Fish of the month
Spider crab risotto
Early spring heralds for me, the return of one the most exciting and captivating of our crustaceans. A regular contributor to Les Assiettes de Mer of our Gallic cousins across the channel, sadly the Spiny Spider Crab (Maia squinado) fails to hold the fond appeal of the average seafood consumer in the UK. In South Western waters during April and May these incredibly flavoursome but slightly intimidating beasts, crawl their way inshore to spawn, infiltrating the pots and getting entangled in the nets of the Under 10m dayboats that land them in vast numbers, often to be vivier-transported out of the country.
By June all mature females are berried or egg-bearing and should not be landed during this time. It is fine to land cock or male crabs at this time and females or hens from July onwards when hatching occurs until November, following which the crabs migrate back to deeper water. Thankfully their abundance affords me the chance to savour their beautifully sweet and characteristically high-yielding meat, and I always welcome their arrival, from the Cornish and Devonian ports, in Suffolk, to where their annual benthic migration unfortunately does not extend.
As with most crabmeat, they taste best with least, although this recipe I am going to share with you makes the most of the whole fish, utilising all edible parts. You even end up with a free bowl! It is worthy of note though, that although often caught as bycatch and targeted by tangle nets, for the most sustainable and environmentally low-impact approach, I would recommended you source pot-caught specimens which allows under-sized animals and egg-bearing females to be returned alive to the sea.
Freshly picked meat from 2 large cooked Spider Crabs
250g Risotto rice (Arborio or Valencia)
2 finely chopped shallots
I finely chopped clove of garlic
A splash or two of dry white wine
A tsp of sweet Moroccan curry powder
A twist of saffron
A tbsp of Mascarpone cheese
Juice of a lime
Some freshly torn coriander
A drizzle of Truffle Oil (for sheer indulgence)
A mixture of root vegetables for the stock.
Take the cooked crab and remove all the legs and claws. Then part the body from the shell (carapace) using both hands to lever one from the other. Scoop out any brown meat from the inside of the shell - if you wish to use it, and taking the body discard all the “dead mans fingers”“(gills). Once cleaned externally, its literally just a case of picking your way through the labyrinthine “”honeycomb”“of the main body, extracting value from every pocket and crevice. I use a “”divide and conquer”“method, splitting the body up with a heavy cooks knife and picking through each segment with my trusty picking tool. It never ceases to amaze me how much flesh a good specimen will yield and before long your bowl is filling satisfyingly.
This is an incredibly important part of the recipe, as I always feel a risotto lives or dies by the quality of stock used. Use the discarded shells, legs and claws if youre able but if not, then any pre-prepared fish or shellfish stock will do. Place all the crab shells, claws and legs into a heavy bottomed pan and add a halved onion, some split carrots, chopped celery, black pepper a bay leaf and any other veggie bits and pieces you might have to hand. Cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer for an hour or so. If like me youre an Aga cook, once boiled, then place straight into the simmering oven, which is great, as you dont taunt everyone in the house with the smell of cooking shellfish. Once cooked, strain through muslin to obtain the best possible sample. Keep warm if using straight away and definitely freeze any residue.
Melt the butter in a wide-based pan over a lowish heat and gently soften the chopped garlic and shallots. Add in the rice and stir, so all is mixed well and liberally coated. Splash in the white wine and allow to cook off a little, before incorporating the curry powder and saffron. Now for the warm stock, which needs to be added incrementally, allowing good absorption by the rice. This process normally takes about 20-25 minutes. If you run out of stock then just add a little water instead. Taste and season and taste again. When the risotto is at capacity (I prefer a little softer than al dente) add the Marscapone until unctuously combined, a final knob of butter for silkyness, then finally and respectfully fold in the crab, allowing to heat through just enough for serving. Serve in you favourite bowls (or the cleaned Spider shell?) and tear the coriander over the serving. If feeling very indulgent then a drizzle of truffle oil doesnt go amiss. And there you have it. A sustainable and affordable shellfish alternative to the Brown Crab and without getting your passport out!