Dungeness Crab Risotto


Although the sun is shining brightly, the trees have a fuzzy misting of chartreuse, and the tulips and cherry blossoms have made an appearance, it’s still Dungeness crab season here in Portlandia so why not enjoy the sunshine with a simple, fresh meal that combines tender, sweet crab with whatever veggies look delectable from your local market? I usually make this with asparagus as well but those were co-opted for a broiled balsamic vinaigrette side dish; however, any spring-ish vegetables would do like peas, sugar snap peas, artichokes, golden beets, …. As I’ve mentioned before, I truly love starch and carbs so risotto finds its way into the dinner rotation pretty frequently in our home and like many starches, it soaks up flavors well making it great for leftovers as is or reinvented as arancini. Risotto has a reputation for being time consuming (Really? 20-30 minutes is time consuming?) and strangely commands $20 prices for something that while delicious really is painless, easily made in the comfort of your own kitchen while listening to your favorite CD and sipping a well deserved cocktail.

How better to highlight tender sweet crab than the spicy tang of preserved lemon, savory Old Bay seasoning, and sweet paprika? By applying the spices directly to the meat the crab picks up the flavors instead of getting lost in the stronger flavors of the risotto. The saffron adds a lovely golden hue as well as an extra savory depth for the mushrooms and crab. I’ve had this with and without cheese and if you have fresh tender crab, I’ve found it tastes great without the extra calories but I won’t call the culinary police if you want to throw a few tablespoons of parmesan in cuz they’d be too busy busting chops at many a restaurant 😉


You don’t say …
1) Why crumble saffron into the stock? Saffron is the stigma of a type of crocus (that’s right, you’re eating the world’s most expensive sex organs!) and gets its slightly bitter earthy flavor from picrocrocin and color from crocin. Soaking the saffron in hot liquid facilitates the release of these compounds, giving you a rich background to highlight your flavors.
2) Rice is rice is rice, right? Nope. The reason why risotto gives you that creamy, creamless consistency is because short grain rice varieties like arborio or carnaroli used to make it can absorb a lot of liquid while at the same time release all those delicious sticky starches and giving it that characteristic glutinous texture. So while frequent stirring will also help to mechanically release those starches, using a long grain rice like jasmine or basmati will give you an anemic rice soup cuz they have less starch and absorptive capacity.

8-10 oz lump crab meat, I used local Dungeness crab
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1/2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tbsp chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley leaves
6 c clam juice, fish stock, or low-salt vegetable stock (I used clam juice)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp butter **if cooking dairy-free substitute another 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, finely diced
1 1/2 c arborio rice
1/2 c dry white wine, I used Chardonnay
1/4 preserved lemon rind, minced of substitute 1 tbsp lemon zest + 2 tbsp lemon juice
1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced
1/4 c diced mushrooms, I used fresh shiitake but chanterelles or porcini would also work well
1/4 tsp sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

In a small bowl, pick over crab to remove any shell fragments. Add lemon juice and gently fold to mix. Fold in Old Bay seasoning, paprika, and parsley then set aside.

In a 3-4 quart pot crumble saffron into stock and bring to a brisk simmer. I like to use the burner behind the one I cook the risotto in to make it easier to scoop out a ladle of stock and dump into the risotto pan 🙂 Reduce heat to keep at a gentle simmer.


While stock is simmering, heat olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan or large deep skillet over medium heat till butter is melted and foam subsides. Sauté onion till soft and translucent ~4-5 minutes. Stir in rice to coat with oil, you may notice a nutty aroma as the rice toasts ~2 minutes. Add wine and reduce till wine is absorbed. Stir in carrot and mushrooms then add 1/2 c of simmering stock 1 ~ladle. Stir frequently and add more stock one ladle at a time as it is absorbed. As the rice cooks it will release its starches and thicken. Once the rice is no longer translucent and al dente ~20-30 minutes, gently fold in crab. Makes 4 servings or 2 servings with leftovers for crab arancini 😀


About Cam

Enjoying the hippie life in Portlandia :)


  1. what a fancy risotto….
    nice fusio food, i like the way you use some orange rind for a lil asian hint touch….

    • Cam

      It looks fancy but it’s so simple and easy. I agree, the preserved lemon rind (I used Meyer lemon so it looks a little orangey) really does add a freshness and Asian/Mediterranean flavor 🙂

  2. You really did it this time, Cam. Your risotto looks fantastic and is made in the best of Italian traditions: use the freshest of local ingredients. If Dungeness crab were available in the Adriatic, you can bet that there’d be Dungeness crab risotto served throughout Italy this time of the year. Like that you used preserved lemons, too. I’ve been on a Meyer lemon shopping spree and have made a few pints of preserved lemons and a large batch of Limoncello. 🙂

    • Cam

      Yup, I think that’s part of the universal appeal of Italian food. You can really taste the difference when using fresh ingredients and it allows you to use simpler flavors and preparations to highlight your market finds, no?

      Mmm, limoncello is just what spring ordered. Really must clear out space in the freezer so I can tuck a little bottle of limoncello in there for a nice little digestif 🙂

  3. I love risotto and this one has all of my favorite ingredients! Looks fabulous!

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