Friday, 3 May 2013

Crab risotto with basil oil, brown meat mayonnaise and tomatoes

It surprises me that it’s taken just over a year for me to post a risotto recipe. Now that the days are longer and it’s a bit warmer, a bowl of light risotto is a perfect midweek dinner to have sat on the balcony in the evening sun. The joy of risottos are they can be as simple or complicated as you want them to be, and they are often a saviour when you need to make a meal out of the scant remnants in the fridge. They were one of the first things that I learned to cook post university, when it wasn’t considered acceptable to live on a diet of lasagne and poorly cooked steaks. My dad also makes a mean risotto, usually the centrepiece of a big family gathering and usually using vegetables that he has pulled from the ground that very day. Good times and full stomachs. 

For this recipe I have returned to an old favourite, crab. These early summer evenings just cry out for a fresh piece of seafood, and I fear that it may be weeks before I’m lusting over a piece of red meat again. My mind has sprung to life with recipes that make the most of light, delicate fish and zingy citrus and herbs. I was particularly inspired by the idea of a crab risotto because I saw it made on Masterchef during the finals this week. On that occasion, the cook made a real mess of it, but in my head it lit a spark and from then I craved it. Luckily, I work just across the road from a good fishmongers so was able to pop over and get my hands on a crustacean that was perfect for the job. Risottos are normally associated with stodgy cold weather meals, but with crab, lemon and basil flavours running through it’s much lighter. I used very similar ingredients in my crab and scallop ravioli recipe that I posted last year and I couldn’t help using them again; they complement the crab perfectly without overpowering. The dish still tastes distinctly crabby - the worst thing you can do to crab or any other shellfish is mask the taste with heavy flavourings. 

To someone who has never worked with crab, especially live ones, they can seem really daunting. However, there is a mine of online information about how to prepare one yourself, with videos and photos to make the directions easier to follow. The best thing to do is just get stuck in and learn as you go along. Once you’ve prepared a couple it gets loads quicker and are even dead easy for midweek after work suppers. Sourcing your crab is important. Always try and buy them live or freshly cooked from a local fishmongers, as they will taste way better and fresher than any supermarket bought alternatives. 

Serves 2


1 crab, cooked with brown and white meat removed and kept separate

For the stock:

2 fennel bulbs, sliced
2 shallots, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 red chilli, sliced
4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tsp smoked paprika
A small pinch of saffron
1 litre light chicken stock
1/2 glass dry white wine
Legs and claw shells from the leftover crab
Salt and pepper

For the risotto:

1 shallot, finely sliced
Splash of brandy
5/6 of a mug of arborio risotto rice
The white meat from the crab
1 lemon, juice only
30g butter
Salt and pepper

For the brown meat mayonnaise:

The brown meat from the crab
1 egg yolk
Splash white wine vinegar
400ml vegetable oil
1/2 lemon, juice only
Salt and pepper

For the basil oil:

2 bunches basil
100ml olive oil
1/2 tsp caster sugar
Salt and pepper

For the tomatoes:

1 plum tomato
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp caster sugar

To finish:

Red amarinth leaves

First make the stock. Heat up a large saucepan with a little olive oil to a medium heat. When hot, add the crab and lightly caramelise on all sides. Chuck in the fennel, shallot, garlic, chilli, seasoning, saffron and smoked paprika and cook for a couple of minutes until everything starts to soften. Pour in the white wine and bring to the boil to cook out the alcohol. Add the chopped tomatoes and stir through for another minute before adding the hot chicken stock. Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer and cook for around 20 minutes, until the stock is full of flavour and colour. Strain the liquid through a sieve into another saucepan and discard the shell and vegetables. Keep warm.

Heat up about a litre of lightly salted water in a small saucepan.

Whilst the stock is cooking make the basil oil. When the water is boiling quickly blanch the bunches of basil for about 20 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon, keeping the same water for use later. Transfer the basil to a small food processor with the oil, sugar, salt and pepper and blitz well until very fine. Taste and adjust if needed. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl or bottle and set aside. 

Also make the mayonnaise. Put the brown crabmeat into a high-sided bowl with the egg yolk, salt and pepper and white wine vinegar. Whisk well until frothy. Carry on whisking whilst very slowly adding the vegetable oil until all of it has been emulsified into a thick mayonnaise. Squeeze in a little of the lemon juice and taste. Adjust the seasoning if needed and pour into a bottle. Set aside. 

To prepare the tomato, score a cross into the bottom of it and put it in the water still boiling from the basil earlier. Boil for about a minute, then remove and plunge in a bowl of cold water. Pull the skins off, then slice segments of the flesh from around the edge. Discard the seeds from the middle. Cut the flesh of the tomatoes into 1/2cm squares and place into a small bowl. Dress with the olive oil and sugar and set aside.

Put a large frying pan or skillet onto a medium heat with a little olive oil. When hot, add the chopped shallot then season and fry for a couple of minutes until tender. Add the rice and cook for another minute or two, stirring to coat the grains. Pour in the brandy and allow to bubble away and cook out. Add a ladle of the hot stock and allow the rice to absorb the liquid before adding the next. Stir regularly. When the rice starts to get plumper and the starch has thickened the mixture, start tasting a grain every so often to judge the cooking. The rice is cooked when soft with a little bite remaining, and it should be wet enough to spread out once dolloped onto a plate. At this point stir in the white crabmeat, butter and lemon. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. 

To serve, spoon a good amount of the rice into the middle of a shallow bowl and shake to spread out evenly. Squeeze a few blobs of the mayonnaise evenly on top and place some of the tomato pieces around the middle. Scatter some of the amarinth leaves over the top and drizzle a little bit of the basil oil around the edge.

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