Sunday, December 9, 2012

Best of British: Crab, Leek and Whisky Soup

Best of British  Grand Final Blog Challenge

Northumberland Crab, Leek and Whisky Soup
served with a seeded soda bread and a wee dram of Bunnahabhain

I am pinning this dish to Northumberland because that is where, many years ago, I ate crab and whisky soup in the Jolly Fisherman inn, in the Northumberland fishing village of Craster. It was a typical cold north east day and a tot of whisky in the soup lifted it perfectly. The Northumberland coast is really quite beautiful and this soup will always remind me of time spent there.

I have noticed a lot more interest recently in matching whisky with food, and in particular have noticed a dish where whisky butter is served with lobster. Often quite a peaty whisky is chosen which I would have been very shy of combining with a delicate shellfish. There are some very easy to follow guidelines on which foods to match with whisky on the ever-reliable Matching Food with Wine site from  Fiona Beckett. I was inspired to pair my soup with a 12 year old  Bunnahabhain, an Islay whisky.

Crab is a lifelong love for me, and I have been fortunate to never be far from its source. As a child my mother's family in Norfolk would often treat us to Cromer crab on our summer visits, and there were numerous childhood holidays down to the Devon coast. I spent many years in the North East of England where of course I found this soup, and also have happy memories of eating crab sandwiches at Pittenweem in Scotland.

I now live in the West Country where beautiful fresh crab is abundant, so long as you shop carefully. I have most recently relied on the fantastic services of Martin's Seafresh. The beauty pictured below arrived,  literally sea-fresh, from their business in Cornwall and had been expertly picked and presented, with no wayward fragments of shell. 

A well-picked and superbly fresh crab meant that all the hard work had been done for me. All I had to do was make a good stock, bake up some soda bread and assemble the soup.

You will need:

1 medium to large picked crab, brown and white meat
15g butter 
3-4 leeks
1 medium potato
about 1 pt fish Stock (see below)
small pot of whipping or double cream
small measure of Islay whisky or a whisky of your choice
pinch of paprika/cayenne pepper for garnish but omit if your spices are not very fresh.

Bread to serve

For the fish stock:

Cook gently for 20-30 minutes any or all of the following:
Leek trimmings from 2-3 medium leeks, 1 peeled chopped carrot, 1 rib celery, crab shell, any prawn shells you have available, whole black pepper, parsley stalks, water to cover, about 1 pint in my case. Once cooked, strain through a fine-mesh sieve. You could do this stage ahead.

For the Soup:

  1. Gently sweat the chopped white parts of 3 small-medium leeks in a knob of butter.
  2. Once softened add 1 medium potato, peeled and diced, and gently sweat with the leeks for about 5 minutes; do not allow to brown.
  3. Add the stock to the leeks and potato and simmer gently until the leeks and potato are soft.
  4. Using a stick blender puree the soup.
  5. Now if you are going for 'fine dining' push the soup through a fine sieve to remove any coarse parts of leek that may remain. This is not essential!
  6. Gently stir some of the brown crab meat into the soup. This is very much a 'to taste' stage. Brown crab meat can be strongly flavoured or you may not like the flavour yourself. I am in the like camp, and I was lucky to have been sent some  beautifully sweet crab so I added several spoonfuls but tasted all the way.
  7. Now stir in the cream, again to taste, I add just enough to get a slightly more silken texture but not so much that the fresh flavour of the crab becomes muted.
Small break in the soup production while you whip up the seedy soda scones or pop some other suitable bread into a hot oven to refresh it. Once the bread is ready:
  • Warm the soup through and stir in the white crab meat reserving a dessert spoonful to garnish each bowl.
  • Keeping the soup at serving temperature but definitely not allowing it to boil, slowly add some whisky. This is the magic; you do not need very much, just enough to 'warm' the flavours, like a hint of sea breeze. Taste as you add.
  • Now quickly check the final seasoning, pour the soup into warmed bowls, place a spoonful of reserved white crab meat in the centre and very lightly dust with cayenne/red pepper flakes to garnish.
  •  Serve with your lovely hot bread and a small tot of whisky on the side which I would dilute with enough water to bring the whisky to roughly wine strength of alcohol. 

This is my entry for the December, Grand Final, of the Best of British blogging challenges organised by Fiona of London Unattached. The challenges have been great fun so many thanks to Fiona and the sponsors The Face of New World.

Best of British