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Zella's Crab Stew

Chef Sam Hayward calls this outrageously creamy seafood dish (from his grandmother's Tennessean housekeeper Zella) a soup, but it is so full of crabmeat that it's really only fair to call it a stew. Hayward makes it with Jonah crab, often marketed as peeky-toe, but he suggests cooks south of New York substitute blue crab and those in the West use Dungeness.

Plus: More Soup Recipes and Tips


slideshow Amazing Seafood Recipes


  • Total Time:
  • Servings: 4

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  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 pound medium shrimp in their shells, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry
  • 2 cups bottled clam juice
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound lump crabmeat, picked over
  • 2 cups steamed rice, for serving
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley


  1. In a medium saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the shrimp and cook over moderately high heat until starting to brown. Add the sherry and cook for 2 minutes. Add the clam juice and water; bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat for 10 minutes. Strain the broth; you should have 2 1/2 cups.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the onion and garlic; cook over moderate heat until softened. Add the paprika and chipotle; cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Stir in the flour.
  3. Whisk the broth into the saucepan; cook until smooth, then bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat, whisking until just thickened, 5 minutes. Stir in the cream and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. In a large skillet, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. Gently stir in the crab and cook over moderate heat, tossing a few times, until warmed through, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Spoon the steamed rice into shallow bowls. Ladle the shellfish sauce over the rice and top with the crab. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Suggested Pairing

California is known for oaky, buttery Chardonnays, but more and more terrific bottlings are skipping the oak altogether, producing a lighter, less unctuous style, great for pairing with cream-rich dishes like this crab stew.

Contributed By Published November 2005

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