(Serves 8 – Recipe courtesy of Toga Hertzog, Toga’s Soup House)
I first sampled this amazing soup on a rainy October afternoon while visiting the Olympic Peninsula. My family traveled to the upper leftmost corner of the continental United States to celebrate the 14th annual Dungeness Crab Festival in Port Angeles. The fresh, intensely flavorful, steaming hot cup of bisque was the perfect foil to that chilly, wet, dreary day on the Washington coast; a soulful meal, to be sure, and one of my fondest gastronomical experiences.
The bisque I had was a unique concoction from Chef Toga Hertzog, a regular at the Dungie Crab Fest. Every year, Toga estimates he makes over 150 gallons of clam chowder, tomato bisque, and Dungeness crab bisque. He is a fine PNW cook with great reverence for Dungeness crab, both as food and as a being.
“It’s not like I find pleasure in killing animals,” Toga told me, but he wanted to stress the importance of killing and prepping the crab before even thinking of starting the soup stock. “I just believe certain food, like seafood, tastes best when fresh, and nothing gets fresher than killing a crab right before you cook it.”
What makes Toga’s bisque superlative is his use of the entire animal. It’s a delicious way to pay homage to a creature we are about eat, while demonstrating the unique flavor inherent in every part of the crab’s anatomy—the carapace, viscera, and claws. Cooking crab this way adds an even deeper, more layered flavor to an already excellent soup.
The quantities of ingredients Toga needs to feed the thousands of festival goers is dizzying. (He said he uses about two-and-a-half tons of live Dungeness crab—enough for about 130 gallons of bisque.) I have done my best to reduce the proportions to a volume manageable for a small dinner party. The image above is the product of this recipe below.
(Note: you will have stock left over)
8 cups water
4 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
1 live Dungeness crab
3 cups crab stock (you will only use a portion of the stock)
1 cup half & half
2 cups 40% heavy whipping cream
1 cup 2% milk
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
½ tablespoon granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon paprika powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
⅓ cup dry sherry
⅓ cup corn starch
¼ cup fresh chives, parsley, tarragon or chervil, minced
Begin by killing the crab (read the chapter in Eating the Pacific Northwest for the most humane way to do this). Remove the carapace then break the crab in half with your hands and shake the two halves downward into a large bowl. The viscera will fall away from the rib-meat and into the bowl. Next, scoop out the gills and remaining innards, placing all of this into the bowl as well. Rinse off the remaining bits from the crab meat and set aside. (Toga says the rule of thumb is to remove everything that isn’t pure white; the white stuff is the crab meat.)
Fill a stock pot with the water, salt, and sugar and bring to a boil. Drop in the cleaned crab and cook for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath another large bowl. Remove the crab halves from the stock pot and immediately plunge into the ice bath, to halt the cooking. Allow the crab to cool for 15 minutes, then remove.
Place the carapace, gills, and viscera into the same stock pot the crab was just cooked, and boil for a minimum of 15 minutes, or until the desired color, flavor, and quantity of stock is achieved. (Reducing the stock yields a deeper color and more concentrated crab flavor.) Strain through a chinois to ensure all shell fragments are removed from the stock.
Grab a large sauce pan (a 4-quart is sufficient) and whisk 2 cups of the crab stock with the half-and-half, whipping cream, milk, tomato paste, sugar, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, and minced garlic. Heat gently over low heat until just boiling. Now whisk in the sherry and corn starch to thicken.
Taste the bisque and add more stock if desired. Add a bit more corn starch, too, if needed. The bisque should coat a wooden spoon and run off in a silky texture. While the soup is heating, crack the crab legs and claws and remove the meat. Mix the leg meat with the rib meat and add to the warm bisque.
Ladle the bisque into warm soup bowls, sprinkle the surface with fresh herbs, and serve with a light lager or a crisp chardonnay.