She-crab soup has long been a traditional specialty of the Low Country in South Carolina. It is a Southern classic, and a tourist attraction in Charleston. Traditionally, the soup called for female blue crab–a “she-crab”–whose orange roe imparts a distinctive taste and characteristic orange speckles, but good lump crabmeat usually contains enough roe for proper flavor. This soup is rich: a demitasse cupful makes a lavish hors d’oeuvre, and a whole bowl is a satisfying supper, with only a simple salad alongside.
Makes enough to serve 6-8 as a substantial first course or entree, 16-20 if served in demitasse cups as the beginning to an elaborate meal or at a cocktail party
* 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter * 7 tablespoons all-purpose flour * 3 cups milk, heated to almost boiling * 2 teaspoons salt * 4 cups heavy cream * 1 pound lump crabmeat, carefully picked free of all shell and cartilage, preferably female crabs * 1/4 cup Harvey's Bristol Cream Sherry * 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste * Finely chopped parsley for garnish
Melt the butter over low heat in a large nonreactive saucepan, and stir in the flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes, then slowly whisk in the hot milk, and continue whisking until perfectly smooth. Add the salt, and cook, stirring often, until the mixture comes to a boil. Stir in the heavy cream, and cook at a low simmer for 3-5 minutes, until the milk and cream no longer taste of raw flour. Add the crabmeat, and cook gently for 5 minutes longer. Cover the saucepan, remove it from the stove, and allow it to rest in a warm place for 30 minutes to develop the flavor of the crab.
Once the soup has rested and you are ready to serve, return it to the stove and gently bring to a simmer. Add the sherry and cayenne pepper. Simmer briefly, and taste carefully for seasoning, adding more salt, cayenne, or sherry as needed.
Serve in heated bowls or demitasse cups. Garnish with a little bit of finely chopped parsley.