She-crab soup — a Southern seafood staple — has a rich history that began right here in Charleston. According to legend, the first bowl of she-crab soup was made at John Rutledge House Inn in the 1920s. The Rutledge House was home to the former mayor of Charleston — Robert Goodwyn Rhett. Mayor Rhett’s butler — William Deas — prepared a meal for President William Howard Taft, who was visiting the city.
Deas created an elevated version of crab soup for the president. He used an unusual ingredient — crab roe. Crab roe is the egg mass found on “pregnant” female crabs, which is how the dish got its feminine name. Deas’ creation later became known as she-crab soup.
The traditional recipe calls for crab meat, heavy cream, sherry, and crab roe. However, female blue crabs are protected by law in South Carolina, so the roe is often omitted today. The dish became a Lowcountry favorite and took the South by storm. Today, Deas is remembered as the inventor of she-crab soup, but the talented chef was also a shrimp soup trailblazer.
Locals and tourists alike have long debated where to get the best she-crab soup in Charleston. Hank’s Seafood Restaurant, 82 Queen + Charleston Crab House are just a few local spots known for their top-notch versions of this Lowcountry meal.
The truth is, every iteration of she-crab soup is unique, which makes them hard to compare. Some are rich and creamy, others light and buttery. Many are elaborate, others no-frills. It’s up to you to decide which style floats your bowl.
Want to try your hand at it? Take a look at this local recipe.