Tis the season for Dungeness crab in these parts. I got caught up in the excitment and bought four crabs on sale. My idea was to toss them on the table for our guests that night, and let the adults have at them with an assortment of pliers and nutcrackers and such. I’d provide melted butter and lemon juice. Easy, right? I thought it sounded novel and fun. My husband thought it sounded tedious and messy. He felt so strongly that he volunteered to pick the meat. I jumped in for the novelty and fun…
Turns out it takes a long time to pick the meat out of four recalcitrant crabs. We didn’t have the right tools, or the right attitude. But after a spate of cracking and cussing and stabbing and picking, we ended up with a spectacular mountain of crab. (For the record, two crabs are more than enough for this recipe. You can also buy already-picked crab meat, if you promise not to complain about the cost. Picking crab is hard work.) Once I finished admiring our handiwork, I realized I had to come up with something crabbish to serve our friends, who were arriving imminently.
I’ve never even heard of crab risotto. But once I got the idea in my head, I couldn’t let it go. I pondered adding all sorts of other ingredients, but I ended up discarding most of them in the interest of simplicity. I didn’t want to get in the crab’s face with too much stuff. Crab has a subtle flavor that wants a delicate touch.
Never before have I made risotto without parmesan, but crab and parmesan don’t jibe to my way of thinking. So I relied on butter for richness, because crab and butter are pretty much soul mates. Lemon got an invitation to the rather exclusive party, too, because lemon is just that cool. Other than that, it was a mighty basic risotto, mostly just designed to build a suitable stage for the crab. Which it did beautifully, if I do say so.
My friend Sarah called in the midst of my “What exactly would a crab risotto look like?” moment. She suggested putting big bites of crab right on top of each serving. This made for a lovely presentation and a sumptuous first bite. She also had the bright idea to boil the shells for the risotto stock. But alas, I had already tossed them in a fit of pique. Next time I’ll do that. This time I used half chicken stock and half water and a few extra glugs of white wine. You could try fish stock or clam juice. Just taste as you go and don’t be afraid. You can switch to water if the flavor of your liquid is getting too strong. Risotto is very forgiving.
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup Arborio rice
1 cup white wine
4 cups of stock made from boiling the crab shells (or substitute 2 cups of chicken stock and 2 cups of water…see last paragraph above)
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon lemon zest
¼ cup lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups crab meat at room temperature, divided (one cup of the bigger bits, one cup of the smaller shreds)
¼ cup chopped parsley
¼ chopped green onion
4 lemon wedges
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pan.
Add rice and stir to coat it with oil. Saute rice for about two minutes.
Add shallots and sauté until soft, about three more minutes.
Add white wine and reduce heat to medium. Cook at a gentle simmer, stirring frequently, until the wine is almost completely absorbed.
Add stock a half-cup at a time. With each addition, stir occasionally until the liquid is almost absorbed. Then add another half cup. (You may not need the whole four cups. Taste the rice as you go. You want the grains to remain separate from one another and not get gloppy. Cook it just long enough that the rice no longer crunches when you bite it.) This process will take about 25 or 30 minutes.
Add the butter, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Stir until they are incorporated.
Remove the pan from the heat. Add the cup of small crab bits and stir gently. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or lemon as needed.
Divide the risotto between four plates. Put a quarter cup of big crab bits atop each serving.
Sprinkle parsley and green onion on top, and serve with a lemon wedge.