Keeping with the soupy theme of my Dark Days weekly local food posts, I thought I’d show off my adaptation of Maryland crab soup, one of my Baltimorean husband’s favorite treats. We used the leftover crab from our dungeness crab feast on Christmas to make a spicy, tomato-based soup.
I have to say I’m not a fan of the ice-cold pre-cracked crab they think everyone wants here in Oregon. I was a bit annoyed on Christmas Eve when I opened up my sack from Fisherman’s Market and found my crabs cracked and cleaned, the top shells gone. Note to self: always check bag, especially during holiday busy times. I was planning to heat them up, crack them open at the table, and enjoy the slightly briny, slightly bitter mustard goop with Old Bay spice…in true Maryland fashion. But instead, the crabs were opened, scraped free of mustard, and doused in ice, which makes the meat soggy and dilutes the flavor. Grrrr.
Regardless, the crab meat was still delicious. I hear and can attest to the news that the dungeness crab season has been an excellent one, so if you’re near Oregon, run, don’t walk, to your nearest fish market.
Maryland crab soup has as many variations as any authentic local recipe. I rarely meet one I don’t like. It’s a great day-after-crab-boil meal with the leftover crab. My Oregon version is a combination of painstakingly homemade and convenience foods, and it’s 100% Oregonian. Adapt as you see fit! But if you plan to use the top shells of the crabs to enrich your beef stock, watch your fish market salesperson like a hawk. Or a seagull. Or something.
I still have a few stalks of local celery from a couple of weeks ago, thank goodness, since celery is crucial for the soup. I should have added a local potato, since potatoes are delicious with the spice mix from Maryland called Old Bay that’s so important for the soup, but I was in a hurry and didn’t want to wait. I did use my homemade celery salt (made with local celeriac) instead of my usual kosher flake salt, and it added a wonderful low celery base note.
Lima beans are often used in this soup, but we don’t grow them that much here, and I didn’t want to rely on non-local limas. Frozen vegetables were going to be necessary, so I used frozen Stahlbush Island Classic Mixed Vegetables, our Willamette Valley purveyor of frozen organic local fruits and veggies. The green beans were dried by me last summer, and briefly reconstituted in hot water before adding them to the stock. The onions were from the larder and my frozen tomato sauce was added to provide tomatoey goodness. The beef marrow bones I used to make the stock were from Market of Choice, and I’m just going to hope they were local. The bacon was from Sweet Briar Farm.
As for the Old Bay seasoning, this Baltimorean spice mix is found at fish markets and premium grocery stores, and it doesn’t really have a substitute. I was going to try to make a slightly more local version with leaves from my bay bush, but felt too lazy. If you’d like to give it a go, here is the recipe I was planning to make. Of all the recipes I perused, it looked like it had the greatest chance of having similar proportions to the original.
Oregon Crab Soup
Makes four portions. Does not keep well past a day or so.
- bacon fat or butter
- 1 small onion, chopped finely
- 2-4 slices bacon, chopped
- 4-5 cups homemade beef stock
- 2 clean, boiled, top shells from dungeness crabs (optional, but it adds depth to stock)
- 1 cup stewed tomatoes or pureed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning, or to taste
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup fresh dungeness crab meat
- 2 cups mixed vegetables, fresh or frozen (corn, peas, carrots, limas, cabbage)
- 1 cup green beans, in 1-inch pieces
- 1 small waxy potato (a Yukon gold, for example), diced into small pieces
- salt and black pepper to taste
Prepare the soup base: sauté the onion in some bacon fat or butter. Add the bacon pieces. Pour in the beef stock and bring to a simmer. Add the crab shells, tomatoes, Old Bay, and bay leaf. Let simmer for 20-30 minutes to meld the flavors as you are preparing the fresh crab meat and vegetables.
Remove crab meat from its crustacian home and chop vegetables. If you are using frozen vegetables, measure them out. Home-dried vegetables will also work. Reconstitute them at this point with hot water.
Add mixed vegetables, green beans, and potato dice to soup. Cook for another 1o-15 minutes to soften vegetables, then remove crab shells and add crab meat just before serving. Adjust for taste, adding more Old Bay for spiciness, and salt and freshly ground pepper as needed. Be careful with the Old Bay, as it has salt in the mix. Serve immediately.