1 kgblue swimmer (manna) crabs (about 3)1 tbspolive oil1small onion, finely chopped1small carrot, finely chopped1celery stalk, finely chopped1each of thyme and flat-leaf parsley sprigs1fresh bay leaf1 tbsptomato purée60 mlCognac200 mldry white wine2litres (8 cups) fish stock or water190 mlpouring creamTo serve:Pernod
Lift triangular flap underneath crab to remove, then discard top shell. Rinse crab under cold water and remove and discard dead man’s fingers. Remove meat from claws and refrigerate until required.
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, sweat onion, carrot and celery, stirring occasionally, until soft (4-6 minutes), add herbs and whole crabs, and cook, crushing shells with a heavy wooden spoon, until shells turn orange (5-6 minutes). Add tomato purée and Cognac, then tilt pan to catch flame and ignite Cognac (use a match if not cooking over a flame). When flame dies off, add white wine and cook until almost reduced (5-7 minutes), add fish stock, bring to the boil and simmer over low heat until richly flavoured (25-30 minutes). Season to taste, strain through a fine sieve into a clean pan (discard solids), bring to the boil and cook over high heat, skimming frequently, until reduced by a third (30 minutes). Makes 1 litre.
Meanwhile, whisk 90ml cream until soft peaks form and reserve. Add remaining cream to crab stock and cook over medium-high heat until slightly thickened (8-10 minutes), then whisk in whipped cream until soup becomes frothy and add crab claw meat. Pour a dash of Pernod into each serving bowl, ladle in soup and serve immediately.