No visit to the Charleston area is complete without sampling a bowl of creamy She Crab Soup. A cross between bisque and chowder, this delicious Lowcountry original is a well-loved favorite with roots reaching back to colonial days.

Culinary historian John Martin Taylor, author of Hoppin’ John’s Lowcountry Cooking, credits the Scottish settlers who arrived in the Carolinas in the early 1700s with bringing their famous seafood bisque recipe called “partan-bree,” a crab and rice soup, to the area.

The addition of the crab roe, or crab eggs, is credited to William Deas, a butler and a cook to R. Goodwyn Rhett, mayor of Charleston. According the local legend, William Howard Taft (1857-1930), 27th president of the United States, was being “wined and dined” by Mayor Rhett at his home. The exact date seems to be lost in history, as President Taft visited the Rhetts in their home, the John Rutledge House Inn, several times between 1908 and 1912. Supposedly, the Rhetts asked their butler to “dress up” the pale crab soup they usually served. The butler added orange-hued crab eggs to give color and improve the flavor, thus inventing the Charleston delicacy know as She Crab Soup.

She Crab Soup
(Makes approximately 4 servings)

This recipe was adapted from Charleston Receipts and is attributed to Mrs. Henry Church. Please note that only female crabs with the roe on the inside may be used, as crabs with roe on the outside are illegal to harvest. Chopped boiled egg yolks may be substituted for roe, but should be crumbled into the bottom of the soup plate.

  • 1 tbsp butter, unsalted
  • 1 qt milk
  • ½ c heavy cream, whipped
  • 1 tsp onion juice (may substitute lemon juice)
  • ¼ tsp mace
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ½ tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp flour
  • 2 c white crab meat and crab roe (eggs)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 4-6 tbsp dry sherry paprika, and or fresh parsley (to garnish)

Bring water in the bottom of a double boiler to a boil, reduce heat so that water barely simmers and make sure that the amount of water does not touch the bottom of the top of the double boiler.

Melt butter in the top of a double boiler and blend with the flour until smooth. Add the milk gradually, stirring constantly. Add the crab meat and roe and all seasonings except sherry and cook slowly, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes.

To serve, place a tablespoon of warmed sherry in the bottom of each individual soup bowl. Add soup and top with a dollop of whipped cream. Sprinkle with parsley and/or paprika.