One of my favorite Vietnamese dishes is Crab and Asparagus Soup because I love most anything with crabmeat. The marriage of delicate crabmeat and silky asparagus truly is a match made in heaven. If you’ve ever attended a Vietnamese wedding or a birthday party, then you’ve probably encountered and tasted this elegant crab and asparagus soup. In Vietnam this soup, called “Súp cua măng tây,” is usually reserved for special occasions. The asparagus was introduced to the Vietnamese when the French colonized Vietnam for over a century (from 1800’s to 1954). The other ingredients in this dish are truly Vietnamese.
One of the blessings in my life is living on a canal near the bay during the weekends. There is a wealth of seafood to be had, including fresh blue crabs. Usually when I make this soup, I like to catch, cook, and peel my own crabs. However, this time I’m using fresh store-bought Dungeness crabs because they were on sale at the market, and they are easier and faster to pick clean due to their large size and softer shells. Even though this soup looks and tastes fancy, it is very easy to make at home. You can substitute canned crabmeat, asparagus, and quail eggs for the fresh versions if ingredients are not readily available or saving time is a factor, but like most things in life, fresh ingredients make the best tasting soup.
Add-ons, such as white fungus (I know, it sounds not so appetizing, right? It’s actually just a white type of mushroom) and quail eggs give the soup extra richness, texture, and nutritional value. The white fungus, also called snow mushroom, resembles a sponge when dried. You can buy this mushroom in the Asian grocery store in the dried foods section. It is valued in Asia for making the skin youthful and bouncy due to its high hyaluronic acid and collagen content. Snow mushrooms (which I’ll call them from here on out because white fungus just doesn’t sound that appealing) don’t really have a taste, but I like to chop them and add them to this soup because they have a slight crunchy texture…and, if they’re going to make me look younger in the process, then I’m all for it! Let food be thy medicine, right?
As for the quail eggs, which are these cute little poppers of protein, they taste just like chicken eggs and add extra richness to this soup. You can also find these eggs at the Asian market, and some of the gourmet grocery stores even carry them now. They are about 3 to 4 times smaller than a chicken egg and come packaged in small cartons of 18 eggs.
So now that I’ve hopefully convinced you to try to make this soup at home, let’s get started!
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Vietnamese Crab and Asparagus Soup:
– 2 dungeness crabs, 6 blue crabs (cooked and picked over), or 1 large can of pasteurized crabmeat
– 1 bunch fresh asparagus (white preferred for a monotone soup, but green is great as well)
– 1 dried snow mushroom, soaked overnight until rehydrated.
– 1 carton fresh quail eggs (12-18 eggs), boiled.
– 6 quarts (1.5 gallons) of chicken stock
– 2 tablespoons chicken or mushroom seasoning
– 2 teaspoons fish sauce
– 2 teaspoons sugar, or to taste
– 1/2 cup tapioca starch
– 1 cup cold water
– 2 beaten eggs, placed in separate bowl
– Sesame oil, add in few drops toward the end of cooking
– freshly chopped cilantro and green onions for garnish
– freshly ground black pepper, to taste.
1. If using live crabs, boil and remove the meat from the crabs. Set aside.
2. Wash asparagus and break off the hard woody bottom parts of the stalk. Asparagus will easily snap off at the partition of the woody part and the tender part. (See my YouTube video that is attached below this blog post) Slice the asparagus into 1″ slices in a diagonal fashion.
3. After soaking the snow mushroom in cold water for a couple hours until softened and expanded, remove from the water, shake off excess water, and chop into small pieces.
4. If using canned quail eggs, rinse, drain, and set aside. If using fresh quail eggs, boil the eggs for about 10 minutes and place all the eggs into a bowl of cold water. Peel each egg while holding it submerged in the water. This will help the shell to come off much easier and cleaner.
5. In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of tapioca starch with 1 cup of cold water. Mix well into a uniform slur. This mixture will be used to thicken up the soup later.
6. In another bowl, beat together 2 eggs. Set aside.
7. Bring chicken stock to a boil in a large stockpot. If you want more chicken flavor, you can add more chicken powder (bouillon granules) or mushroom powder.
8. Add the lump crabmeat to the stock and cook at a steady simmer. This will draw out the sweetness of the crabmeat into the stock and give it a lot of great crab flavor. Allow the soup to simmer for 2 minutes before adding in 2 teaspoons of sugar.
9. Bring the soup back to a boil and add in the tapioca-water mixture that you prepared earlier. Give the soup a good stir while you add in the tapioca mixture. Keep stirring until the soup gets thicker. You want the consistency of a Chinese restaurant-style egg drop soup. If your soup is too thick, add in a little water to thin out. If you want the soup to be thicker, add more cornstarch to a bowl and mix with cold water, then add mixture to the boiling soup.
10. When the soup reaches the desired consistency (thick and viscous but still fluid), add in the beaten eggs in a gradual stream while constantly stirring to form beautiful egg ribbon strands (very much like egg drop soup). You can refer to my attached YouTube video below for a full tutorial.
11. Increase the heat and add in the cut asparagus. Cook until tender. Add in the chopped snow mushroom if using. Remember, the mushroom is optional. Much of Asian cuisine has to do with texture and mouthfeel. The added snow mushroom gives the soup a pleasant crunchy texture to contrast the silkiness of the cooked asparagus and tender crabmeat.
12. As the asparagus is cooking, add a few drops of fish sauce to the soup. This will add umami flavor to your soup. Don’t add too much fish sauce because it will overwhelm the delicate flavor of the soup. Add about 1/2 teaspoon only.
13. Continue simmering the soup until asparagus becomes tender and silky. At this point, bring the soup back up to a gentle boil and add in the peeled quail eggs. Again, this ingredient is also optional. Simmer the soup until all ingredients are well blended and smooth, about another 10 minutes.
14. When the soup is in its last couple minutes of cooking time, add in 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of sesame oil to the soup. This will impart a lovely flavor and aroma to the soup.
15. When the soup is done, ladle it out into bowls and sprinkle freshly ground black or white peppercorns, finely minced cilantro and green onions onto the soup.
This soup is wonderful for hot summer days as well as cold winter nights. Best of all, this soup is very low in calories and dense in nutrients. I hope you try out this elegant soup and enjoy it with family and friends!
** You can check out my full instructional video on how to make Vietnamese Crab and Asparagus Soup here: