This Nordic-inspired crab stew recipe is warm, cozy, and full of flavor from a homemade seafood stock. It's rich but not heavy and well balanced from the sweet-salty taste of crab, shrimp, and white fish. Chunks of tender potatoes provide a strong finish that is especially warming in colder weather.
I always get nervous when friends or family try my recipe tests. I wonder, "Will they like it?" or is it just something that makes sense in my head? "Is it missing something?"
Getting feedback on recipes is critical, so I can make any necessary changes before I post them here, but it still feels intimidating!
Well, I'm happy to report that this crab stew recipe was a winner! We had quite a bit of leftover stew when I was developing this recipe, so we gave it to some friends to try out.
They described it as "really delicious" and "dank." So there you go, high marks for this one!
What Makes This Recipe Different?
This crab stew recipe takes inspiration from Nordic-style chowders to create a hearty, flavorful dish. I learned a lot of fantastic tips and tricks from Hank Shaw's recipe.
- A homemade seafood stock provides so much complexity, depth, and a subtle sweetness to the stew. The seafood stock uses the peels, shells, and other odds and ends from prepping the stew itself, so you don't need to go out and buy extra ingredients to make it!
- While there are many variations of Nordic chowder, when researching, I found that many chowders use thickeners to provide a bit of richness and depth to the stew. Inspired by this method from Hank Shaw at Honest Foods, I included egg yolk and heavy cream. They added just enough creaminess without overpowering the dish or feeling too rich.
Where to Purchase Seafood
The stew recipe calls for a mix of seafood, including crab, shrimp, and fish. The crab is the only necessary ingredient out of the three, so you can feel free to use a mix of whatever you have! I'll walk through my tips and recommendations for purchasing each of these below:
Where to Purchase Crab
Generally, unless otherwise stated, we're looking for pre-cooked crab legs in their shells. Live crabs require some skill to cook and clean, so I highly suggest purchasing the pre-cooked variety unless you're already comfortable cooking them. And make sure they are in their shells! The shells are what give the stock a rich flavor.
The easiest place to find crab is usually at your local supermarket - it's also likely to be the most affordable. I've often seen them in a frozen case near the seafood section of the grocery store, where they'll be labeled "Pre-Cooked and Frozen Crab Legs."
Depending on your location and availability, you might see anything from Giant Alaskan King Crab Legs to Snow Crab Clusters to Dungeness Crab. All of these options work well!
Generally, larger varieties yield more meat, and different types of crab will be sweeter or meatier. Of course, you can always ask your fishmonger for advice on what to buy!
If you have a particular fish market you like to go to, call them up and ask about their availability. You are also much more likely to find live crab at these shops if that's something you're interested in.
And don't be afraid of asking questions; I've had great experiences with my fishmongers. They love helping and providing suggestions!
I received an order of Giant King Crab Legs from Alaskan King Crab Co for some client work and used them to develop this recipe (note: this recipe was not sponsored!). These crab legs were HUGE, super easy to crack open, and full of delicious, sweet meat.
They are, however, quite expensive so I'd think of it more as a special occasion. Nevertheless, you can try this recipe, and if you love it, try it with these beautiful king crab legs.
Tips on Purchasing Fish
I love using a firm, white fish for this stew; select a fish with a mild, sweet flavor that doesn't flake apart too easily. Cod and halibut are great options. Haddock works too, though it may be a bit flakier.
Tips on Buying Shrimp
Large or extra-large shrimp are great options here. If you're going to add the shells to the seafood stock (which I recommend!), make sure to get shell-on shrimp.
This dish features a mix of seafood ingredients, aromatics, herbs, and finishing ingredients. Let's walk through each category!
- Seafood: The primary seafood flavor here is coming from crab. Shrimp and fish are great secondary seafood options.
- Aromatics: Garlic, onion, carrots, and fennel provide lots of sweetness, garlic flavor, and onion flavor. If you don't have fennel, use celery instead. A bell pepper would be great too. Other than the onion and garlic, you can definitely play around with the vegetables.
- Clam juice: I like to start the seafood stock with clam juice, just to provide additional flavor.
- White wine: White wine pairs well with the seafood -- and brings a little acidity to the crab stew.
- Potatoes: Crab stew with potatoes is just the definition of comfort food! The potatoes add heft and a tender, creamy bite. For the best texture, look for waxy, creamy potatoes like Yukon Gold. They'll hold their shape well!
- Finishing ingredients: Before serving, we stir in the dill, and an egg yolk whisked with cream. The egg yolk/cream mixture helps to thicken the stew. It's essential that the dairy products are at room temperature and the pot is off the heat when you add them to the stew; otherwise, the egg might curdle.
How to Crack Open Crab Legs
Cracking open crab to remove the meat can certainly feel like a daunting task! Thankfully, there are a few methods to make things easier.
Option 1: Use a crab cracker and a seafood fork/lobster pick. If you've worked with crab before, you might already have the tools for the job. A crab cracker is super helpful in breaking open crab shells. Then, use a small seafood fork to pick out the meat. Certain crabs, like jonah crabs, have a harder exterior, so they're much easier to open with a crab cracker.
Option 2: Don't have any special tools? I've created an infographic below on how to do it. This works best with king crab or snow crab, which tend to have a softer exterior. Either way, I like breaking the crab legs into individual segments and cracking each segment to extract the meat.
Usually frozen crab is pretty clean, but you may notice some yellow residue on the meat. Contrary to popular belief, the yellow residue is not fat; it's actually hepatopancreas (an organ which helps to filter any chemicals or impurities from the crab's blood).
While it's traditionally been a delicacy, in recent years, a lot of folks don't recommend consuming it because of bioaccumulation (accumulation of chemicals over time), similar to mercury in tuna. You can feel free to remove any of the yellow goo.
You may also come across orange roe in female crabs. Feel free to reserve that for another dish -- or add it into the seafood stock!
Cooking live crabs requires more extensive cleaning. You can see some great visuals here of the process in a recipe of mine for Jonah Crabs with a Chili Vinegar.
How to Make Crab Stew
Making a flavorful crab stew involves preparing a homemade seafood stock, then simmering fresh seafood in the stock with additional herbs and thickening ingredients.
Prepare the Broth
1: Crack the crab legs open and remove the meat. Set aside the crab meat for later.
2: Place the crab shells, garlic peels, onion peels, carrot peels, fennel and dill stems, bay leaf, and peppercorns in a pot with water and the clam juice.
3: Bring to a boil, then skim off any scum on the surface. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
4: Strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve. Discard the solids.
After straining, you should be left with a beautiful orange-hued stock!
Cook the Stew
5: Now you'll begin prepping the stew. Saute all of your aromatics in a pot until their soft and golden-brown.
6: You'll add some wine and let that reduce - this gives a nice layer of flavor and a bit of acidity! Then add the reserved stock and the potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and allow the potatoes to cook until they're just barely al dente.
7: Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, then add the seafood. Cook until the seafood is just cooked through - this will happen quicker than you think!
8: Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolk and heavy cream until frothy and homogeneous in texture. No lumps should remain. Turn the heat off, then gently stir in the dill and the egg yolk / heavy cream mixture.
Divide amongst serving bowls and enjoy! Make sure to serve immediately while it's still hot.
Leftover crab stew will last up to 3 days stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Because the chowder has dairy, you will need to reheat it in a double boiler to prevent any curdling.
To do so, set a pot over medium heat and fill about ⅔ of it with water. Transfer the chowder to a heat-proof bowl, then place over the pot. Once the water below begins to simmer, stir the chowder frequently until warmed through.
Note: The stew has a tendency to flake apart when reheated. It's still delicious, but I don't recommend making the full recipe ahead of time for presentation purposes.
Having a dinner party and looking to make this crab stew ahead of time? You can make the stock up to 2 days in advance and store in the refrigerator. You can also saute the aromatics and boil the potatoes in the reserved stock prior to their arrival. Just before serving, cook the seafood, then stir in the herbs and dairy.
Cooked, thawed crab should last 3 to 4 days in the fridge.
Crab stock has a subtle sweetness and a slightly more intense "crab" flavor.
A good serving size of seafood is roughly 6-ounces to 8-ounces per person.
I don't recommend using store-bought stock; it really doesn't have the depth of flavor that you need here.
For even more cozy recipes, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.Happy eating! Love, Karishma
Crab Stew Recipe
- Fine mesh sieve, for straining the stock
- 8 ounces crab legs, pre-cooked and thawed
- 1 small onion, finely chopped, peels saved for the stock
- 1 small carrot, finely chopped, peels saved for the stock
- 4 cloves garlic, finely minced, peels saved for the stock
- 1 small fennel bulb, finely chopped, fronds and tougher bits saved for the stock
- ½ cup dill, finely chopped, handful of stems saved for the stock
- ⅛ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup clam juice
- 2 cups water
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and black pepper
- ½ cup dry white wine, such as chardonnay or sauvignon blanc
- 8 ounces waxy, creamy potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
- ⅔ pound raw seafood, such as white fish and/or shrimp, cod and halibut are great fish options; cut the fish into 1-inch chunks; if using shrimp, peel and devein the shrimp and cut into bite-sized pieces (reserve the shells for the stock)
- 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
- ¼ cup heavy cream, room temperature
- Warm, crusty bread
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- A dollop of creme fraiche, skyr, or greek yogurt, optional
Make the stock:
- Twist apart the sections of the crab leg into individual segments*. Use seafood or kitchen shears to cut through the shell down the middle of each leg segment (or a crab cracker if you have one). Open each shell fully to reveal the meat, then use a regular fork or a crab fork to extract the meat.8 ounces crab legs
- Cut the meat into bite-sized pieces then set aside (you will use the meat for the stew). You should have about 4 ounces of crab meat. Tear or crack the crab shells in half.
- In a medium dutch oven or pot set over the stove, add the onion peels, carrot peels, garlic peels, fennel fronds, dill stems, black peppercorns, bay leaf, clam juice, water, and crab shells (and optional shrimp shells).
- Bring stock to a boil and skim off any scum from the surface of the pot. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until the liquid darkens significantly to a deep golden-brown color.
- Strain stock through a fine mesh sieve, reserving the liquid and discarding the solids. You should have just about 2 cups liquid; if you have less, add additional water to make 2 cups stock.
Make the crab stew:
- Wipe the stock pot clean, then add the olive oil and set to medium heat.3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Saute the onion, carrot, garlic, and fennel for 11 to 13 minutes until soft and translucent. Season with salt and black pepper.1 small onion, 1 small carrot, 4 cloves garlic, 1 small fennel bulb, Salt and black pepper
- Add wine and bring to a boil. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue cooking until liquid reduces by half.½ cup dry white wine
- Add the reserved homemade stock and potatoes and bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are mostly cooked through and can be pierced with a fork, but still have some give (about 10 minutes). Season with salt and pepper.8 ounces waxy, creamy potatoes
- Meanwhile, prepare the cream-egg mixture. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk and heavy cream together until smooth and homogenous (no lumps should remain). Set aside.1 large egg yolk, ¼ cup heavy cream
- Reduce the heat of the pot to a simmer, and gently stir in the reserved crab meat and fish and/or shrimp. Simmer until the crab meat is warmed through and the other seafood is cooked, about 2 minutes. Fish should be opaque in color, while the shrimp should turn pink.⅔ pound raw seafood, such as white fish and/or shrimp
- Turn the heat off (this prevents the egg from curdling). When the stew is still hot, but no longer bubbling, slowly stir in most of the dill and the cream-egg mixture until combined. The fish is delicate, so be gentle when stirring. Season with salt and pepper.½ cup dill
- Divide stew among serving bowls, topping with extra dill and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately with warm crusty bread. If desired, dollop each bowl with a bit of creme fraiche, greek yogurt, or skyr.Warm, Extra-virgin olive oil, A dollop of creme fraiche, skyr, or greek yogurt, ½ cup dill