Monday, May 2, 2011

Maryland Crab Soup

As many of your know, I am a Baltimore transplant to the Midwest. And while there are lots of regional specialties here that have stolen my heart (Garret’s Popcorn, anyone?) nothing can compare to the true summer glory that is the crab feast. There is nothing like picking crab meat, eating corn and potatoes and drinking a cold beer on a hot summer day. Another couple around here shares our love for crab feasts, and we decided we would order a half bushel of crabs from a retailer in Baltimore and have them shipped to us in Illinois. While we did a fair amount of damage to our half bushel (approximately 3 1/2 dozen crabs), we still had a fair amount of leftovers. Crab meat spoils fairly quickly, so I wanted to make the best of the leftovers by making some other Baltimore favorites I usually wouldn’t get otherwise. I guess, if I’m being honest, I could buy crab meat from Whole Foods or something, but I have a hard time paying 30 bucks for jumbo lump meat (which I believe it imperative to creating an outstanding crab dish). So while this is not a thrifty meal if you have to go out and buy the crab meat, I was lucky enough to be ‘forced’ to make these meals with my leftovers. What a pity ;)

The first step for me, because I wasn’t buying my crabmeat, was picking all the leftover crabs. I stood over my sink for over two hours picking nearly two dozen crabs clean. I ended up with almost two full pounds of crab meat by the time I was finished and a ton of cuts on my hands and fingers from the shells. If you’ve ever picked a crab, you know what I’m talking about. As tedious as picking crab meat can be, I still find it amazingly relaxing.

Maybe it’s a Baltimore thing.

If I had to rank crab dishes in an order of favorites, I’d have to say number one is steamed crabs, number two is a a *good* crabcake (which I am super picky about), and then you have Maryland Crab Soup. I am willing to admit I’m a snob when it comes to crabcakes. The good ones are going to almost always be expensive in comparison to the other foods on the menus because they will be made with jumbo lump crab meat. And I refuse to order a crab cake at a restaurant unless I know what I’m getting. Anytime we go to a seafood restaurant in Baltimore, someone will almost always order a crabcake. If it comes out and I find myself envious of their meal and jealous that I didn’t order it instead of my meal, then I know that my next trip there I will be ordering a crabcake. Few places make crabcakes that good. Almost all crab meat, with minimal fillers and breadcrumbs mixed in. And heaven forbid I get one little bit of shell in my crabcake. Something about biting into something smooth and luxe like crabmeat, only to be greeted with a chalky crunch of shell or cartilege between my teeth all but kills my appetite for the rest of the crabcake. Some places are a lot more careful than others about picking through their crabmeat before using it.

The first recipe I want to share is one of Maryland’s staples. Regardless of my snobbiness towards crabcakes, one thing I always order, pretty much regarless of location, is a cup of Maryland Crab Soup. It’s light and delicious and the soup highlights the sweet flavor of the crabmeat without overpowering it. I found this recipe off of the website of one of my favorite restaurants back home, Cantlers. The recipe seemed almost too easy to be true, but the taste was spot-on. I felt like I was dockside on the Chesapeake Bay. Crab soup is also the perfect vehicle for your less expensive crab meats – claw meat and lump crab. If you’re willing to splurge on the crabmeat, or happen to have leftover crabs from your last feast, give this a try, you won’t be sorry. But please, please, do not use the imitation crab meat. This is one of the few times that only the real deal will do.

Maryland Crab Soup
From Cantler's Website  (if you are ever near this restaurant, go there!)
 Makes 8 servings.

4 c low sodium chicken broth
3 pounds canned tomatoes, quartered (I used a 28 oz can and a 14.5 oz can)
1 cup frozen corn, thawed
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 large baking potato, diced
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup onion, diced
1 tablespoon seafood seasoning (I used more like 3 Tbsp – and my seasoning of choice was, of course, Old Bay)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 pound Maryland crabmeat, fresh or pasteurized, cartilage removed (regular or claw)

Place broth in a 6 quart soup pot and bring to simmer.

Add vegetables and seasonings and simmer, covered, over medium-low heat for about 45 minutes, or until vegetables are almost done.

Add crabmeat, cover, and simmer for 15 more minutes or until hot. (If a milder soup is desired, decrease amount of seafood seasoning to 1/4 -1/2 teaspoons.)

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