Crab Bisque

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.

Crab Bisque Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 4.

Ingredients

Stock ingredients:

  • 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

Soup ingredients:

  • 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

Method

Making the stock

Before making the bisque, you'll need to make the shellfish stock (see these instructions for details and photos).

1 Break crab shells into smaller pieces by putting in a sealed, thick plastic bag and either rolling with a rolling pin or hitting with a meat hammer to crush. Don't crush too small. You can even skip this step if you want, if your shell pieces are already well broken up. Put in a large stock pot and cover with an inch (but no more than an inch) of water.

2 Put the stove temperature on medium high and slowly heat the shells in the water. As soon as you see that little bubbles are starting to come up to the surface, reduce the heat to medium. Do not let it boil. You want to maintain the temperature at just below a simmer, where the bubbles just occasionally come up to the surface. Do not stir the shells. Stirring will muddy up the stock. As the bubbles come up to the surface a film of foam will develop on the surface. Use a large slotted spoon to skim away this foam. Let the shells cook like this for about an hour; skim the foam every few minutes. The foam comes from shells releasing impurities as their temperature increases.

3 Put the thyme, bay leaves, and parsley in cheese cloth. Secure with kitchen string to make a bouquet garni.

4 Once the stock has stopped releasing foam, you can add the wine, onions, carrots, celery, tomato paste, herb bouquet garni, and peppercorns. Bring to a low simmer and reduce heat so that the stock continues to simmer, but not boil, for 30 minutes. If more foam comes to the surface, skim it off. Add salt and remove from heat.

5 Dampen a few layers of cheesecloth and place over a large, fine mesh strainer, over a large pot or bowl. Pour the stock into the strainer. Discard the solids. Either use the stock right away, or cool for future use. If you aren't going to use in a couple of days, freeze (remember to leave some head room at the top of your freezer container for the liquid to expand as it freezes.)

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).

Links:
Recipe adapted from Williams-Sonoma Mastering Soups and Stews.
Wolfgang Puck has different recipe for making crab bisque on the Food Network that you might want to review as well.

13 Comments

  1. Abby

    I haven’t eaten much crab – shrimp seems to be much more popular on the North Carolina coast (with the exception of deviled crab – one of my husband’s faves before he developed shellfish allergies.)

    I love She Crab Soup – it’s one of my favorite things to eat when I’m in Charleston. This recipe and post reminded me of it. I’m going there in April and I have to get some! (But I’ll continue to avoid the boiled peanuts. Gag.)

  2. Shutchison

    I tried this recipe and it was fantastic. I used vegetable stock instead of seafood as I didn’t have time to make it from scratch. The recipe is an absolute winner!! Thank you, I have been looking for a bisque recipe like this for some time.

  3. Dan McIntyre

    I made this for a friend who had jaw surgery and is off solid food for a few weeks. I used an organic vegetable stock and cold-packed crab, and omitted the salt and cayenne pepper. I tried canned crab; too salty. I pureed the entire amount, and it was perfect for my friend who had to eat it through a straw! Thanks for the great recipe.

    I can’t imagine having any left over to freeze, but if I did I would freeze it prior to adding the cream. Add the cream and a couple of tablespoons of Sherry when reheating.

  4. Alex Johnson-Buck

    Excellent recipe! I made a few modifications as I am on a budget, both money- and time-wise. First, I used dried bouillon and water instead of the stock recipe; second, since I didn’t have cream on hand, I substituted 1 c. of thick bechamel; and third, I used 2 cans of white crab, draining and rinsing thoroughly before using. I’m sure the original would be even better, but this already beat most restaurant bisques I’ve tried. Thanks a bunch!

  5. Jacquie

    Stone crab season just opened up in South Florida. I used what was left of a pound of stone crab claw shells and shrimp shells saved up. WOW!!! This was my first time making seafood stock. I had the misconception that it needed to cook all day long on the stove to get that level of intensity.

    Bottom line – I will NEVER throw out another scrap of shellfish again. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    FYI – I paired the Bisque (and a fresh claw per person), with fresh streamed asparagus and your poached Marsala pears (for desert). YUMMY!

  6. Jay

    I used frozen crab with the sea shell stock which is made in the same way as this blog says.

    It was great! I almost thought it’d be the most luxurious taste in any soups you could ever make! (well, except the one with lobster ;) )

    Its smell is so deep and rich. I recommend to put 1.5 ~ 2 table spoons of cognac, as I tried.
    It will only make your soup more sensual.

  7. Jason

    Thank you, I enjoyed this dish very much! I followed it very closely. Next time I might skip the rice and the pureeing because I just thought the broth came out so beautifully after step 7. To me, you take that broth, throw in some fresh lump crab and you’ve got yourself a bisque (fine, not an absolute bisque as it’s absent of cream, could throw in just a touch) that’s as good as anything I’ve had in a restaurant. Best,

  8. Kathleen Huffman

    The crab bisque was sensational. I didn’t have as much crab as the recipe called for, or the shallots, forgot to roast the shells, and yet it tasted like the bisque I’v had in fine Las Vegas restaurants! My husband is going to get more crab since he tasted this “ambrosia of the Gods”
    thanks for the methods, and excellent instructions.

  9. yeago

    I had no crab-meat left after making crab cakes, but I made the bisque anyway and then used it as a stock for a broccoli soup.

  10. RJ

    Excellent recipe! Very easy to follow instructions. I started with a whole dungenous crab steamed in white wine and vege broth. Instead of carrot and celery, I cut back on the onion and threw in some vegetable stock. I also added some scallops to the puree and whole ones to the soup along with the broth from sauteing the scallops. lick the bowl delicious. time consuming, but every spoonful worth every minute!

  11. ken

    Wow. I am just finishing a bowl of this made with a blue crab stock (shells left over from Memorial Day.) this is unbelievably good.

  12. Jackie

    Wow. I made this using assorted shells I’d frozen over the past few months…shrimp, crab, clam, mussels for the stock. That took all afternoon, but boy was it worth it! Then for the bisque, I used white wine vinegar instead of wine, not quite as much, of course, a can of clams and the juice, and a pound of fresh mussels. I removed the mussels before blending, then after returning it to the pot and adding half and half, I put in the meat from about half of the mussels. I placed the remaining mussels, in the shells, in each bowl of soup and added some homemade croutons. Yum!

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