In the Kitchen: The History of She-Crab Soup

As the summer sunshine heats up the Lowcountry, locals and visitors take to the region’s sparkling marsh flats for fishing, kayaking and – a favorite Charleston pastime – crabbing. The pristine waters that hug the coastline are home to a variety of crab species, including the fiddler crab, blue crab, stone crab, spider crab and the hermit crab. For generations, Charlestonians have fished and dined on the crustacean, and it is still a common menu item around town. In fact, she-crab soup, a popular Southern staple that traditionally incorporates rich crab meat, heavy stock, sherry and crab roe, was first enjoyed in Charleston.   

She-crab soup was born in the early 1900s at a dinner with President William Howard Taft at Charleston mayor R. Goodwyn Rhett’s home in downtown Charleston. Taft was a known fan of turtle soup, which inspired William Deas, a highly skilled African chef and the mayor’s butler, to create a similar seafood dish for him. Deas elevated a simple crab soup by adding a red-orange cluster of roe to the pot, which drastically modified the dish’s taste and texture. Since then, she-crab soup has become a staple Charleston meal.   

Try your hand at a traditional she-crab soup recipe, courtesy of Garden & Gun, using the recipe below.

Charleston She-Crab Soup
Yields: 8-10

1 cup cooked long-grain white rice, plus ½ cup more if needed
2 cups whole milk, plus ½ cup more if needed
2 cups half-and-half
½ tsp. ground mace
1 ½ tsp. Nature’s Seasons seasoning blend
Salt, to taste
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 cup diced celery
2 lbs. crab meat
½ cup sherry, for serving (optional)
Scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)

Place the cooked rice, 1 cup of the milk and 1 cup of the half-and-half in a blender. Blend until it becomes a thick, smooth mixture.

Bring 2 quarts water to a boil in a large pot. Place a large steel mixing bowl over the pot of boiling water. Do not let the bottom of the mixing bowl touch the boiling water (you may use a double boiler if you have one). Reduce the heat to medium. In the steel bowl or double boiler, combine the rice mixture and the remaining one cup each of whole milk and half-and-half. Add the mace, Nature’s Seasons and salt. Stir the mixture, taste and add more seasoning if needed. The mixture should be thick, like a bisque. If it’s not thick enough, blend about ½ cup additional cooked rice and ½ cup additional milk together and add it to the mixture.

In a medium skillet, melt the butter. Sauté the celery for three minutes over medium heat, making sure it retains its green color. Add the celery to the soup. Taste the soup, and add seasoning as needed.

Fold the crabmeat into the soup. Do not stir, because that will break up the crabmeat. Three or four folding movements should do the trick.

Transfer the soup to a separate large pot and cook over low heat for seven to ten minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Note: If you’re using sherry, guests can pour the sherry over their soup to their liking.