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Eric Akis: A sumptuous chowder with Dungeness crab

When the craving for seafood soup hits, pay a visit to your local fishmonger
This creamy chowder is rich with B.C. Dungeness crab meat. Making it requires a bit of work, but it's worth the effort. ERIC AKIS

I recently watched an episode of the Food Network show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, and the eatery featured served Dungeness crab chowder. It looked absolutely delicious and I immediately wanted a bowl of it.

The problem was that the eatery, Novelli’s Crab and Seafood, was 600-plus kilometres away, in Florence, Oregon. A bit of a trek for some chowder, so I decided to make my own.

My first step was to go to my local seafood store, buy a live Dungeness crab and get the fishmonger to clean it, yielding me two half pieces of crab. I then bought the other items needed for chowder and headed home.

To make the chowder, I cooked the crab, cooled it and carefully removed the meat from the shells. I used the shells to flavour the stock for the chowder. Diced onions, carrots and celery were then cooked in butter in a pot, seasonings and flour were added, creating a roux, and the stock was mixed in, along with some cubed potatoes.

The chowder was simmered until the potatoes were tender. The last step was to mix in the crab meat, cream (or milk) and dill (or chives) and heat them through a few minutes.

The end result was sumptuous chowder, rich with crab, that you could serve for lunch or dinner with crusty bread or warm rolls.

Dungeness Crab Chowder

There’s a bit of work involved in making this soup, but it’s worth the effort if you’re in the mood for a sumptuous, crab-rich chowder.

Preparation time: 50 minutes

Cooking time: about 65 minutes

Makes: four servings

1 large, live (about 800 to 850 gram) Dungeness crab, halved and cleaned (see Note 1 and Eric’s options)

4 cups chicken or fish stock

1 1/2 cups water

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup diced onion (see Note 2)

1/2 cup diced celery

1/2 cup diced carrot

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 tsp Old Bay seasoning (see Note 3)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 medium red-skinned potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 2 cups)

1 cup half and half (10 per cent) cream or whole (homo) milk

2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill or snipped chives

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

Set the half pieces of raw crab in a large bamboo or stainless steamer. Set over simmering water, cover and steam crab six to seven minutes, or until cooked. Lift crab out of the steamer, set on a plate and cool to room temperature.

When crab has cooled, beginning with the smallest leg, holding the crab up where the body meat is, break/pull each leg off each half piece of crab. Now use kitchen scissors and seafood picks to cut open the legs and remove the meat from the claws, legs and body portions of the crab. Set the crab meat in a bowl, cover and refrigerate until needed.

Set the crab shells in a medium, not overly wide pot (mine was six inches wide). Pour in the stock and water, set pot over medium-high heat and bring to a gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Reduce heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Strain this crab stock through a fine sieve into a second pot. Now measure the stock. If you have less than 4 1/2 cups, top it up with water.

Melt the butter in a medium to large pot set over medium, medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery and carrot and cook until softened, about four minutes. Mix in the garlic and Old Bay seasoning and cook one minute. Mix in the flour and cook and stir one minute more.

Slowly stir in one cup of the crab stock. When mixture becomes very thick, slowly mix in the rest of the stock. Add the potatoes and bring chowder to a gentle simmer, adjusting the heat as needed to maintain that simmer.

Simmer chowder, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. Mix in the crab meat, cream (or milk) and dill (or chives) and heat them through a few minutes. Season the chowder with salt and pepper and it’s ready to ladle into bowls and serve.

Note 1: Live Dungeness crabs are sold at some supermarkets and at seafood stores. Ask the clerk to clean it for you. When they do, they’ll remove the crab’s top shell and the innards, and you will end up with two ready-to-cook half pieces of crab.

Note 2: Diced in this recipe means to cut into 1/4-inch cubes.

Note 3: Old Bay seasoning is a classic blend of herbs and spices used to flavour seafood dishes. It’s sold in tins at seafood stores and in the herb/spice aisle or seafood department of many supermarkets.

Eric’s options: If you don’t want to cook your own, buy an already cooked cold Dungeness crab at a seafood store or supermarket and ask the clerk to clean it for you. When ready to make the chowder, extract the meat from the crab and use the shells as described in the recipe.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.