She-Crab Soup

updated Feb 24, 2022
She-Crab Soup Recipe

This creamy seafood chowder is full of tender lumps of crab.


Prep15 minutes

Cook20 minutes to 22 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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she crab soup in bowl with hand taking gold spoon out
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling; Jesse Szewczyk

A visit to South Carolina’s Lowcountry means more than Palmetto trees and pralines. I should know, after spending the weekends as a grad student driving from one end of the state to the coast for one reason alone: the food. The region’s restaurants serve the best briny oysters, bowls of freshly caught shrimp nestled on top of bowls of creamy grits, and, my favorite, she-crab soup. But I shouldn’t have to wait for a trip to South Carolina to serve this seafood stew, and neither should you. Here’s how to make the Lowcountry classic in your own kitchen.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling; Jesse Szewczyk

Where Did She-Crab Soup Originate?

This creamy crab chowder is a specialty of Charleston. Scottish settlers brought partan bree, a traditional rice-and-crab bisque, with them when they emigrated in the 1700s. William Deas, chef and butler to Charleston’s mayor in the early 1900s, is credited with adding the red-orange roe to the now-famous soup.

What Type of Crab Is in She-Crab Soup?

Classically, she-crab soup distinguishes itself from other seafood chowders with the combination of crabmeat and crab roe. The roe gives the chowder its traditional orange hue and distinctive briny flavor. Crab roe, or the eggs from the female crab, are only available in the spring, making she-crab soup a seasonal specialty.

Today, crab roe can be difficult (if not impossible) to find because to protect the crab population, you aren’t allowed to harvest egg-carrying female crabs in many states. But an absence of roe doesn’t mean you have to forgo this decadent dish altogether. Make this special soup at home using lump crabmeat. Pull out the biggest clusters of crab for finishing the soup. Add the rest of the crab to a Dutch oven with rich cream, briny clam juice, lemon juice, and a dash of sherry.

What Does She Crab Soup Taste Like?

She-crab soup is a luxurious and creamy chowder with an undercurrent of briny crab flavor. If this is your first time trying this type of soup, the flavor is somewhat similar to clam chowder. While clam chowder relies on hearty potatoes and bacon for flavor and heft, she-crab soup is more delicate. The smooth soup is studded with lumps of crabmeat and drizzled with sherry.

She-Crab Soup Recipe

This creamy seafood chowder is full of tender lumps of crab.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 20 minutes to 22 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info


  • 1 1/2 cups

    whole milk or half-and-half

  • 1 cup

    heavy cream

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    hot sauce, such as Tabasco, plus more for serving

  • 1

    small yellow onion

  • 2 stalks


  • 4 cloves


  • 1/2

    medium lemon

  • 1 pound

    lump crabmeat

  • 5 sprigs

    fresh parsley, for serving (optional)

  • 4 tablespoons

    (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ground white pepper

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ground nutmeg

  • 3 tablespoons

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 (8-ounce) bottle

    clam juice, divided

  • 2 tablespoons

    dry sherry, plus more for serving


  1. Place 1 1/2 cups whole milk or half-and-half, 1 cup heavy cream, and 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce in a large measuring cup or medium bowl and let sit at room temperature while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

  2. Prepare the following, adding each the same medium bowl as you complete it: Grate 1 small yellow onion on the large holes of a box grater (about 1/3 cup). Finely chop 2 celery stalks (about 1 cup). Mince 4 garlic cloves.

  3. Prepare the following, keeping each separate as you complete it: Finely grate the zest of 1/2 medium lemon until you have 1/2 teaspoon zest. Gently pick through 1 pound lump crabmeat to remove any shells or cartilage. Reserve 4 ounces (about 1 cup) of the crab for serving. Pick the leaves from 5 fresh parsley sprigs and coarsely chop if desired (1 tablespoon).

  4. Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion mixture, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Cook until the onion is softened but not browned, about 5 minutes.

  5. Add 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour coats the vegetables, is cooked, but not browned, and starts to leave a film on the bottom of the pot, about 2 minutes. Add 1/4 cup clam juice, and cook, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, until the liquid evaporates, about 2 1/2 minutes.

  6. Add the remaining 3/4 cup clam juice, milk mixture, and crab. Bring to a simmer and cook, whisking often, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the lemon zest and 2 tablespoons dry sherry and stir to combine. Taste and season with more kosher salt or white pepper as needed.

  7. Divide the reserved 4 ounces crab meat between 4 bowls, then ladle the warm soup on top. Garnish with the parsley and serve with more dry sherry or hot sauce if desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.