This soup of sweet potatoes, crab, and coconut reflects the strong West Indian influence in the Lowcountry. You can make the soup with prepared shellfish stock—I have used lobster shells from the previous night’s dinner—and substitute shrimp or crawfish for the crab. A local chef and I first made this soup for an evening of Lowcountry foods in her restaurant. It is complex in texture and flavor, one of her most requested recipes. I recommend making the soup in the dead of winter, when female crabs are full of roe and coconuts are in their prime. The first time we made this soup, it wasn’t as thick as we wanted it, but we didn’t want to add another starch or more cream. The chef quickly tossed some raw scallops into a food processor and added them to hot soup bowls—a trick I have used many times since.

If you don’t want to cook live crabs, you will need 2 quarts of prepared shellfish stock plus a pound of picked crabmeat. Boil the sweet potatoes with their skins on—or place them in the oven while you are roasting crustacean shells if you make your stock that way. While the recipe calls for a dozen crabs, I use 13—a “baker’s dozen.” Every fishmonger I know in the Lowcountry gives “broadus,” like the Cajun’s “lagniappe,” and a dozen crabs is always 13.

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Ingredients

For the Stock

  • 3 quarts water
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • a handful of mixed fresh herbs such as parsley, basil, thyme, savory, and oregano
  • 12 large blue crabs

For the Soup

  • 1 small (1¼ pounds) coconut
  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes, cooked, peeled, and run through a food mill or riced
  • 1 quart cream
  • salt and cayenne pepper to taste
  • ½ cup brandy, plus additional for serving (optional)

Method

To make the stock, bring the water, vegetables, and herbs to a rolling boil and add the live crabs. Return to a boil and cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Take out the crabs and set aside, strain out the solids from the stock, then strain again and return the stock to the stove. You should have about 2 quarts.

To make the soup, punch through 2 or 3 of the eyes of the coconut and let a little of the coconut water run into the palm of your hand to taste for freshness. If sweet and fresh, strain the water into the 2 quarts reserved stock and add the riced sweet potatoes and cream. Begin heating the mixture over medium heat and let it reduce slowly, skimming it as necessary. Remove the shell from the coconut, pare off the dark brown skin, and cut the fresh meat into a tiny dice, adding it to the soup as you go along. You should have 2 cups of the diced coconut. In the meantime, pick the meat from the reserved cooked crabs. You should have about a pound. After about an hour, taste the soup, correct the seasoning with salt and cayenne, and add the brandy. Continue cooking and skimming until the desired consistency is reached. Just before serving, add the crabmeat and a little more brandy if desired to the soup bowls and pour the hot soup over the crabmeat. Serve at once.

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