Chesapeake Chef: Let's Talk Crab Soup
by Ann Levelle
Stan & Joe’s Saloon reconstructs its 2016 Maryland Seafood Festival People’s Choice Winner
Each September for the past 26 years, crab lovers have flocked to the Maryland Seafood Festival’s Crab Soup Cook-off armed with tiny spoons and hearty appetites to sip and slurp the crabby goodness prepared by local chefs. Then they vote for their favorites in three categories: Cream of Crab, Vegetable Crab and Alternative Crab soups. A panel of pro judges also picks the top three in each category, giving the winners bragging rights and a boost in customers.
With the 50th Maryland Seafood Festival and 27th annual Crab Soup Cook-off on the horizon, we checked in with Stan & Joe’s Saloon, which won the 2016 Peoples’ Choice and Third Place Judges’ Choice awards in the Alternative Crab Soup category with their Crab, Shrimp and Mango Gazpacho. Joe McGovern, the Joe of Stan & Joe’s, and Chef Naz Vargas were happy to give us the skinny on the competition, some sage advice on making soup, and the winning recipe:
CBM: What do you like about the Maryland
Joe: It’s so Maryland. It’s seafood and Old Bay, plus all local music and local food, and the beer. But I gotta be honest . . . sometimes you forget how beautiful an area we have. Then we get to Sandy Point at 6 o’clock in the morning and there’s the Bay Bridge and beautiful sailboats. And you’re like, Oh yeah. That’s why we live here.
CBM: What’s it like at the contest? I imagine a little showmanship goes a long way.
Joe: Last year I was hawking it like a circus ringmaster . . . ‘Come on, folks, we got nice refreshing mango crab soup, let’s go! It’s
CBM: Yes, it’s hot in that tent and people are packed in tight. A chilled soup is a great idea.
Joe: And it’s delicious! We went through 15 gallons, which is a ton, especially when you think that people are eating it in tiny cups at a time.
CBM: How did you decide on this recipe?
Naz: I’m from Mexico, so I was thinking a ceviche. Joe suggested gazpacho, which is more liquidy. But I didn’t want people to be eating a puree, I wanted them to have a bite. So, we combined gazpacho and ceviche to get a summer concept crab soup.
CBM: Do you have any tips for a good chilled crab soup?
Joe: It has to be fresh. Fresh, fresh, fresh! Fresh crab, fresh mango, fresh shrimp. And you have to let it chill overnight. Then all the flavors blend a little.
CBM: Do you put the crab in overnight as well?
Naz: No, just the other ingredients, I put the crab in at the end, which is also chilled.
Joe: If you don’t have all the spices, a good bloody Mary mix can work. I’ve used George’s Old Bay Bloody Mary Mix. That and some tomato juice and you have a good core. It’s easy to make at home or on a boat.
CBM: What are your plans for this year’s contest?
Joe: We’ll do another alternative concept soup, and a cream of crab as well.
Naz: This year we’ll do more crab than shrimp. The judges were expecting more crab, because it’s a crab soup. I think the shrimp showed too much last year.
CBM: What’s your cream of crab philosophy?
Naz: Most people use a crab base. I don’t. I use chicken base and a lot of cream and sherry. And Old Bay. I’ve been in Maryland 25 years, and I think the crab base makes it a little too salty. I think the Old Bay gives it enough salt.
Joe: I’m the kind of guy who puts Old Bay on his Old Bay, so I don’t think you need the extra salt from the stock.
At this point in the conversation, a martini glass arrived, filled to the brim with crab and shrimp gazpacho. It was artfully presented, with Old Bay around the rim, and served with wedges of lime and lemon for a little tropical color.
CBM: Wow, that looks amazing, let’s eat some soup! Mmmmmmmm, Oh, Man, that’s good. It’s so cold and refreshing. And it’s got just a hint of spiciness from the Old Bay, plus a sweetness from the mango that really makes it pop.
Joe: That’s why I like the mango in there, it gives people something to chew. Then they feel like they’re eating something. It’s more filling.
CBM: Yes, exactly. When some people think gazpacho, they imagine sipping plain tomato juice, but this is in an entirely different realm. And it’s delicious.
Naz: Thank you!
CBM: No, thank you!
Naz and Joe were more than happy to share the recipe with us, and you. We whipped up a double batch at the office and everyone agreed that it’s a winner. It’s simple to make, and would be a perfect dish to make before a day on the water. It’s officially CBM recommended. Now get in the kitchen and get your soup on!
If you’re not inclined to make this at home, stop by Stan & Joe’s Saloon at 37 West St. in Annapolis (or Stan & Joe’s South at 137 Mitchell’s Choice Rd. in Edgewater). www.stanandjoessaloon.com.
Crab, Shrimp & Mango Gazpacho Soup
Preparation 15–20 minutes
(plus chill time)
½ lb small shrimp
½ lb lump or jumbo lump crab meat; keep refrigerated
Juice from ½ lime, freshly squeezed
Juice from ½ lemon, freshly squeezed
Juice from ½ orange, freshly squeezed
1 tomato, diced into small cubes
1 red onion, quartered and finely sliced
½ green bell pepper, chopped small
1 mango, cut into small cubes
1 cup tomato juice
½ tsp Old Bay seasoning
¼ cup (2 oz) ketchup
½ tsp fresh garlic, chopped
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ bunch of cilantro, chopped (or parsley if you don’t like cilantro)
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring water to a boil in a medium-sized pot and add the shrimp.
Let cook until pink—three to five minutes. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp, or they’ll become too chewy.
Drain the shrimp and cool under cold running water. Set to the side over a container with ice.
Cut and prepare all the ingredients, then add to the shrimp.
Season as desired with salt, pepper and your favorite spicy sauce. Squeeze the citrus and pour the juice over the mixture. Stir well and thoroughly refrigerate (overnight is best) before serving.