Wednesday 3 December 2014

Winter Warmers 3: Seafood, Asparagus and Fried Mushroom Risotto

This is the third in a series of three meals which are perfect for the cold winter months. The first two (Chicken Paprikás and Moules Frites) feed into this one by providing the ultimate stock, so you can try making all three in one week to get the most out of them. You can of course cook this dish with commercial stock, but where’s the fun in that?

You know how you cook rice by sticking the little grains in hot water, so they absorb it and get all fat? Risotto is basically the result of some genius saying “Hey, what if instead of absorbing water, they absorbed something that tastes a little less of absolutely nothing?”.

Today, we salute that genius by cooking rice in something that tastes of absolutely everything. Wine, vegetables, chicken, cream and seafood. Sound good?

Let’s make ‘em proud.

1) Start heating up stock so that it’s ready to cook with.

2) Softly fry a little onion until softened, then turn up the heat and add risotto rice.

3) Stir the rice with a wooden spoon as it fries. Once it turns slightly translucent, pour in wine.

4) When the wine has boiled off, add a large ladle of hot stock. Stir in finely chopped asparagus.

5) Continue to add stock every time it gets absorbed or reduced. Massage it into the rice with your spoon.

6) Separately, fry some fish until cooked through. Set aside on a plate, then flake the flesh when cooled.

7) In that same pan, fry sliced mushrooms in butter to get them crispy at the edges.

8) When the rice is cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the fish, butter and parmesan. Cover and let rest.

9) Serve topped with the fried mushrooms.

And there you have it! Thousands of delicious flavour balls, ready to explode in your mouth! In the culinary sense, of course.

Italy called. They want their baby food back.

Gasp! You take that back, sir! Or madam. I can never tell. Look, if you’ve had a bad experience with mushy risotto, it’s because it was overcooked, simple as that. Get the heat right, use a wide pan, stir fairly regularly, and taste as you go. It’ll come out perfect, with a slight bite. Try it this once, and if you still don’t like it, I give up.

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 400g risotto rice (like arborio or carnaroli)
  • olive oil
  • 1 small onion
  • 250ml white wine
  • 1 litre chicken stock (which can be made as part of this paprikás)
  • 250ml creamy seafood stock (the leftover liquid from these moules frites)
  • 1 large bunch of asparagus
  • ~300g of mixed fish
  • 100g button mushrooms
  • 50g butter
  • 50g parmesan

I know asparagus isn’t exactly a winter vegetable, but it’s still easy to get and cheap around my neck of the woods, plus it tastes great in this risotto. If it’s problematic for you, about 150g of frozen peas makes a good substitute.

Risotto rices have a lot of the sticky starch needed to get the dish so creamy, making them the perfect choice. If you can’t find them in shops though, you could attempt another short-grain rice. I always meant to try Japanese rice, but never got round to it. Just don’t wash it, you need that starch.

    Mix your two stocks together in a pot and turn on the heat. The stock will be added to your rice as it’s cooking, so cold stock would lower the temperature too much. It shouldn’t be simmering, but it does need to be hot.

    Pour about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan and put the heat on low. Chop up your onion as small as you can and toss it into the pan. Give ‘em a little stir with a wooden spoon and let them sweat for a few minutes. I’m specifically saying to use a wooden spoon for the risotto because a metal one can actually break the rice later on. Wooden spoons: not just for beating small children!

    Once the onions have totally softened, turn the heat up to medium-high and add the rice. Let it sizzle and fry for a few minutes, stirring. The edges of the grains will go see-through, and some of them may even start to brown slightly. When that happens, add the white wine and stir. In a few seconds, you’ll be engulfed by a cloud comprised mostly of a third of a bottle of wine’s worth of alcohol. Take a deep breath and push on.

    When the wine is mostly dried up, add a ladle or two of the stock and turn the heat down a little. The liquid shouldn’t be boiling vigorously anymore, but neither should the rice just be slowly steeping. Snap the woody ends off your asparagus and get rid of them (or keep them for a future stock). Finely slice the stalks, but keep the tops intact. Add both to the rice and stir them in.

    For the next twenty minutes or so, you just need to gently stir the risotto every few minutes and add more stock whenever it dries up. But that’s boring, so to keep yourself occupied, heat up a little olive oil in another frying pan and cook your fish. Just fry it until it’s cooked through to the centre, but try not to dry it out.

    When the fish is cooked, move it onto a plate to let it cool off. When you can handle it comfortably, break it up into pretty little flakes by gently working it between your thumbs and forefingers. Yeah, that’s it. Werk it. Chuck away any bones or skin.

    Slice up your mushrooms nice and thin. Throw a small knob of butter into the same pan you used for the fish and let it bubble over a fairly high heat. Add the mushrooms and fry until they brown and get crispy around the edges. Turn the heat way down and just keep them warm.

    Taste your risotto to see how it’s doing. It’s done when it’s centre is no longer actually hard, but it is still a bit firm. You’ll know yourself how you like it. If you run out of stock before it’s cooked, you can just add some water. When it’s done, turn off the heat and throw in the fish flakes. Scatter the rest of your butter around and grate on the parmesan. Stir well to get it all mixed, then cover it with something (I used foil) and leave it to think about what it’s done.

    After a couple of minutes, unveil it’s magnificence and serve, topped with the fried mushrooms. Curl yourself up on the sofa, hugging the bowl close, and warm yourself with fork after fork of delicious gooey goodness. Oh, and the rest of that bottle of wine. Wouldn’t want it to go to waste.

(How “soupy” you want your risotto is entirely a matter of preference and is easily controlled by how much stock you keep adding near the end. I made it fairly solid, as you can see in the pics, but how you like it is your business.)

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