Risky bisqueness

June 6, 2011

Smash it up: Jared Ingersoll’s crab & harissa soup

The other weekend Senor and I were looking for a punchy little entree to accompany a roast lamb dinner for friends, and he happened upon Jared Ingersoll’s recipe for this crab soup.

Unusually, the recipe involved roasting the blue swimmer crab along with other ingredients for a whole hour in the oven.  Simple enough, you think, and it is.  The only demanding bit  is that periodically through the cooking you are required to take ‘a heavy mallet or a rolling pin’ to the crab, smashing it to simithereens.

Have you ever used a mallet to smash a crab shell? I haven’t, but I have sat across the dining table from Senor and our friend Ms J years ago while they went beserk with a hammer on a mud crab as Mr J and I cowered in fear, doing our best to shield ourselves from crabby debris.  I recall that there followed many weeks of picking crab shell off  Mr & Ms J’s paintings and nearby soft furnishings  (I recall, too, Mr J’s and my anxious glances at one another on seeing how powerfully – and gleefully – our respective spouses wielded the blunt instrument).

Suffice it to say that if you want to make this soup, you must prepare for a splatter fest, given that the smash-up here involves not only crab but a soupy mix of roasted capsicum and onion and tomatoes.  I started out trying to prevent crab on the ceiling by leaning over the pan and hoping my apron would take the brunt, but eventually I just gave in and bashed away with the rolling pin, picking bits of crab and roasted capsicum and tomato off the walls and my face as I went, pitching the bits back into the pan as best I could. I even confess to a certain amount of pleasurable abandonment to the process after a while.

The hardest part of this recipe is not the bashing, but the last step. After you’ve whizzed the mixture (which by now includes fish stock)  with a stick blender to mash it all up as best you can, it’s mouli time. I have never used a mouli before, but bought one specially for this dish (I’ve been trying to think of an excuse to get one for a while now) and I would say that it would be almost impossible to make this soup without one – or without some other way of sieving the mixture so that, as Jared instructs, you “take time to squeeze out as much of the soup as you possibly can; only stop using the mouli when you are left with a dry crumbly mixture on top”.

If all this sounds like one giant headache, it kind of is. But the result, I must tell you, is pretty fantastic: a deep, velvety, richly spicy soup. The quantity, which looked small when we finally had the soup finished, was just right – it’s so rich and luscious that a little goes a long way. This recipe comes from the book Sharing Plates, which is full of good stuff including our favourite orange and quince cake recipe and is accompanied by a recipe for zucchini fritters that we’ve not yet tried.

Unfortunately we forgot to take a photo of the final result, so you’ll have to imagine for yourself  a rich mahogany-coloured, velvety-looking soup in a little white ramekin and a sweet, spicy, roast crab aroma in the air.

Jared Ingersoll’s crab and harissa soup 


  • 3 blue swimmer crabs (we didn’t kill our own although the recipe calls for live ones)
  • 1 teaspoon each cumin, caraway, coriander seeds and half a teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1/3 cup soft brown sugar
  • pinch chilli flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • 150ml vegetable oil
  • 3 red capsicums, seeded & chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1.5 litres fish stock (I used half packaged fish stock and half homemade chicken stock)
  • 1 bunch coriander
  • a few sprigs of mint and of parsley
  1. Clean and quarter the crabs, removing the finger-like gills but keeping the brown meat if there is any.
  2. Toast the spices in a dry frying pan until fragrant, then grind in mortar & pestle or spice grinder.
  3. Sprinkle the spices over the crab with the sugar, chilli flakes & seasoning and mix.
  4. Heat a deep roasting tin in the oven or on the stove top and when hot, add the oil and then the spiced crab mix.
  5. Mix everything together well, bung in the oven for about 20 minutes.
  6. Remove pan from oven, mix in the remaining ingredients and continue to cook in the oven for about an hour, periodically bashing the shit out of the crab with your rolling pin or hammer, as discussed above. I think I did it about three or four times during the whole process.
  7. When it smells good and everything is soft and a little coloured, put the pan on the stove top and add the stock, simmering gently for about 15 minutes.
  8. Transfer to a saucepan and whizz with stick blender, then mouli as thoroughly as you can, as described above. I checked obsessively for shell, thinking there was no way the mouli could get it all, but found no shell at all. I would still suggest warning your guests about the possibility, however.

If this sounds good to you, I would love to know if you make it – probably best for a day when you have a few frustrations to pound out. And in the meantime, I would love to hear any other crabby tales you might have to tell.


  1. Love your writing, Charlotte – and have said as much in the news pages of the current issue of MasterChef Mag. Looking forward to your new book, too.

    • Sally, thank you SO much for your lovely words. I think I am now going to do a little bragging sidebar – MasterChef magazine praise is the pinnacle of my career!

  2. Loved this Charlotte,and have absolutely no intention of making it. Trusting as I am,I believe soup actually came out of this, despite lack of photographic evidence.

    Gather you’ve finished the edit!

    Only other crabby tale is old Claire Bretcher cartoon of couple dining out on first date. She orders crabs. Full page of detailed drawings of every stage as she dismembers crabs, picks bits out of her teeth and hair, while he looks on. When she’s finally done she says: ” I never order this with anyone I fancy.”

  3. Hi Charlotte

    The recipe is quite adventurous yet just hearing the word crab evokes my experience of eating mud crab as a teenager.

    My brother who was working in a mining town on the coast of far north Queensland flew home to Townsville on leave with several live mud crabs. We cooked them soon after and pulled the white, sweet, luscious flesh from the shell laid it down on white bread and ate it!

    Memorable, still have the taste with me today. Thanks for the recipe. Helen

  4. I was so sure it was going to be a Skye Gyngell recipe if you were looking for “punchy”. Ever noticed how many hundred times that word appears in her books?

    Also, want now. And what kind of mouli did you get? I had an ancient one which I replaced with an avanti which is crap 😦

    • Forgot to answer the mouli question! Can’t remember the brand but it’s Cuisine or something like that. Stainless steel, feels very sturdy, from Kitchen Queen, for about $40 from memory. There was another brand there that felt way too flimsy in the hand, as if it would bend at the first sign of crab shell – but this one handled it admirably. If I see the brand again I will let you know.

  5. Charlotte, just love your writing. I think I’m content to just read about how to make this – can’t bear the thought of squashed crab everywhere!

  6. Mmmmm…crab. Funniuly enough I’m on a crab feast tonight. I’ll be donning protective clothing and glasses and packing the bag with a hammer, plyers and pick.

    have you tried wrapping the crab in a tea towel before bashing it. Not only does it muffle the screams but stops the shell flying around the room and becoming embedded in the work surface.

  7. I badly want to eat this soup… But I am just as eager to avoid making it. Removing embedded crab shell remnants afterwards sounds like this soup-lover’s idea of total hell! But it sounds delish.

  8. Love all these comments, thank you! Food Co-op Manager, I hadn’t noticed that till you mentioned it but you’re right, she does. And is it Skye G or Nigel Slater who uses the word ‘bright’ a lot? Another good word …

    Helen, your Queensland mud-crab memory is pure summer, isn’t it? Hard to remember what that’s like in the current vile weather we’re having …

    Ed, how was your crab? I like the tea towel idea though I might end up having to boil the towel as well to extract all the crabby goodness …

    And don’t be too discouraged everyone, I may have exaggerated the crab-on-the-ceiling factor a little too much. It’s really not at all that bad. I urge you to give it a go, cos the result is so good.

  9. […] may recall a little while ago I made this incredible – and, technique-wise, rather elaborate  – crab bisque from an Ingersoll  recipe. Soon after that we dined with Annie, my husband’s mum, […]

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