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West Coast Crab and Fresh Corn Risotto

I’ve been in Seattle for a week now and I can’t believe my luck weather-wise: sunny and hot every day—not the usual in the Emerald State capital. I’m visiting my brother who’s been living here for 10 years, as well as his family: wife, daughter and son. Since he moved here, I’ve been visiting him almost every year so driving down the streets and highways around the city feel somewhat like home.

Yet a clear sign that I’m not (yet) blasé is that I gasp every time I see the massive and impressive Mt. Rainier towering over the region. At a height of 4,392 meters, this guardian can be seen from the city only on bright and clear days, which from what I hear is only a couple dozen days per year. The best places to view it are from the Space Needle, from the airport or, ironically, from Highway 520 (which can be dangerous if you’re peeking at it while driving, like I’ve been doing all week).

As parents living far away from relatives, my brother and his wife don’t take too much time off on their own. I’ve enjoyed my brother’s master skills on the barbecue but on Tuesday, it was my sister-in-law’s birthday and I decided to give her a break. Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is always a challenge, but she loves to cook and is very well equipped (Sharp knives! Heavy-bottom pans! Gas stove! Sea salt!). Really, the only challenge was to decide what I would cook.

One of my fail-proof and go-to recipes is risotto and I love to mix things up every time I cook it by changing the flavorings. Being on the West Coast, I couldn’t help but being seduced by Alaskan King Crab and I decided I would marry it to longtime friend fresh corn (which also happens to be in season).

With my faithful point & shoot cam (my attempt to travel light!), I snapped pictures as I stirred, thinking it could be useful for many to visualize the key steps to ultimate creaminess. It’s very hard to completely fail risotto but getting it really creamy without the addition of butter or cream demands to carefully follow steps that can’t be fast-forwarded. This crab and corn flavor combination turned out perfect and will probably become a staple.

West Coast Crab & Fresh Corn Risotto

Makes 4 to 5 main-course servings

Olive oil
A knob of butter (about 1 tablespoon)
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, finely chopped
5 sprigs lemon thyme, leaves picked and finely chopped

10 oz risotto rice (see recipe for details)
1 cup dry white wine (such as Chardonnay)

4 cups chicken stock
1 cup fresh corn kernels (from two medium ears of corn)
1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
250 g (about 1 cup) cooked King Crab meat (I like to use a mixture of lump and claw meat)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

The use of high-quality ingredients is the first step to the best risotto. Use only Italian risotto rice, preferably the Arborio or Carnaroli varieties. This short-grain rice contains a lot of starch, which makes the risotto creamy – not cream, nor butter.

The basic recipe is simple:

  • Precook your protein and keep it warm
  • Half-cook or warm your vegetables (keep warm)
  • Cook your risotto base
  • At mid-point, stir in your vegetables
  • When the rice is al dente, incorporate your protein
  • Stir in the cheese and serve

Sometimes I prepare my vegetables and protein as I cook the risotto base, but most often, I like to have everything ready by the stove. Then all I have to do is watch over my risotto, stir it and mix the ingredients in.

Put the chicken stock in a pot, bring it to a boil and turn the heat to very low, just to keep it hot. Put a lid on.

Place a large, shallow, heavy-bottomed pan on a low heat. Add the butter and olive oil to the hot pan and sweat the onion, celery, and thyme together. Keep the heat low as you don’t want your vegetables to brown. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent:

Add the rice to your pan and stir it with the onion mixture. Stir and sauté the rice for a minute until it looks translucent (the inner grain will remain opaque):

Add the wine and stir constantly until it’s all absorbed by the rice. Your rice should now start to look creamy like this:

Add a first ladle of hot broth to the pan, always keeping your heat to low (if you find the liquid isn’t bubbling when you pour it in the pan, bring your heat to medium-low). Stir once in a while. When you see that most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice, add another ladle of broth, and so on until you’ve used about half of your broth.

At this point, any kind of vegetable can be incorporated to the rice. Some will need to be partially cooked before you add then, other, softer kinds, can simply be stirred in. The remaining broth will cook your vegetables as you keep on adding it.

Add the corn kernels and stir well.

Continue adding the broth, one ladle at a time, always stirring and waiting for it to be absorbed before adding more. When you see that you just have one or two ladles left, start tasting your rice. The risotto rice is ready when it’s al dente: like pasta, it should be soft and chewy and still retain some texture. If it’s still a bit crunchy, add more broth a little at a time, tasting often to make sure it doesn’t overcook and become mushy.

Add your protein: stir the crab in delicately to keep the lumps intact.

Once the rice is done, take the pan off the heat and stir in your parmigiano-reggiano cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Some also stir in a knob of butter at this point but I prefer omitting it. Your risotto is now oozy and creamy and ready to be enjoyed.

Spoon the risotto into warm bowls. As a finishing touch, sprinkle some lemon thyme leaves, more parmigiano-reggiano cheese and drizzle a few drops of your best olive oil. Enjoy with a nice glass of your favorite Italian wine.

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