This is a soup that I love to make whenever I have fresh crab shells: in fact, whenever I buy fish from the fishmongers I always like to ask for some of the shells from crab, prawns and the like to use as the basis of a great seafood sauce.
During Episode 4 of Britain’s Best Home Cook, Dipa and I had chosen crab as our ingredients challenge. A rich crab bisque was one of the things that immediately came to my mind. However, I did not feel confident doing justice to this in the hour we had – and as I have not used a pressure cooker in decades, I didn’t want to try that out!
So I opted for crab pithivier: and I am so glad I did as it got such positive feedback from the judges, giving a dish that was for me, one of the food highlights of my time on the show.
That said, Trevor made a gorgeous crab bisque in the time, flavouring it with some of the brown meat at the end: rich, unctuous and lovely.
Crab shells – great flavour for minimal price
I love using crab shells for seafood sauces and soups, and you can usually pick these up at a fishmongers for very little, if anything. And if you can get some prawn heads and shells, even better.
When roasted, which adds a great flavour, and then very slowly simmered in water, along with a few herbs and the like, you get the most wonderful flavoured stock, which you can reduce this further to give a great soup.
About this recipe
This recipe is the way I normally make a seafood bisque at home: over a very leisurely few hours, as the roasted shells simmer away in the liquid while I get on with other things.
The shells and the stock then get liquidized, before being passed through a very fine sieve into a pan.
fortunately I have a liquidizer that is up to the job of dealing with blitzing crab shells!
The liquid you get has a fantastic flavour, and when you simmer it down further for 20 minutes or so with seasoning and maybe a little potato as a thickener, you have a really nice soup.
I sometimes reduce it a lot to give a deeper sauce: whisk in a splash or cream or a knob of butter, and you have a great sauce that is lovely poured over white fish, for instance.
I like to finish this soup with some fresh cream swirled over, a spoonful of fresh white crab meat and a few chopped chives. If you want a richer soup, mix in some brown crab meat with the bisque before serving.
Recipe: crab bisque – serves 4
- 1 large crab shell, with claw shells if possible,
- 1 handful of prawn shells: any type, raw or cooked!
- 2 litres water
- 1 small fennel bulb, chopped coarsely
- 1 large onion, chopped coarsely – but you can leave the skins on
- 3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed slightly -but you can leave the skins on
- a glass or two of white wine
- 1 medium potato, peeled and chopped into smallish chunks, optional
- 1 tablespoon tomato purée
- a splash of brandy
- single cream
- about 100g fresh white crab meat
- about 50g brown crab meat, optional
- freshly snipped chives or chive flowers
(1) Put the crab and prawn shells into a large roasting tray and roast for about 1 hour at 180C.
(2) Fry the fennel, onion and garlic in hot oil for about 5 minutes in a large pan. Add the tomato purée, the shells and the wine and simmer until then wine has reduced by about half.
(3) Add the water and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 3-4 hours, checking from time to time.
(4) Pour the contents of the pan, shells and all, into a sturdy food blender and blitz to give a smooth mixture: it might feel slightly sandy but it will be strained and become smooth. Pour into a large fine sieve hanging over the pan so all the precious liquid comes through.
NB: you might need to do this in batches.
(5) Add the brandy to the pan along with the potato, if using, and bring the sieved mixture to a gentle simmer. and taste. Simmer it for about 30 minutes or further to reduce it more, giving a more intense soup. Stir in the brown crab meat, if using, for a richer flavour.
NB: if you feel it is too rich, add a splash of water or even milk and simmer gently for a few minutes. If adding potato, you can blitz the soup, but it breaks down quite well by itself and I quite like a few chunks here and there.
(6) Serve with a swirl of cream, fresh chives and a generous mound of white crab meat.