On the heals of another surprise Crab-load, I made a huge batch of crab bisque recently, when DG's brother sent down a bag of crabs caught just the day before. What better way to deal with a sac full of beautiful Dungeness Crab than a bubbly pot of creamy, seafood goodness! I was pleased to have this kind of problem, as I always am when its free! Considering I pay about $25 for a crab, that's "A" crab, I felt almost dirty opening up my industrial mayonnaise bucket turned ice chest, only to lose count of the number of crabs inside due to the sheer number of them! That dirty feeling was replaced by ravenous hunger and a need to crack them all open with a bucket of lemon butter and bottle of wine.
After combing the internet for a decent crab bisque recipe, I came across just one worthy recipe, which I've followed before with great success. The rest were far too complicated. I'm hoping this recipe will help a few of you with your problem of too many crabs. This makes a beautiful soup full of crab flavour that is just the right foil for fresh chunks of fresh picked crab meat, without loads of heavy cream. It's an impressive first course and can stand on its own for a weeknight meal. Best of all, despite its grandeur, this is one simple soup to make and really you just need to get your hands on just a couple crabs, not a sack-ful. Scroll down for the recipe!
While I tackled the heap of crabs in my sink in preparation for this soup, my hands numbing to the repetitive cracking and childlike messiness that endured, my thoughts easily wandered to catching our own last summer. I always meant to chronicle it here, but was unimpressed by the photos I'd taken, and well you know how summer just sort of gets away from you with the combination of carefree laziness and cram-it-all-in-ness. We had this planned for about a year and it turns out that looking forward to the big Crab Fest meant that when it was finally here, all I cared about was getting them out of the water and into my stomach rather than obsessively photographing each moment! This is something I'm constantly struggling with as a blogger, the needs of my own before the needs of my reader. Or shall I say, the needs of my stomach. As I plucked through those crab shells though I couldn't help but remember that day and thought you might like to see a little of what its like to take to the ocean and grab dinner for yourself. I won't have the chance to revisit this experience again this summer but I'm already planning Crab Fest 2011! But until then...
The great adventure all began in Prince Rupert BC, on Northern BC's (that's Canada, BTW) coast. This is a big time fishing town and of course seafood is all around. Prince Rupert is a lovely town full of history and quaint beauty. I spent 4 years of my childhood there and remember crab sandwiches as more common than peanut butter and jelly. But the story of this small town is for another time. This day was only about one little thing - crab!
When undertaking a day trip such as this one, the right "spot" it essential. This is to be our home base for a few hours, a waiting room if you will, complete with fire pit, plenty of tiny crabs, sea snails and other marine life to entertain the younger members of the party, as well as me. I do love a good beach-comb!
In order to guarantee lunch, we had to give these little critters their "Death Row Meal", if you will. We got quickly to work setting up traps. Some tasty fish heads and other nasty bits are pretty tempting don't you think?
Traps? Check! Nasty bits? Check! All set to go!
Oh, and don't forget. One enthusiastic, experienced guide, preferably in the family. Check!
Picking out a few strategic spots, we drop the traps in various locations all not too far away from each other. We'll wait about an hour or two to check in on them.
We head out to check our progress, and turns out we are already pretty lucky. The bait has been nibbled and we've got action! Take my word for it. This is exciting stuff!
Some locals have decided to hitch a ride. In our traps we found this beautiful octopus, a sole, a rock crab and even some garbage and the shell of a dead crab, left by some shifty folk - a reminder that not all people out on the ocean are honest folk and that people really do ransack other traps. Shameful!
As we collected the crabs in our traps we had to do our due- diligence, all in part to make sure we'll be able to do this for years to come. All females are thrown back in as well as any less than 6inches wide. This trusty gauge makes it easy to decide who's for dinner and who goes free.
Keeping things simple we brought along plenty of butter, bread and lemons along with a bunch of basil and made a simple lemon butter and a lemon basil butter. While some homemade mayonnaise would have been great, it was''t missed.
Lunch fit for any king I assure you. Not shown in this picture was a bottle Rose wine we brought with us, the perfect accompaniment to this meal.
What normally would be a nightmare to clean up, simply gets left on the ground for nature to come along and take it away to where it came from. And yes, we were responsible and took all other garbage with us. But can I tell you how freeing it was to eat in such a messy manner, letting everything just fall where it may? It was good. Yup, really really good!
At the end of day, surrounded by such beauty, quiet, clean air, family, and the gifts of the ocean, I felt fortunate to be able to take part in this humble experience. We ate crab as fresh as you can get, cooked it in the water it was just living in and ate it a stones throw from where is had been living its life. It was the sweetest, most perfect shellfish imaginable and crab simply doesn't get any better than that. I'm sorry. There's just no recreating this experience at home. This simple experience is up there with some of my finest dining experiences.
Of course reflection came easy when I realized I'd eaten 3 crabs all myself and was undergoing some major digestion. I knew I wasn't going to have a chance to do it again, so gluttony was indeed my MO.
- Special thanks to Jord and family for keeping us in crab, as well as other fish over the years, and to Donna for facilitating the transport!
- Check out Adam's Westcoast Crab Adventure too!
Dungeness Crab Bisque
*this recipe starts with cooked crab. If you are not being gifted your crustaceans by a fisherman brother- in- law, go ahead and ask the guy/gal at the fishmonger to cook it for you. It'll save you the stress and make sure your crab its fresh when cooked
*feel free to play around in your spice drawer as I did, adding a newly acquired Balinese spice blend for just the right amount of background flavors.
6-8 cups lightly loosely packed shells from cooked crab
1 medium onion, 1 celery stalk, and 1 carrot, chopped into chunks
2 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
Place the shells in a large pot, cover with cold water, just to cover shells. Place over medium heat and slowly bring to a simmer. Make sure the stock doesn't boil and watch it as soon as bubbles start to form, adjusting the heat to keep things low and slow. Let it continue like this for about ½ hour, then add the vegetables and herbs and continue for another 15 minutes. DO NOT STIR at any point. When finished remove from heat and let cool until room temperature, then strain.
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 large shallots, finely chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
¼ cup tomato paste
1 cup white wine
¼ cup brandy
1 Tbsp paprika
8 cups shellfish stock
¾ pound crab meat, reserving ¼ pound lump meat for serving
1 cup cream
Tabasco or other hot sauce
1 Tbsp lemon juice
salt and white pepper
In a large soup pot, heat and melt olive oil and butter over medium heat. After 1 minute, add shallots, and garlic, along with a pinch of salt and white pepper, and cook for about 3 minutes until shallots are softened but not browning. Add tomato paste and stir for another minute, then add wine and brandy and boil until reduced by half. Add in the herbs, paprika and stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, adding salt if necessary. Add crab and simmer 5 minutes, then put soup aside to cool before blending.
Remove bay leaf and thyme sprig and then blend very well until smooth in a blender. Put back into soup pot and slowly heat. Once hot, add cream. Continue to gently simmer for about 5 minutes, being sure to not boil. During this time taste for seasoning and add salt as necessary. Just before serving add Tabasco to taste and the lemon juice.
To serve, place lump crab meat into bowl, be generous, and ladle over soup.