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Ervin & Betty Shaw's She Crab Soup

A culinary historian credits Scottish settlers arriving in the Carolinas in the early 1700s with bringing their famous seafood bisque recipes called "partan-bree" (a rice & crab soup...RECIPE) to the area. Until it became illegal to do so, the recipes often included some female crab egg roe. Ervin's personal index for what she crab soup should taste like comes from experiences eating it while a student in Charleston, S. C. (1962-1975) at The Colony House Restaurant. Having never found that recipe, we use a variation on "Aunt Blanche's She-Cab Soup" as found in a 1974 printing of the cookbook, Charleston Receipts. Because we aren't in a position to crab for fresh salt water blue crabs crabs on the coast, we buy one pound cans of crab meat. I have a clipping of the 28 March 1976 clipping of Charlotte Walker's recurring column, Recipes: Loved and Lost, in the News and Courier newspaper of Charleston, S. C. about the local history of that locally famous soup.

The following will serve four adults. Depending on how meaty you want the soup, I have listed a range. You will need a double boiler so that things are not over-cooked.

  • Meat: use from one cup to the entire pound of crab meat.
  • Spice: a dash to 1/8 teaspoon of mace.
  • Taste enhancer #1: 1/4 cup chopped onion (spring onion if available)
  • Taste enhancer #2: a half teaspoon of celery salt (or grate up 3 ribs of fresh celery).
  • Taste enhancer #3: one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce.
  • Taste enhancer #4: because we use canned crab, add a tablespoon of granulated sugar.
  • Taste enhancer #5: ground salt & pepper to taste.
  • Milk/cream: 2 cups half and half and from a half cup to 2 cups of milk.
  • Oil/grease: 2 tablespoons of butter (or margarine).
  • Thickener: as much as 2 tablespoons of all purpose flour, adding a little water to make a runny mixture (the more milk you add...above...the more likely to use all of the flour).
  • Final after-ladling taste enhancer: dry alcoholic sherry.

 PROCESS: This can serve 4-6 adults. Put crab meat in double boiler and add butter, onion, mace, celery salt, and butter. Simmer about 5 minutes. Heat milk and add to that mixture Stir and add the Worchestershire sauce. Add the runny flour-water mix a little at a time...stirring until you get the thickness you desire (we only like mild thickening). Cook over low heat about 3 minutes and serve directly into the bowl for each person, Then add a small splash of dry sherry. [Many recipes call for a small dash red cayenne pepper or paprika.]

 At restaurants: Maybe in about 2008, the chef at Rusty Anchor on Lake Murray served a recipe that was the closest to that Colony House taste as any I can remember (only on menu 2 years or less). In the summer of 2017, we bought an order off of the menu at rustic Seewee Restaurant in Awendaw that was exciting but a little too thick. In Sept. of 2017, we blundered onto a spicey Cajun variant of exactly the correct "soupiness" (but VERY skimpy on crabmeat) at Private Property in Lexington, S. C.

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(posted 7/29/2016; updated 14 Novemeber 2017)