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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Two eat today's Found Recipe, you need to go outside, cover a picnic table with plenty of newspaper and grab some paper towels. It's a summer stew that you eat with your hands.

BILL SMITH: Hey, I'm Bill Smith and I am the chef at Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. And I'm here today to tell you about Hard Crab Stew, which is sort of a re-found recipe of mine, something from when I was growing up.

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SMITH: When we were little, I grew up on the coast of North Carolina, and we grew up fishing and things like that. And we would catch crabs, blue crabs - that's a native crab here.

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SMITH: In the winter they buried in the mud. And then in the spring they come up and they shed and they're soft shells, which is a whole different story. It's yum, you know.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: When they are finished molting, then you have hard crabs.

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SMITH: One of the big treats every summer was a big crab stew. Grandmother would make it. And it's a messy thing to eat because the crabs are still in the shell in the stew. So that even though it's like soup, you have to use your hands to shell the crabs, pick out the meat and stuff as you go. So we were always made to go outside and have it. We'd have it in warm weather out on the picnic table on the beach or at grandma's yard, maybe once or twice a summer.

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SMITH: It was always a huge deal. Everybody loved it. And a lot of times you just, because the crabs were such a mess and they're so much trouble, you take like one crab to be polite. But what you really want is just a bowl of the soup.

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SMITH: Hard Crab Stew, it's just crabs, water and potatoes and onions. And you cook all that together and you thicken with a slurry of cornmeal and water at the last minute. It's got a little bit of cayenne pepper, so it's got some kick.

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SMITH: But the most remarkable thing to me, looking back on it now, (unintelligible), is that you lay a big piece of slice of white bread in the bottom of the bowl. And you pour the soup and the crabs over the top of that, and when you get all done you have that at the bottom. And that's the best part.

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SMITH: Well, I thought about this for years, 'cause it's one of my favorite things. And it's one of the few things that I grew up with that I haven't put on the menu at the restaurant at some point because it was such a mess.

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SMITH: So I just thought, well, you know, maybe I'll just make the soup 'cause everybody likes that the best anyway. Throw the crabs away, you know, don't tug-of-war with them. Just use them to make the broth. And so, that's what we did, although we picked some crab meat out of it and put it back into the soup.

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SMITH: I kept one crab claw for each bowl. I sort of hung that over the side for a decoration and it worked real well. It was real good. People clean their bowls.

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CORNISH: That's Bill Smith, the chef at Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Try it messy or try it refined, you can get his recipe for Hard Crab Stew on our Found Recipes page at NPR.org.

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