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Dungeness crab: Fresh take on cakes, risotto

Dec 1st, 2012 | Category: Cooking

by Jessamyn Tuttle

Growing up east of the Cascades, I only had seafood as a rare treat. But any time my father went into Seattle he would bring back some artichokes and a couple of freshly cooked Dungeness crabs from the Pike Place Market. We would melt a vast amount of butter, steam the artichokes, tear open the crabs, and make a huge mess. I still think this is the absolute best way of eating a crab: just you and the crab, some hardware, lots of butter, and plenty of newspaper and paper towels.


Now that I live in Western Washington, Dungeness crab is available pretty much any time I want it. Winter is its best season, which makes this a particularly good time to give into temptation. I still love to pick up a cooked crab at a local fish market, but it’s also convenient to buy picked crab meat – expensive, but well worth it when you just don’t feel like getting crab juice all over your kitchen.

If you really want to make a mess, you can buy live crabs and cook them yourself – I had never done this, so some friends kindly showed me how to cook and clean a fresh crab. All you really need is an enormous pot, the sense to stay away from those dangerous front claws, and the nerve to scrape out the very alien-looking innards. The main benefit of doing it this way, unless you’re someone who likes to eat the “crab butter,” is the absolute freshness and the unusual treat of warm, just-cooked crab meat. When your crab is this fresh, you don’t need much except bread, some dipping sauces (for the non-purists) and a glass of cold white wine.

You can, of course, gild the lily, especially if you’re in the enviable position of having a lot of extra crab to use up. There are decadent treats like crab-avocado eggs benedict, or whiskey crab soup, or even crab rolls, our own version of the classic New England lobster roll. Restaurants all over the Northwest now serve Dungeness crab macaroni and cheese, which I often find a bit too much. Instead, I mix macaroni noodles with fresh crab and an herbed white sauce, no cheese. If I’m starting with a whole crab, I love to make risotto with stock made by boiling the shell, which infuses the rice with a rich, wonderful crab flavor.

The most obvious choice, though, is probably crabcakes, and there are hundreds of versions out there. You can make them simple or fancy, with herbs or spices, peppers and onions, homemade breadcrumbs or nothing but Saltines. I like a fairly straightforward crabcake served with an interesting dipping sauce – not the sweet Thai chili sauce that has become so common, but something creamy like tartar sauce or ranch dressing, or piquant like cucumber mignonette. Though frankly, it’s hard to go wrong no matter what you eat it with.


Dungeness Crab Risotto


1 Dungeness crab, cooked

2 Tbsp butter

1 shallot or small sweet onion, diced

1 cup Arborio or other risotto rice (do not rinse)

½ cup white wine

1 Tbsp butter

1 bunch fresh chives, parsley or scallions, finely chopped


Crack the crab open. Pick out all the meat and set aside. Put the shells into a saucepan and cover with water, bring to a low boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the broth and keep warm.

In a saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat, melt 2 Tbsp of butter. Add the shallot or onion and cook, stirring, until the shallot softens and begins to brown a little. Stir in the rice and cook for a minute, coating all the grains with melted butter, until each grain is slightly translucent with a white spot in the center. Pour in the white wine and simmer, stirring, until it’s absorbed by the rice. Begin adding crab stock, one ladleful at a time, stirring and letting the rice absorb the liquid. After ten minutes or so, still adding small amounts of stock, start checking the rice for doneness – you want it just cooked, not too soft. When the rice is done, stir in the crabmeat and turn off the heat. Add a pat of butter and the fresh herbs, stir well, and serve while hot.

Leftovers (if any) can be molded into cakes and panfried in a nonstick skillet until crusty, then served with fried eggs.

Serves 2

Dungeness Crabcakes


2 cups or so of fresh crabmeat

½ cup breadcrumbs, plus more for coating

1 egg

¼ cup mayonnaise

¼ cup chopped parsley

1 medium shallot, minced

1-2 Tbsp butter


Mix everything except the butter together in a bowl, then shape the mixture into small patties. If there’s time, refrigerate them before cooking, otherwise just handle with care.

Heat butter in a skillet (nonstick is very helpful), roll the patties in the extra breadcrumbs and lay them in the pan. Cook until both sides are golden and serve with tartar sauce or cucumber mignonette (recipe below).

Makes about 10 small crab-cakes

Cucumber mignonette


½ cup finely diced cucumber

1 small shallot, minced

½ cup champagne vinegar




Combine all the ingredients in a jar or bowl and refrigerate for several hours. Serve with crabcakes. Also wonderful on raw oysters.

Serves 2

Published in the December 2012 issue of Grow Northwest

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