The promise was Whiskey Crab Soup.
We hopped into the pickup and headed out to check the water. It was a fair day, as far as weather goes, with a confusion of sun and clouds muddled together in the sky above our little island. We were supposed to go out boating that day, our first full day on Lummi, and our first jaunt into the waters of Puget Sound this crab season, our thoughts thick with those purplish-red crustaceans and the sweet sweet eats they promised.
Scanning the conditions surrounding our launch, we were dismayed but hopeful. The side of the island we'd come from was sunny, the water like smooth glass, beckoning. Here, though, the waves were rougher, the fog low, and the sun a questionable longing.
Finally, it was decided that we would launch and drive our little boat to the sunny side. Bask in the rays, pull up our pots, fish off the side. Surely the weather must be clearing. By the time we came back, our launch site would be drowning in too much sunshine.
That was our hopeful scenario.
Now where to begin with reality?
Well, first, our resident island guide/fisherman/crabber extraordinaire, Mo, couldn't find his Tide Guide. That's the handy little volume in which the ins and outs of the tides for Lummi Island are outlined for each and every day of the year. So what time do we need to launch?
Let's just say that the tide was little below the mark as we backed Mo's red pickup down the concrete launch ramp, guiding the trailer and our vessel into the receding sea. Thank you god for 4-wheel drive. And thank you Red Pickup for eventually going into 4-wheel drive (it took a little coaxing).
slap in the face clue, was the little boat full of man, woman, child and dog just returning to shore as we were backing down the ramp. OK, so if the dog looks desperate to jump off the boat, the woman could pass as a drowning victim, and the girl surely must have fallen overboard in order to be that drenched, one may want to reconsider one's motive to put oneself into a relatively small vessel in the water from which desperate dog and drowned woman just emerged.
We didn't reconsider.
But inklings of hazard aside, once on the water, I was in a state of bliss. If you don't already know this about me, I am a WATER person. Big time. I adore boating, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, floating, especially when surrounded by nature's extreme beauty (Ever been to the Pacific Northwest? It's definitely extreme beauty around here).
So now I'll tell you a little about our boat. It was... well... how to say this nicely? A little ghetto. Mo's buddy told him that if he fixed it, Mo could take it out whenever he wanted. Sweet! Yeah, my first thought too, but then we considered more readily the fact that Mo's entire family are known for their less than perfect craftsmanship. The doors in the 3 houses the family has built never fit quite right. Then, Mo informs us that if the motor goes out, he's got a little spare on board that'll putt putt us back to shore.
Wait, what? Are we worried that the motor might go out? And what about the inch of water that's just hangin' out under foot in this thing?
The whisper of a melody floated across the breeze... A threee hooour toour... No Gilligan in sight.
So, ignoring our possible futures as castaways, we cruised through the mildly choppy waves around the coast, in search of the sun. We passed an island full of seals, barking and basking and just sealing around. We saw birds and fishermen and fancy-pants yachts out on the water that day. And we caught crab. Lots of 'em.
We had four licenses on board, with a cap of five 'keepers' (large males) per license. We dropped and pulled the four pots Mo had out twice and came home with our maximum of 20 Dungeness crab. Holy Moly.
Of course, it wasn't just a wham bam sort of deal. We pulled the pots once, tossing back the minis and the lady crabs (needed to keep the populations thriving), and Mo tossed our keepers into the side board of the boat. Uhh, free range crab? Those things were latched onto every fishing line, flip flop and seat cushion within reach. Finally we emptied the random fish parts (aka crab bait) from the cooler and threw the crabbies inside.
Speaking of fish parts and crab bait. Mo was swimming in plastic baggies of heads and guts, searching out the perfect pieces to bait the pots. And then we were sloshing around in both sea water and fish juices on the carpet (oh yes, carpet) of our vessel.
We dropped the pots again, and set out to find a nice fishing spot. I kept hearing conflicting talk of our fuel situation, but pretended not to as we lolled around with a couple of lines overboard. And then my sweetheart caught a shark.
Obviously, it wasn't a great white worthy of Jaws or anything, but it was about three feet long, and she reeled it in all by herself. Such a bad ass. After the required photo op, we tossed it back to life at sea.
And then we pulled up the crab pots again. Not the best idea.
By this time, you see, the wind had kicked up a little fiercely, and our 'calm' side of the island was no longer so luxurious. The other small fishing boats were already pulling up anchor and cruising toward home. A hasty drop of the final pot had us high-tailing it back to the launch site, and that's when I had to fight back the Number 2 from possibly making its exit into my pants.
We were hitting the waves head on, the four of us hunkered down below the little wind shield that was our only protection from the splash, our boat catching air and slamming down onto the surface of the water again and again. Would this thing hold together?
I tried not to think about how cold the water would be if I ended up in it. Luckily shore was a stone's throw away.
Eons (OK about 10 minutes) later, we made it back to the ramp. Fortunately for us, the Do Gooders Association of America was having a conference right there on shore, and a few guys ran to help us get the boat out of the increasingly choppy water.
My sweetheart and I jumped onto shore as soon as possible (yes, we too were desperate dogs), and stood in our damp, salty clothes watching the boys struggle to bring it in. It's a little comical to watch a bunch of dudes trying to out-dude each other and save the day. I'm sure our "rescue" was the big news of the hour on Lummi Island.
After handshakes and thank yous to all the guys, we set off to return the boat and divvy up our crab. I've never been part owner of that many crab before. It was more than a little exciting.
Our catch was killed (an unfortunate, yet necessary part of it), cleaned and boiled in preparation for the creamy, fabulous little concoction mentioned at the start of this post. Yes, friends, Whiskey Crab Soup. Three of my favorite words.
We feasted that night, on this soup and fresh salmon, the salt water still clinging to our hair and skin. Shots were poured, Cheers! were made, and we relished our little slice of island life.
Whiskey Crab Soup
makes a lot
1 C. butter
1 C. GF flour (such as sorghum or brown rice flour)
2 qt. shellfish stock or clam juice
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 qt. heavy cream
1 1/2 C. cioppino sauce
1/4 C. lemon juice
2 tsp. hot sauce
1 1/2 C. (or more) crab meat, fresh or canned and picked over
1 oz. of your favorite whiskey
1 oz. sherry
- In a large stock pot, melt butter over medium heat. Sprinkle in flour and stir to combine. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until thickened and golden, about 10 minutes. This is your roux.
- Slowly add the stock, about 1 C. at a time, whisking constantly to incorporate the liquid into your roux. Continue adding some stock and whisking until all stock is in the pot. There should be no lumps. Add salt and pepper and stir to incorporate.
- Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.
- Add all remaining ingredients, stirring well to incorporate, and continue to simmer very slightly for about 5 minutes. Do not return to a boil. Taste and season further with salt, pepper, and/or hot sauce, to your liking.
- Ladle into soup bowls and serve hot.