This is my first non-Asian recipe on this blog. As promised, not all of my recipes will be Asian in origin though I confess most will be. Today we’ll be talking about Risotto. Specifically a crabmeat risotto. Now you can make a risotto with nearly any ingredients. Even sweet risotti are quite common and some that are even on the fence (such as butternut squash risotto). So you can get really creative here if you like. It is this great versatility that makes Risotto one of the most eclectic of all Italian cuisine items.
Now below is a wonderful fall dish I like to make for my family and it is as good as a standalone entree as it is a side. But if you make this as a side, you will want to serve it as the first course. Like any good risotto, it needs to be served as soon as it’s ready.
I may as well confess here that the crabmeat I am using below is not fresh. Nor is it canned though. I bought a cluster of snow crab legs from my local grocer to use in this recipe and steamed them for about 12 minutes here. These were previously frozen however.
It takes some skill to remove the meat from snow crab legs without slicing them open. The trick is to break each segment apart at the edges, right next to the joints carefully. If you do this perfectly, the meat will come right out when you pull the segments apart. But as that won’t happen every time – I will then snap a segment with meat still inside right at the center – bending back and forth so that the meat inside is not also broken. Then pull the halves apart and there is your meat. This gives you lumps of crabmeat and also lots of very small pieces. And whatever you do, don’t forget the palm full of meat that all the legs are connected to. You will want to carefully break that apart, as by itself, that section will have more meat in it than any single leg will. Try to keep as many bigger pieces together as you can. There will be enough muscle fibers to flavor the rice itself.
After you get all that delectable meat out, set it aside. Notice I tried to keep whole segment pieces together. If you want you can slice these across the grain to get some smaller lumps but I have found that they will come apart somewhat when stirred into the rice that way. If this is your intent, then by all means, cut the segments. There is no right or wrong way to prepare this.
Above I have 1 1/2 cups of Vialone Nano rice grown in Italy. I like this particular rice here because it is a shorter grain than most risotto rices (cooks faster) and does not have a starchy flavor like Arborio or Carnaroli. It does not have much of a forward presence by itself. Most seafood risotti can use Carnaroli because fish and clams tend to be very robustly flavored ingredients. But since this is crab that will be paired with scallops, the flavors will be delicate requiring an equally delicately flavored rice.
As I put forth in my previous article It’s all about about the rice, there are many stark differences between cultivars of Japonica rice. With some, this difference can be profound. Nothing illustrates this more than a simple comparison between cooking a popular Japonica rice like Koshihikari and cooking a risotto rice. Generally speaking, a Japanese short grain rice does well with a 1.5 to 1 water to rice ratio when cooked. And this works very well making soft to al dente grains that stick together increasing the ease of manipulating clumps of grains with chop sticks. By contrast, the 1.5 cups of Vialone Nano above will soak up 5-6+ cups of liquid compared to the 2.25 cups that Japanese short grain would finish with. Though I will admit that some of that extra liquid will account for the creamy sauce that is part of the final product.
My first step here is to get the stock ready. We can’t start the rice without it. Above, I have thawed and boiled some shrimp stock I made previously with frozen shells I keep when I cook shrimp of any kind. Never throw away those shrimp shells, lobster tail shells or even crab leg shells when you extract the meat from them. The above stock was made and stored by cooking 2 lbs of shrimp shells with 3 bay leaves and a mire poix (onions, celery and carrots) with 2.5 quarts of water for about an hour. I kept this stock frozen in the ice box in quart sized Ziploc bags until I was ready to use it.
After defrosting and heating the broth, I tossed in the crab leg shells and an old frozen lobster tail shell I had in my freezer. We want to simmer that for about 20 minutes. You will have to strain that because lots of itty bitty shell fragments are ever present from breaking up the crab legs and even from the palm pieces after the meat is extracted. The result is a silky rich broth (see above) that you will need to salt to taste. Add a little bit of salt at a time and taste as you can always add more but the only way to correct over-salting is to dilute the stock (something truly abhorrent!)
After the stock is ready to go, it is time to start our risotto. Before I start, I take a half a stick of unsalted butter and quarter it lengthwise. Then I slice those pieces widthwise so that I have about sixteen 1/2″ butter cubes. Put those in the freezer (they will only be in there for about 20 minutes or so). You want to keep them cold. Ok, so above we have our tostatura phase. That is we toast the rice grains with our aromatics. I have added some chopped shallots. You do not want the grains to turn brown – just toast in the olive oil on medium heat a couple minutes past the onions turning translucent.
Once toasted, add 1/2 -3/4 cup of dry white wine (to taste). I don’t like as much of a sour taste so I use 1/2 cup. The wine I am using here is a chardonnay that I heated to just above body temperature (about 100 degrees). Never add cold wine to hot toasting rice kernels. If you do, the sharp contrast in temperature will crack your rice kernels. The hallmark of a good risotto is separate grains in a creamy sauce that are a little firm to the bite. No one wants little itty bitty broken pieces of mushy rice. Broken rice kernels will cook faster than whole ones, giving you oatmeal textured rice with the grains that break. Yuk! Notice behind the risotto pot there is a smaller pot on the back burner? That is the stock I made on low heat.
One more word on the wine. Unless you cook with wine every day, don’t buy a big bottle of wine to use for cooking. Wine does not keep for long once you uncork it and wine for cooking is no different. And I won’t use salted cooking wine – that swill is truly disgusting. That being said – I like to buy those little 4 packs of wine. That way you only have one little bottle of wine open at a time and you are more likely to use it up. Otherwise you only waste 1/4 to 1/2 cup of wine (as opposed to the better part of a 750ml bottle). Now if you’re going to drink the rest of the wine you don’t use for the recipe, by all means get the gallon and a half jug then!
Which brings me to our next step. Once the wine has been absorbed by the rice, start ladling in hot stock from your other pan about 1/2 cup at a time. Gently stir after each addition of stock. I stress GENTLY. The grains can still break at this point because they are still mostly hard and dry and we want to avoid any activity that might break them. Don’t handle too rough!
Add more stock once the previous addition has been absorbed. How will you know when to add more, you ask? My method taught to me by a patient Italian cook is to drag your cooking spoon across the bottom of the pan. If liquid fills in behind the trail you make quickly, it’s too soon. If instead, you can make tracks that slowly fill in behind your spoon, it’s time to add more stock.
Also, and this is very important – once you’ve started your risotto in the pot, you cannot walk away. For any reason. You must be there by the stove to stir very frequently to avoid the grains sticking together in a sloppy mess, or worse yet, burning.
Here I have some fresh sea scallops purchased at a farmers market that I have lightly salted and peppered on both sides. You can do this while watching your risotto.
Above I have melted some butter in a hot non stick pan. You want it hot (I had this on high for a full minute) so you get a light crust on the outside of the scallops when you sear them. 90 seconds on a side will be enough – you do NOT want to cook the scallops all the way through or they will chew like rubber. You may need a little less time on the second side as the scallops will be warmer. They have to be at least a little underdone in the very center to be tender. Remove these from the heat and set aside when done. I like to start these about 15 minutes into the cooking of the risotto (The risotto is normally done 20-22 minutes after starting for me).
I have added some fresh peas about 10 minutes into cooking which is why you now see those above in the completed dish. After the mantecatura phase (where you add the cold butter cubes and mix vigorously for a minute or so) I add the crab meat and gently fold that in. At this point it is ready to plate. I like to heat my plates or shallow bowls in the oven at 350 degrees F for about 5 minutes (you don’t want them so hot they can burn your diners’ fingers). Start this before your risotto is finished.
And here is a pretty plated first course to a meal! Because I have the scallops on top, I did not ladle the risotto into the bowl at the table (my normal method for serving). You want your diners to begin eating immediately – risotto does not get any better as it sits.
Without further ado, the recipe my friends!
Crabmeat Risotto Recipe (serves 4-6)
- 1 1/2 cups high quality risotto rice (Vialone Nano or Carnaroli
- 6-8 cups shrimp stock used to boil crab legs, strained
- Meat from one cluster of snow or tanner crab legs
- 3/4 cup fresh peas
- 1 large shallot chopped
- 1/2 cup dry white wine (please don’t use a sweet wine!) heated to 100-110 degrees F.
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- 4 tablespoons of cold, unsalted butter cut into 1/2″ cubes plus 1 Tbs butter separated.
- 8-12 fresh sea scallops cleaned
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp finely ground fresh black pepper
- Cut up your butter and put into the freezer.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Heat the olive oil in a 2-4 quart saucepan.
- Add shallots and sweat for a few seconds.
- Add the rice. Stir gently to coat every grain with oil.
- When the shallot pieces start to turn translucent, add the warm wine.
- Stir well but gently.
- When all the wine is absorbed, ladle in 1/2 cup of stock and stir.
- When you can trace a line across the bottom of the pan without it filling up immediately behind the spoon with liquid, add another ladle of stock.
- Keep adding stock as it gets absorbed. After about 10 minutes I will take out a single grain of rice and taste it. It will probably still be crunchy in the center. This is ok. We aren’t done yet but you will probably end up eating 4-5 grains this way to test for doneness.
- At about 10 minutes after you started, heat a skillet on high heat for a minute. I would taste another grain at this point. It should be less crunchy.
- While the pan is heating, add the peas to the risotto and stir well.
- Gently salt and pepper your scallops on both sides.
- Add the 1 Tbs butter you separated from the rest above to the hot pan.
- When the butter is good and hot, add the scallops and gently press them into the hot pan. Let them sear for 90 seconds.
- Keep stirring and checking on your risotto and add stock as necessary.
- Turn the scallops after 90 seconds and let them sear on the other side for 70-90 more seconds.
- Remove the scallops from the heat and set them aside.
- When 15 minutes have elapsed since you started the risotto, put all the bowls you intend to serve risotto in, into the oven. Let them heat for about 5 minutes.
- When you can bite a rice grain and it is no longer crunchy – and they have stopped absorbing stock, take out the butter cubes from the freezer.
- Take the risotto off the heat.
- Separate the butter cubes from one another and add to the risotto.
- Stir the butter in vigorously (no real danger here of breaking the grains – your risotto is cooked. You are just making it creamy now).
- When the butter has completely melted into the risotto and been stirred in, gently fold your crabmeat into the rice so that it is well distributed throughout.
- Taste your risotto. This is your last chance to add seasoning before you serve it so don’t let that opportunity pass you by. If it needs a little salt, add that now. I like to under-salt mine a little. If your guests need more they can always add a pinch at the table.
- Remove the bowls from the oven and begin plating.
- Ladle risotto into each bowl and top with two sea scallops each.
This can be an entree or as an appetizer for a small entree (even as an appetizer, this will be quite filling).