This luxurious crab risotto combines sweet snow crab meat and fresh corn to produce a delicate, elegant dish that will delight your guests.
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When spring returns every year, I’ve got a long list of things I’m excited to see again: the sun and warmer temperatures, of course, but also asparagus, fresh green peas, rhubarb, and snow crab.
Snow crab is an animal that lives and is harvested in northern oceans—from the coasts of Newfoundland, in Canada, to Greenland and all the way to Norway. It also lives in the Pacific ocean, around Alaska and in the Sea of Japan.
Since snow crabs are found in abundance off the coast of Canada, it’s a super-popular springtime delicacy where I live. In late March and early April, you’ll see fishing companies announcing the return of snow crab season, and people go wild for it. In my hometown, fishmongers receive mountains of snow crab legs and they sell out in record time: in fact, people queue outside before opening hours to make sure they’ll get their share for their annual snow crab party.
But snow crab season is fleeting, so it’s essential to make the most of it while it lasts. At home, we’ll usually put together a snow crab feast, during which each guest will dig into their sections of crab legs, which they’ll eat lightly sprinkled with lemon. Snow crab meat is so sweet and delicious, it doesn’t need much more seasoning than that! Yes, it makes for a messy dinner party, but cracking those legs and hunting for every last piece of succulent meat is a huge part of the fun.
Once we’ve satisfied our seasonal craving, I can go on and make actual recipes with that snow crab meat. Some of my go-to recipes that make the most of this luxurious meat are crunchy crab cakes, chowder, and this elegant corn and crab risotto.
When you cook with snow crab meat, it’s important not to use overly strong flavors with it because the mild but exquisite flavor of the meat would get completely lost. To make this crab risotto, I use top-quality seafood stock that I buy frozen at my local fishmonger. Even though there’s no cheese in this dish, it’s still deliciously creamy, thanks to the starch released by the risotto rice. Corn adds a pop of color, and its sweetness underlines that of the snow crab meat.
This decadent corn and crab risotto is the most delightful dish for celebrating snow crab season—and one that’s sure to impress your guests!
As is often the case with simple, Italian-inspired dishes, using the very best ingredients you can get your hands on or afford makes the biggest difference in terms of the flavor of your final dish.
In this crab risotto, of course you should make sure to use fresh crab meat. You can use frozen crab meat, but make sure to thaw it completely at least 24 hours in advance and to press the meat dry between paper towels before you add it to the risotto. Crab meat retains a lot of water especially after being frozen, so you need to make sure to drain it completely to avoid turning your risotto watery.
In this crab risotto, I encourage you to try to find homemade fish or seafood stock at your local fishmonger, they often keep it in the freezer section. Homemade stock will impart a milder flavor to the risotto instead of stealing the spotlight, which I find canned fish or seafood stock tends to do. If you do use canned stock, I recommend diluting it 2/3 stock to 1/3 water. This will soften the flavors and leave centerstage to your main risotto ingredients.
Italians will often say cheese should never touch seafood dishes. In Italy, for example, you will never be served cheese over seafood pasta. Although I have nothing against using a bit of cheese in some seafood dishes, such as my shrimp risotto, I don’t think cheese is needed in this crab risotto. Adding an aromatic cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino-Romano to the dish would completely overwhelm the delicate flavor of crab meat. I think this recipe shines bright on its own! It also has that iconic creamy texture, thanks to the starch contained in risotto rice.
Snow crabs can sometimes be purchased live, but snow crab clusters, or crab legs, are most often sold raw or cooked (without the bodies.)
If you can find super fresh, raw snow crab legs, you can easily cook them by boiling, steaming, or boiling. This video demonstrates the different cooking methods.
Purchasing fresh or frozen cooked snow crab legs is more expensive but saves you the extra step of cooking the crab yourself. You can thaw frozen cooked snow crab legs overnight in the refrigerator and then simply pick the meat and stir it into this crab risotto.
You might find frozen raw snow crab legs in some grocery stores or at some fishmongers, but I do not recommend purchasing them, even if they are cheaper. Uncooked crab meat deteriorates considerably in texture when frozen, which means you won’t enjoy the recipes you make with it as much.
When you eat a plateful of crab legs, it’s fun to break into the shells and take your time picking that lovely meat out. When you make a recipe that uses crab meat, however, you might appreciate using a more efficient way to shell crab meat to shorten your prep time.
Here’s the most efficient way to pick snow crab meat out from the shells: Separate each leg, then break each leg into sections by separating them at the joints. Use a sharp chef’s knife to slice each section in two lengthwise. Snow crab shells are thin and so you can easily crack them with your hands, or in this case, a chef’s knife. Once the sections are sliced in two, you can easily pick out the meat.
You can use kitchen shears to slice through the shell, too! You can simply slice one side of each section lengthwise, then peel back the shells to expose the meat and pick it out. This video illustrates how to do that.
If you can’t find snow crab legs or meat, you can substitute other crab varieties. Alaskan king crab is very close to snow crab in terms of flavor and texture. The main differences between king crab and snow crab are that the legs of king crabs are shorter and their shell is spiky and thicker.
Snow crab legs, to the left, are thinner and smoother-looking than king crab legs, to the right.
King crab meat is a bit more robust compared to snow crab meat (the texture is more similar to that of lobster meat), which means it withstands freezing better than snow crab meat. Blocks or cans of picked and frozen king crab meat are pretty easy to find, so if you can get your hands on a quality product at your grocery store or local fishmonger, go for it: you won’t have to crack those legs yourself. Simply thaw, drain and use!
Some companies sell canned crab meat of outstanding quality. If you plan on using canned crab meat, look for “jumbo lump crab meat,” which is the highest quality and will taste the best in this crab risotto.
Whatever you do, never use imitation crab, or crab-flavored pollock, in this crab risotto. While that product is just fine for certain uses, such as crab salad, it’s flavor and texture just isn’t good enough to be served in a delicate dish such as this crab risotto.
Most risotto recipes serve 4 to 6, with ingredient quantities that are hard to split into halves or thirds. This has always annoyed me because I usually make risotto for 2 people. So I’m writing all my risotto recipes to serve 2, which means the math is easier to scale up the ingredients to serve 4 or 6 guests. Note that this crab risotto recipe produces a generous 2-serving yield—you could stretch it to 3 servings if this dish is part of a more elaborate menu that includes appetizers and sides.
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