I’m so pleased we’ve stumbled across Salcombe. We liked it so much earlier in the summer that we returned with Edwin and Anna who brought a beautiful old Alfa Romeo to the party and Nick and Harriet who are experts in fishing and outdoor living. So between the 6 of us we were well equipped for a long weekend of camping.
Higher Rew campsite nestles South West of Salcombe, protected from the sea by Bolthead which is renowned for lending itself to spectacular walks. Cowie and I arrived early and secured a prime spot at the top of the hill, hidden from all the other tents and blessed with a view that would have made Thomas Hardy, hard.
Thanks to some local knowledge, sent our way by Chris Smith (who I don’t think is the outed Labour Minister), we knew to avoid the fishmonger in the centre of Salcombe and instead to pay a visit to Yeoward and Dowie which is a boatyard on Island Street. Not only are they experts in mending and chartering boats, but they sell live lobsters and crabs!
We soon found the crab and lobster tank and were mesmerized by the shell clad beauties that jostled around like passengers in a Ryan Air queue. Lobster tentacles occasionally breached the water like U-boats erecting their periscopes.
In order to feed 6 we decided to buy a couple of large crabs which they very kindly cooked for us and kept in the fridge until we returned from our mackerel fishing trip.
We returned back to our campsite with the sun beginning to think about turning in for the day and set about making what turned out to be a fantastic crab risotto using our cataplana pan.
First of all Edwin and Nick did a phenomenal job of picking as much meat out of our crabs as possible with the help of a large screw driver and Cowie’s tweezers!
We then made stock with the shell, with a vegetable stock cube lobbed in for good measure as well.
Whilst the stock was bubbling away we also grilled a bunch of Cowie’s favourite vegetables which we added into the risotto towards the end to add some extra charry interest.
Once the stock was ready we set it aside along with the veggies and nestled the cataplana into the hot coals. Once it was up to heat we fried 2 onions along with some garlic until soft. Then we poured in a bag of Arborio rice and listened to it crackle. This has to be one of my favourite sounds. It’s so reassuring and is synonmysous with being able to enjoy cooking at a leisurely pace. It’s a million miles from the clack of a toaster or ping of a microwave. It’s the sound of cooking for pleasure.
Once the sizzling had died down we threw a good glug of white wine and felt our faces dampen and numb slightly with wine fumes. Once the wine had whooshed away we then ladled in the crab stock and stirred, religiously, for the next hour.
As the heat waned we found that clamping the lid of the cataplana shut worked brilliantly to get the risotto bubbling again. After 45 minutes it had swelled and thickened, taking on a creamy quality that was impossible to see in the dark, but you could sense from the feel.
At this point we mixed in the char grilled peppers and aubergines before adding half of the crab meat. Plenty of salt, pepper and a nudge of chilli helped to add some seasoning. Spinach added colour. And a lashing of crème fraiche and knob of butter added gloss and luxury. We thhen added a topping of the remaining crab meat to each portion and a sprinkle of parsley.
We ate it in the pitch dark, in a scene reminiscent of an outdoor Dans le Noir, and sat back in bliss. Given the context it is without question the most memorable risotto I’ve ever eaten or cooked and has to go down as one of the year’s main highlights.