A real danger when serving party guests arancini, rice rolled with crab, lemon juice and sour cream, then fried. One bite brings addiction and an obsession with getting more. Just like that.
Arancini are something like hush puppies, except lighter and much more flavorful, thanks to the lemon juice and the wonderful crab distributed generously throughout. Even more spectacular when that crabmeat is Dungeness, a variety renowned for its succulent sweetness. Here’s the crab before it entered appetizer folklore:
The idea, or this recipe at least, came from the webpage for Silver Oak, a California vineyard. Among the plenty available to California cooks is fresh Dungeness crab, but it’s much less available here on the East Coast. Too bad, because Dungeness is unmatched. …or maybe the kitchen found a way after all, as special arrangements were made.
Naturally, crab is central, though its co-ingredients each add a special twist that makes arancini so memorable. The rice, Arborio, boils for nearly half an hour, making it tender, sprightly and ideal as a light filling. The lemon juice and lemon zest are all the more sparkling when Meyer lemons are selected, as it’s a hybrid renowned for its mild sweetness.
Here’s everything mixed together, on a tray to chill before it’s rolled, fried and savored:Before leaving, a word about the accompaniments, sides to the side, if you will. Arancini is best served with fresh lemon wedges, some of the same batch of Meyers that went into the recipe, and a good tomato dipping sauce. Sure, it would’ve been easy to buy a jar of spaghetti sauce, but it’s nearly as easy, and much tastier, to introduce the right proportions of tomato purée, sautéed garlic and chopped fresh oregano.
One bit of caution, though – it’s much better to bring these to someone else’s party. That way, when arancini-addled guests don’t disperse, it’s someone else’s problem, and you can go home.
Dungeness Crab Arancini
For the arancini:
- 1/2 cup Arborio rice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 and 1/2 cups water
- 4 ounces Dungeness crab, meat shelled and picked over (*1)
- 1/2 cup crème fraîche, or sour cream (*2)
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest (*3)
- 1 tablespoon finely-grated lemon zest (*3)
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
For the breading:
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 large eggs, beaten with 2 tablespoons of water
- 1 and 1/2 cups bread crumbs, preferably panko
- vegetable oil, for deep frying
- lemon wedges, for serving (*3)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the rice, salt and water in a small saucepan and place the pan over a high flame. Bring to a boil, then put the lid on the pan and transfer it to the oven. Bake until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir the rice briefly.
Transfer the rice to a bowl and add the crabmeat, crème fraiche, lemon juice, lemon zest and tarragon. Add salt to taste.
Spread mixture evenly over a rimmed baking sheet and cover tightly with plastic wrap, puncturing the wrap a few times with a fork. Refrigerate for at least two hours.
With moistened hands, roll the rice mixture into walnut-sized balls, then place them on a clean baking tray.
Place flour, beaten eggs and panko each in its own bowl. Drop a ball into the flour and roll it around until thoroughly coated. Using the same hand, lift the ball and shake off excess flour, then slide the ball into the egg wash.
Using your other hand, rotate the ball until the egg coats it. Lift the ball and let excess yolk drip back into the bowl. Finally, place the ball into the bowl with the panko and roll it around until ball is coated. Place the prepared ball on a clean baking sheet.
Repeat until all the arancini are prepared. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, up to overnight.
Pour the oil to a depth of three inches in a heavy saucepan or cast-iron skillet. Place the pan over a high flame and heat until the oil temperature reaches 350 degrees. After that, adjust the flame to keep the temperature at 350 degrees.
Place arancini, a few at a time, into the oil, using a wooden spoon to rotate them occasionally, thus ensuring even frying. After about three minutes they should be evenly golden-brown and ready to leave the oil. Remove them to drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat the above until all the arancini ae cooked.
Serve warm, with lemon wedges.
1 – This equals the meat from a medium-sized crab, maybe a little more. If the extra goes into the arancini, good for your guests. If it goes into your mouth, good for you.
2 – I used sour cream, as crème fraiche isn’t always available at the local market. It wasn’t available this time, so sour cream it was.
3 – Meyer lemons are great for this, as their taste accentuates the crab without overpowering it.
Quick Tomato Sauce
- 2 cups tomato purée
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- salt, to taste
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
Place a small saucepan over a medium-low flame. When hot, place the butter in the pan. When the butter has melted, add the garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is golden-brown, about two minutes.
Stir in the tomato purée and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to bubble. Simmer thusly for two minutes. Turn off the flame and stir in the oregano. Salt to taste and serve.