During the winter months, our local Whole Foods gets one or two shipments in a week of freshly cooked Dungeness crab. Like all seafood, crab tastes best when it is as fresh as possible. When buying crab, ask the guy or gal behind the counter when they got the shipment in. The answer you want to hear is “this morning”. If the crab came in that morning, or even the day before, it should be good. If it is 3 or 4 days, I would wait until the next shipment. Make sure that you get a crab that is at least 2 lbs. If they don’t have any that big displayed, ask if they have any more in the back. Have them clean the crabs and crack them.
To make this creamy, flavorful crab bisque, you will need to make some homemade shellfish stock, so it pays to keep your leftover shells and freeze them until you have the occasion to make the stock. Making stock isn’t hard, like making chicken stock, it just takes time. You can freeze it in advance of using it.
- 4-6 cups crab shells
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 large yellow onion, sliced or chopped
- 1 carrot, roughly sliced or chopped
- 1 celery stalk, roughly sliced or chopped
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- Several sprigs parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- 10-15 whole peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 Tbsp butter, unsalted
- 1/3 cup shallots, chopped
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 4 cups of shellfish stock
- ¼ cup white rice
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1 ¼ lb or more of cooked crabmeat
- 1 ¼ cup heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Making the stock
Before making the bisque, you'll need to make the shellfish stock (see these instructions for details and photos).
1 If you have large pieces of crab shell, you'll want to break them into smaller pieces. A good way to do this is to put them in a plastic freezer bag and use a rolling pin or wine bottle to roll over them to break them up a bit. Don't crush them.
2 For extra flavor at this point, put them on a roasting pan in a 400°F oven for 10 minutes. That will help bring out more of the crab flavor.
3 Put the crab shells in a large stock pot and cover with an inch of water. Put the heat on medium high and slowly heat up the water. When you see little bubbles of air starting to rise to the surface, lower the heat to medium. Do not let the water boil! You want to keep the water temp at just below a simmer, around 180°F if you have an instant thermometer. The bubbles should only occasionally come up to the surface.
Do not stir! Stirring the shells will muddy the stock. As foam develops on the surface of the water, skim it away with a large spoon. Keep skimming off the foam every so often, and maintaining the heat at just below a simmer, for about an hour.
4 Once the stock is no longer generating foam, add the wine, carrots, onions, celery, tomato paste, thyme, bay leaves, parsley and peppercorns. Increase the heat to return the stock to a low simmer, then lower the heat to maintain that very low simmer for 30 minutes. Skim off any new foam that develops. Add salt and remove from heat.
5 Use tongs to remove and discard the largest pieces of shells from the stock. Then place a few layers of dampened cheesecloth (can use several layers of dampened paper towels) over a large, fine mesh strainer placed over a large bowl or another pot. Pour the stock through the strainer to strain. Discard the solids.
Either use the stock right away, or cool for future use. If you aren't going to use the stock in a couple of days, you can freeze it. Remember to leave enough head room at the top of any jar you use so that the liquid has room to expand as it freezes. You should use frozen shellfish stock up within 2 months.
Makes 2-3 quarts. Reserve 4 cups for the crab bisque, refrigerate or freeze the rest.
Making the bisque
Now on to the bisque...
6 In a large, 4 or 6 quart saucepan, melt butter on medium heat, add the shallots and cook gently until translucent, about 5 minutes.
7 Add the wine, stock, white rice, and tomato paste. Raise the heat and bring to a simmer; reduce heat to continue to simmer until rice is completely cooked, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for several minutes.
8 Add about two thirds of the crab meat to the soup. Working in batches, ladle the soup into a blender and purée until completely smooth. Return puréed soup back to soup pan.
9 Add cream and gently heat soup until it is hot enough for serving. Add the remaining one third of the crab meat. Add salt and cayenne pepper to taste (about ½ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne).