No dish is more quintessential Lowcountry than our famous she-crab soup, yet judging from the pasty versions served in most restaurants you would think its major ingredient is flour. In Two Hundred Years of Charleston Cooking, published in 1930, the recipe is attributed to “Mrs.
So much misinformation about the taking of female crabs has been published; I hope this will set the record straight. Blue crabs are plentiful from Massachusetts to Texas. It is not illegal to take female crabs (called “sooks”) in coastal Carolina waters, but it is illegal to take crabs less than 5 inches across the back of the shell. Females have reddish tips on their pincers; the aprons on their bellies are broad and triangular (males’ are T-shaped). Only female crabs that are “berried,” or showing a spongelike protrusion of eggs, must be released. There is no season, no license is required, nor is there a limit on crabs taken on handlines, in dip nets, or drop nets. Further, every head of household in South Carolina is allowed 2 crab pots as well.
Boil the crabs, uncovered, in the water seasoned with the seafood boil for 30 minutes. Remove the crabs, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Pick the crabs, which should yield about 1 pound of meat and ¼ pound of roe. The roe is bright orange and is unmistakable in the crab shells.
Cook the rice in the milk with the salt at a low boil for 30 minutes or until the rice is very soft. Strain the mixture or puree very fine; return it to the pot. Add the reserved crab water and cream and heat the mixture through. Season to taste with a dash of cayenne and salt and pepper. Fill cups with the soup, add a dollop of crabmeat and a sprinkle of crab roe to each, and finish each bowl with a teaspoon of sherry.
© 1992 All rights reserved. Published by UNC Press.