A Thai-influenced crayfish soup

There is nothing so rich in flavour as the stock made from a late and lamented crab or crayfish. It is so powerful it is not recommended for households that contain pregnant ladies. My wife, when heavy with child, once threatened to pour the boiling stock over my head. I’m still not sure whether it was the changes in physiology etc., that caused such an excess of behaviour, or the fact that she was kept from strong drink for nigh on forty weeks.

But if you are going to take a financial plunge and buy a crab or cray, then you must make the soup; and not just because it fits into the ‘more meals per dollar’ category of sensible home economics, but because the essential flavour of the cray, certainly, is best discovered from slow cooking in a pot of wine and water and aromatic vegetables.

It happened that the appearance of the cray corresponded with: (i) an improvement in my understanding of the mixing and matching of the flavours that are so integral to Thai cooking; (ii) a craving to try that old-fashioned French soup which goes under the rather flash handle of ‘veloute’. Veloute translates literally as ‘like velvet’, so if you make this soup and the resulting liquid has the consistency of sand, then you sure as hell ain’t made veloute.

The list of ingredients is long, but don’t be put off. The method is easy.

1 kg ripe tomatoes, skinned, chopped roughly (for the final soup) — You can use tinned tomatoes if you wish.


2 leeks, chopped roughly 50g butter

½ bottle white wine — If you can’t afford it, water will do.

the rest of the bottle of water

½ dozen black peppercorns, crushed

2 chillies, sliced finely

1 walnut-sized piece of ginger, or galangal if you can get it — Galangal is the authentic Thai ingredient -it has the look of ginger and an aroma reminiscent of bubble gum.

2 cloves garlic, sliced finely

½kg ripe tomatoes, skinned, chopped (for the stock)

2 carrots, chopped roughly 2 parsnips, chopped roughly

the shells and excess flesh of as many crayfish as you have cooked — If you know you are to make a soup, then reserve the legs when you cook the cray. Clean, then crush the shells into reasonably small pieces, like the pieces left after you drop (tragically) an Easter egg.

35g plain flour 250ml tin of coconut cream

3 stems of lemon grass — Remove the green tops and the tough outer sections.

the mustard from the Cray’s tummy

bunch of coriander

plenty of fresh herbs


Cook the kilo of tomatoes in the microwave with a little salt, uncovered, for 25-30 minutes, until most of the moisture is gone and the kitchen is filled with the rich, essential aroma of tomatoes. Check the cooking occasionally, as there can be burn spots in the microwave. If you don’t have a microwave, do it slowly and carefully in a heavy pot on a low heat.


Soften the leeks in half the butter, add the white wine, and cook for about 5 minutes until the leeks soften. Then add the water, black peppercorns, chillies, ginger (galangal), garlic, the half kilo of tomatoes, carrots, parsnips and the cray shells, and allow the lot to bubble away, at a simmer, for about an hour. Keep watching, stirring occasionally, removing any impurities which rise to the surface. Beware pregnant ladies.


After an hour or so, check the flavour. The aroma should tell you there is a cray about. If the essence has come through, put the lot through a sieve, forcing out every last ounce of flavour. Sieve again through muslin or kitchen cloth to remove any odds and ends that may still be around.


In a separate, heavy-bottomed pan, melt the other half of the butter gently over a low heat and add the flour gradually. Mix together with a wooden spoon and keep stirring for at least 10 minutes, until the flour is cooked. The flour must not be allowed to brown. It should be golden and not crumby.


Add the crayfish stock gradually, working it into the flour with the spoon. Off the heat, add the coconut cream, the lemon grass and the earlier-cooked tomato puree (and more chilli if you wish, or, if you are a desperate heat and Thai fan, some red curry paste). Cook gently for about 20 minutes. Towards the end of cooking, whisk in the reserved crayfish ‘mustard’ and add the coriander, tied with a string so it can be removed easily.

Taste for seasoning. If you’re happy with the flavour, remove the coriander and strain the rest.