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Maryland Crab Soup with Sherry
(recipe, Anne Willan)
I well remember the small family ceremony when my father added a splash of sherry directly from the bottle to our steaming bowls of hot shellfish bisque. “It’s a poor soup that doesn’t have a bit of sherry!” he would say. The moist, rich meat from East Coast blue crabs is characteristic, but Dungeness crabs can be substituted.
Sherry styles vary from dry to sweet and from lean to full-bodied; in soup I feel that a sherry in the middle range with a touch of sweetness is best. A medium sherry will also suit most palates at the table, either a true Spanish sherry (look for medium dry or amontillado) or the American equivalent.
- 1 lb. (500 g) crabmeat
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1½ Tbsp. flour
- 2 cups (500 ml/16 fl. oz.) milk
- 1 cup (250 ml/8 fl. oz.) light cream
- 1 tsp. paprika, plus more for sprinkling
- Large pinch of grated nutmeg
- Small pinch of cayenne pepper
- Salt and white pepper
- 3 Tbsp. medium sherry, plus more to taste
- Pick over the crabmeat with your fingers, discarding any hard membranes.
- Melt the butter in a soup pan, add the onion, and sauté until soft but not brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Whisk in the flour and cook until foaming. Stir in the milk and bring the soup to a boil, whisking constantly until it thickens. Stir in the cream, paprika, nutmeg, cayenne, salt, and white pepper, and bring back to a boil. Stir in the crabmeat, reserving about 2 tablespoons for garnish.
- Heat the soup gently, stirring constantly, until the crabmeat is very hot. (Try to avoid boiling, which will overcook the crab and make it stringy). Taste and adjust the seasoning with nutmeg, cayenne, salt, and white pepper. (Crab soup can be kept hot in a water bath, or it can be made a day ahead and reheated. Be sure to warm it carefully so the crabmeat does not cook into strings.)
- Just before serving, stir the sherry into the soup and taste it one last time. (Alternatively, you can add sherry to the soup at the table.) Spoon it into warm soup plates, scatter the reserved crabmeat in the center, and top with a sprinkling of paprika. Serve at once while the soup is hot.