A crab soup

A crab soup

Andrew Montgomery

I’ve been making this soup for years, nearly always the same way and never from a recipe. It’s so unbelievably good that I thought I'd better note down all the things I put in it. Essentially, it begins with crab and ends with crab. But then there’s cream and thyme and cider brandy…


Quantity Ingredient
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large knob butter
1 onion, chopped
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 celery sticks, chopped
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
1 good-sized tarragon sprig
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 small star anise
1/2 glass white wine
250g tomatoes, skinned and chopped, or 250g tinned chopped tomatoes
1.2 litres crab stock
75ml double cream
1 small glass cider brandy
black pepper

For the crab stock

Quantity Ingredient
2 picked brown or spider crab shells, including legs and body
2 fresh flat-fish frames
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
1 small bunch thyme
few parsley stalks, (optional)
1-2 garlic cloves, bashed


  1. To make the crab stock, bash the crab shells to break them up into pieces and place them with all the other stock ingredients into a large pan with 2 litres water. Bring to a simmer over a medium–high heat. Cook gently for 1 hour, using a ladle to skim away any froth that rises to the surface. Remove from the heat and cool, then pass through a fine sieve and set aside. You should end up with about 1.2 litres or so of stock.
  2. To make the soup, put the olive oil and butter in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat. When it’s bubbling away, add the onion, fennel, carrot, celery, garlic, bay leaf, thyme and tarragon. Cook, stirring regularly, for 4–5 minutes. Add the paprika, fennel seeds and star anise and cook for a further 1 minute, then add the wine and chopped tomatoes. Stir well to combine and cook for a further 4–5 minutes. Add the crab stock, and bring up to gentle simmer. Cook for 25–30 minutes, then remove the soup from the heat and allow it to cool for 20 minutes. Purée the soup in a blender, in batches if necessary, until smooth (you could use a hand blender in the pan, if you prefer – make sure you get a smooth consistency, though).
  3. Pass the soup through a sieve set over a clean pan. You may need to push it through with the back of a spoon or ladle. Return the soup to the heat and bring to a very gentle simmer. Stir in the cream and the brandy, then season with salt and black pepper to taste.
  4. Serve the soup in warmed bowls. You can finish it with a swirl of cream if you like, some cracked black pepper, and a little dressed crab meat – or, as shown here, a cracked crab claw.
River Cottage
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