Sunday, October 30, 2016

Crab Bisque

Any blue crab soup that is described as "incomparably rich and delicious" is definitely worth trying.  I found the recipe for this particular blue crab soup in one of the cookbooks, Dishing Up Maryland.  The recipe is Crab Bisque.  It originated with the author's sister-in-law, Eleanor Van Dyke, who served it at her annual Christmas party.

A bisque is a cream-based soup that originated in France. Recipes for this soup first emerged in the 17th century, descending from pottage, a thick soup that was more of a puree. The early recipes involved the use of crustaceans, and, specifically, included pulverized crustacean shells as an ingredient.  The crustaceans used in these recipes were "crayfish," or rock lobsters.  If you want to see what some of those historical recipes look like, you should check out The Food Timeline, which is a great site for learning the history of particular recipes or ingredients.

Since those early recipes, bisque recipes have branched out to include any crustacean, such as lobster, shrimp and crab, as well as shellfish such as oysters or scallops.  I have had lobster bisque many times, and, Clare's father makes a very delicious shrimp bisque.  But, my love for blue crab got me to thinking about a crab bisque.  Such a soup is particularly popular in areas like the Chesapeake Bay and North Carolina, where there is -- relatively speaking -- an abundance of blue crab.

Recently, my beautiful Angel bought a container of fresh jumbo lump crab meat from North Carolina. With that pound of delicious crab meat on hand, I decided to make that "incomparably rich and delicious" soup.  This soup does not fit within the traditional nature of a bisque, as the recipe does not incorporate the use of crab shells.  Nevertheless, it is a very delicious soup and it is one where you could adjust the richness of the soup.  The recipe simply calls for "milk."  This means you can use skim milk, 1%, 2% or whole milk.  Obviously, if you use skim milk, the soup will not be as rich as if you use whole milk.  For this recipe, I decided to use whole milk.  I also altered the recipe in one respect.  The first and second steps call for the use of the sauteed vegetables in a cheesecloth bag.  I decided to let the vegetable bag steep in the soup for an hour or two with the heat low enough to keep the soup warm but not cause it to simmer or boil.  This allowed for the flavors of the vegetables to be drawn into the liquid of the soup.

This recipe lived up to its billing.  The best part of the recipe is not just the richness, but the fact that it is very simple to make.  This simplicity will ensure that it will become part of the "rotation" of dishes that I go to when entertaining guests, much like Ms. Van Dyke.

Recipe from Dishing Up Maryland, pg. 172
Serves 4-6

1 pound Maryland jumbo lump crab meat
4 tablespoons butter
3 celery stalks, diced
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons, all purpose flour
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups half and half
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1.  Prepare the crab. Pick through the crabmeat and remove any shells bits and cartilage.  Set aside.

2.  Saute the vegetables.  Melt the butter in a medium saucepan.  Add the celery and the onion and saute over low heat until they are translucent.  Remove the pan from the heat and scoop out the vegetables into the cheesecloth bag and tie the bag to the handle to the pan, so that the bag hangs inside the pan, close to the bottom. 

3.  Add the milk.  Return the pan to the heat and add the flour, mustard, salt and pepper, stirring until blended.  Add the half and half the milk and stir constantly until thickened.

4.  Add the crabmeat.  Add the crabmeat and cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove the vegetable bad and sprinkle the bisque with parsley before serving. 


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