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Eatymology: She-Crab Soup

Eatymology: She-Crab Soup
Written by Haley Phillips | Photos by Jonathan Boncek

She-Crab Soup

[shee-krab so͞op]

n: A rich, bisque-style crab soup with a signature tangy flavor and pale orange hue resulting from the addition of crab roe.

The Latin Name for the blue crab is Callinectes sapidus, meaning “beautiful savory swimmer.” One taste of she-crab soup, a Lowcountry classic, and you will know why. Creamy and balanced with just the right amount of tanginess, this bisque-chowder hybrid has long been associated with Charleston, Savannah, and the marshy coastal stretch that encompasses the two. Served with a cluster of ruby-orange crab roe, a heaping of lump Atlantic blue crabmeat, and just the daintiest splash of sherry, there is an undeniable allure to this proper “starting dish” that goes beyond delectability. While the basis for she-crab soup is thought to be “partan bree,” a mild crab soup thickened with rice and popular among Scottish immigrants at the turn of the nineteenth century, the addition of crab roe did not come until much later. Its creation has frequently been attributed to William Deas, who served as butler to the mayor of Charleston from 1903 to 1911.

Traditionally, she-crab soup was made exclusively using the meat of female crabs (regarded as sweeter than their male counterparts), but today chefs use male crabmeat as well. Other ingredients typically include milk or heavy cream, seafood stock, celery, onions, herbs, and a sprinkling of seasoning such as Old Bay, paprika, or cayenne. She-crab soup relies on a harvest of mature, pregnant she-crabs, but that practice has become complicated as seafood populations dwindle and restrictions on harvests tighten. Many chefs now substitute the unfertilized roe of immature females or sometimes just a bit of dry crumbled egg yolk sprinkled on the top—a symbolic allusion to the flavors of the past.

She-Crab Soup

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