Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Soup for the Southern Soul 'The Soup Diaries" Installment One

Savannah Georgia is the queen coastal city of that state's low country. She is Georgia's answer to Charleston, in terms of Antebellum beauty and historical relevance. Founded just a few years later than Charleston, the two towns have always had a sort of rivalry in terms of trade, financial success and political importance. These days that rivalry comes in the form of attracting businesses and investment to the area and securing a larger volume of traffic for the ports in both towns. Well that as well as debating which provides the independent visitor with the most complete Antebellum experience, aesthetic allure, and best culinary offerings.

Now I am from Charleston so you know what my answer will be! But that having been said both cities have rich and delicious histories and provide similar if not competing dishes for the title "most authentic and tastiest" low country dish. In Charleston we are known for a soup call "She Crab Soup". Know as such because it was traditionally made with the female crabs and as an extra flavor bonus the roe of the crab was included in the dish.

Savannah has it's own version of this but it is referred to as "CRAB STEW" and definitely has more ingredients and is heartier than it's Charlestonian counter part. At least the version I have from my friend from Savannah.

My first experience in Savannah and with Crab Stew was a hot one. It was in summer between my 8th and 9th grade years and friends of our family ,who had a beach house in St. Augustine, Florida, had invited us to stay with them for a month. So since my father was all tied up with business and could only join us for a week and my mother was never one to shun a good beach vacation, we headed down to Florida from Washington DC, where we were living at the time,  in our Dodge Monaco station wagon my mother, my brother and me. Now I think that driving down the east coast in August, in 98 degree weather with the radio blaring Billy Joel and Journey songs over and over ( top 20 radio hell!!!) should have been punishing enough. But no, the air conditioner had to go out and then when we reached Savannah we had just pulled into a gas station when whatever else was wrong with the electrical system went boom!

My mother and my brother and I all just stared at the cloud of smoke rising from the engine as we raised the hood. All dreams of making it to the beach that night were slowly disappearing, and what was worse we were in a strange town which smelled vaguely of burning rubber and methane gas ( What we did not know was that the paper mill was very near the city). Fortunately, our knight in shining armor came in the form of a grease covered and snaggletoothed station attendant, who in a thick Georgian accent informed us that not only did he know what the problem was but that he could fix it. Our hopes rose in us thinking that this would be a quick fix. They slowly sank again however, when he told us that getting the part would take the better part of the day and that we would not be on our way until at least 6 pm that evening or early tomorrow! NO! I thought, how awful! I looked at my brother and we both just sat, staring at the car wishing it would somehow just start up again. After my mother got off the phone with my father she let us know that we would have to make provisions for staying here for the night. Now this is what is great about my mom, she really is the queen of making lemonade out of lemons, so without so much as a hello, she led us off on a great adventure in downtown Savannah. Now we had stopped in Savannah before on trips but only to eat at the "Pirate House Restaurant". A favorite for two young boys obsessed with all things pirate for a time.  We had never explored the town, it's moss covered squares it's stately homes. So where does one get the real low down in those days?? The Library of course. So off we went into the Savannah public library and asked for help on where to go. We were guided to a number of interesting places old homes and the interesting squares that make up the downtown as well as the city's then newly redeveloping water front. We had praline's from a wonderful little bakery and then my mother decided that for lunch we would try a place she had always heard about but had never had the opportunity to try, Ye olde Pink House.

Now my mom had a funny knack  all my young life of remembering eating establishments that either she had been to or heard about or read about in places that our family would travel. We ate at some pretty amazing places on our family vacations as a result, but sometimes her timing on going to said places was a little off. For example, we show up at the Ye olde Pink House, which was very popular and hard to get into, and ask for a table. Well, I don't know what this guy thought of us, all decked out in our most casual wear, sunburned from sight seeing and slightly crazed with hunger. A woman and two young teen boys looking very swank! Not! Anyway he found us a table and we had a really nice lunch. This was the first time I ever ate crab stew in Savannah. It was a special of the day. It was rich and crabby and salty and thick with the subtle taste of sherry. Wow! I loved it of course. I can't remember what else I had but I remembered that soup!

 Then time came to check about the car. Well as luck had it, the station had secured the part early in the day and had repaired the car! So at 6 pm we were able to pick up our car  from the station and drive away. Three hours later in the dark, we arrived at the Chez Kruse on the beach, home of our friends. And that's how I first experienced Savannah and her cusine. I have been back many times since then but I will never forget that first trip as a young adult! So I offer this recipe to share with you a little of that first experience for me.

My version has a few more elements to it than then ordinary Savannah crab stew recipe. I was looking to add body to it and more flavor. I recently made "oyster stew" for my Mother this New Years Day. She had wanted a stew with more body than the traditional version's cream only base. I thought about it and decided that by incorporating elements of 2 things I love, Rich seafood sauce, and a Clam chowder I could give the stew more body. Here I took that a step further by adding in the shrimp for even more seafood background flavor and rich texture. I hope you enjoy Ya'll!


3 tablespoon cooking oil
3/4 cup finely chopped celery
3/4 cup finely chopped carrots
1 cup finely chopped white onion
1 clove garlic finely minced
1 cup chopped cooked shrimp
2 medium yellow potatoes diced very small
1/4 cup flour
1 stick unsalted butter
1 quart whole milk heated
1/2 cup dry sherry
2 bottles clam juice
1 pint heavy cream
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon white pepper
1/2 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Old bay seasoning
1 teaspoon mace
1/2 tablespoon Cocktail Bitters
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 lb. jumbo crab meat picked over for shells
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
sea salt to taste


In a pot boil potatoes until cooked and soft drain and reserve.
Heat cooking oil in large skillet and saute carrots, celery and onion till soft.
Add garlic and cook until garlic blooms about 3 mins turn off heat and hold
In large heavy bottomed stew pot melt butter and add flour slowly till a think paste is formed and cook till golden brown, then whisk in warm milk slowly until blended and thick
Add clam juice and stir.
Add sherry and all the seasonings and celery garlic mixture
bring to boil stirring constantly then reduce heat to a low simmer for 15 mins.
Add potatoes and shrimp  heavy cream and crab meat and heat through but do not boil.
Season to taste with salt
About 7 mins remove from heat stir in parsley and serve.

Try this on a cold winters day or any time for that matter! Boy is this good!


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