab. 18.
Now, I was not thrilled to hear this. First, we live approximately 10 hours from D.C.. I did not think these crabs had too much of a fighting chance to make it to my kitchen alive after a 10 hour car trip through the South in the middle of August. And–for those who have not worked with live shellfish–you CANNOT (or really the better term is SHOULD NOT) cook “dead” creatures. [For those who want a hand-wavy explanation, the little critters start decomposing extremely quickly. Trust me–open up a freshly-dead (let’s say, dead for less than 10 hours…), uncooked blue crab and it’ll stink to high heaven.]
Another issue I was having: I had almost ZERO experience killing my food. My only exposure was lobster when I was around seventeen, and thankfully I only had to watch. I had no clue what to do with crab. So, I went to the Internet. I decided I was going to have to kill them before boiling them; however, thanks to YouTube, I became scared by how mean and fast the little suckers could be.
Really the easiest part was deciding what to cook. I am a Southern girl, and given blue crab I know exactly what I’m supposed to make: she-crab soup. So, that afternoon I went to the grocery store and picked up a few items:
Back to the story though…The boy makes it back to my place around 8PM. He runs to my kitchen carrying this black, heavy-duty trash bag and dumps the entire thing in my sink. Guess how many crabs out of 18 made it back home alive? Put it this way: we weren’t going to have any leftovers. By the time he actually showed up at my door, though, I was kinda excited about the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong: at first I thought the boy was nuts. Who would randomly buy 18 live crab in the middle of August (AND on a Tuesday no less!) and drive 1000 miles with them in a Mafia-esque black garbage bag in the passenger seat?! But then I realized not only would this make an awesome story one day, but it also reminded me of some of the reasons why I love the boy. I love his spontaneity–even though it irks me. I love how culinarily adventurous he is. I love how he doesn’t think twice about doing this kind of thing in the middle of the week.
But I don’t want to get lovey-dovey! Back to the cooking…since it was so late by the time we sifted through the bodies, this became a two-day cooking escapade:
Day 1: Clean, kill, gut and boil.
Day 2: Cook.
Now, how does one handle the Day 1 events? Well, first, make sure the little critters are good and cold–it’ll slow them down:
Next, use tongs–because it should not be presumed the crabs have rubber bands on their pinchers:
And now for the part I didn’t photograph: place the crabs belly-up on a cutting board. Taking a VERY SHARP KNIFE cut down the center of the crab as quickly as possible. The crab will not be happy, no matter how cold he is. You will have to get over this. Once you’ve cut the crab, you will want to remove the gills and the stomach–both of which are quite visible. Think of it as the equivalent of deveining shrimp. Just about as difficult. Then, set your crab halves into a bowl while you get your water ready.
The rest of Day 1 stuff is pretty easy. Take a pot of water and boil it. Drop in a packet of “crab/seafood boil” (you can see what I purchased in the first picture. These are pretty cheap, else I’d recommend making your own blend of spices). Put the crab in the boiling seasoned water and make sure they cook through (they’ll turn red when they’re cooked). Then you’re done!
And now for Day 2. The hardest, both in terms of time and skill required, is “shucking” the crabs. Left that to the boy–figured he should have SOME fun with his purchase. To me, this is possibly the most disappointing fact about crabs: they are a lot of work for very little meat. Still, here’s the recipe now for the she-crab soup. Again, I played this entire thing by ear, since I didn’t even know how many crabs I’d have to cook. Go until it “looks right”:
- Crab meat
- White wine
- Heavy cream
- Salt and Pepper
- Cayenne Pepper
- Green onion, finely chopped
- Fresh parsley
- Flour (optional)
- Take 2 tablespoons of butter and start melting them in a pot. Add the green onion and the garlic. It’s okay if the garlic starts to stick to the bottom.
- When the onion has cooked and the garlic is smelling heavenly, add some white wine (and if the garlic has stuck to the bottom of the pan, the white wine will deglaze it). If you have too much white wine in there and the soup is too thin, slowly add one tablespoon of flour at a time.
- Reduce the heat, add the crab meat, and season with the cayenne, salt and pepper. If you’re not eating for a while, you can actually leave everything on low heat at this stage.
- When you’re closer to chow time, keeping the heat on low/medium, add the cream. At this point you will have to stir constantly. Season one more time and top with some fresh parsley, for garnish.