Quintessentially a part of Charleston, South Carolina culture, she-crab soup's date of origin is a little hazy. Some say it became a town classic just after the Civil War, while others argue that the first she-crab soup was created before Revolutionary times. No matter the time of its genesis, one thing is for sure: She-crab soup is in Charleston to stay.
For an attempt at authentic she-crab soup, ingredients can be purchased from manufacturers in Charleston, and shipped to your location.
The name is a literal description of the soup's starring contents, thought to be brought about during a time of necessary frugality and the rising popularity of seafood consumption as a class status. Originally, male crabs were used primarily for soups and dishes because they were naturally bigger. If crabs were scarce, however, it would have made sense to toss in the females. Eventually, folks came to realize that the flesh of the female crab is sweeter, and that the roe she produces is something extraordinarily flavorful.
The original soup was pale peach in color; a rich, tangy mix of crabmeat, cream, a little sherry and the fertilized roe of the she-crabs. The roe added depth, umami and an unmatched flavor. These days, a real taste of the soup that started it all is next to impossible, as laws now prohibit the harvesting of mature female crabs, and their fertilized roe.
Overall, it's a good thing, of course, that conservation efforts are in place to prevent the over-harvesting of she-crabs. Crabs can only mate once the females have molted, which happens every 50 days or so. As harvesting females with fertilized roe is forbidden, immature females are now used for the soup, and a little unfertilized roe from mature females tops it off. Some restaurants eschew the roe altogether, and top the soup with crumbled egg yolk, a visual metaphor for what was the paragon of she-crab.
Because the ingredients are so rich, the soup doesn't need require a side of bread for dipping or crackers to add. In some cases, a squirt of lemon juice -- although unconventional -- can brighten an overworked she-crab soup: Just use judiciously.
To make your own version of Charleston's famous she-crab soup, combine crabmeat, fish stock, celery, shallots and sherry. Thicken the soup with cream and top with egg yolk, tobiko -- flying fish roe -- or tinned crab roe from your local Asian market.