Rock Me Gently, Rock Me Slowly
Risotto is such a walking contradiction – though it is a total dazzler and a showpiece at restaurants, it’s also such homey comfort food meant to be tucked into on a couch in pjs. It can be as dressy or as casual as you’d like it to be, just as long as it’s yours. I think that risotto has gotten a reputation for being fussy because of the many rules for it’s construction. The grains of rice should be tender while still distinct and firm. The dish should be creamy but not a mushy porridge. The ingredients all have different cooking times, but the components to be cooked to perfection all at the same time. It’s a little daunting.
I’m here to put you at ease – risotto is not hard. I repeat, risotto is not hard. You can make it if you follow the one major rule of risotto – be patient and give it time. If you rush your risotto, it will suck. If you don’t prep all your ingredients before you start, it will suck. If you walk away from it, it will suck. Don’t let your risotto suck, I beg of you.
There are a million variations on this recipe, and the good news is that you can use the same ingredients below and just swap out the shrimp for whatever your heart desires – blanched asparagus spears, porcini mushrooms, lobster, roasted butternut squash, you name it. The only thing that you absolutely cannot substitute is arborio rice. The grains, short and round, release starch slowly as broth is added during the cooking process – if you use a different type of rice, you won’t get that creamy loveliness that is the trademark of risotto. You top off the deliciousness by rapidly whipping in butter at the end, a process called “mantecare” in Italian. Do this, and you’ll be a risotto master.
This risotto uses rock shrimp, a variety that is much closer in taste to lobster despite the shrimp price. They have hard shells and are difficult to peel, which is why they are sold pre-cleaned and shelled – hooray for you If you cannot find rock shrimp, feel free to use plain raw shrimp, or if your budget allows, some lovely lobster meat.
This recipe makes a ton of risotto (about 8 large servings) – I roll the leftovers into balls around cubes of mozzarella, roll in breadcrumbs, and fry as a lovely appetizer called arancini (or supplí in Emilia-Romagna). Also, because cheese and seafood is an italian no-no, I pick out the shrimp first. That being said, if you leave the shrimp in, I won’t be mad at you. Actually, I’ll be happy that you’re cooking not one, but two impressive dishes – and all with a whole lot of love!
Rock Shrimp Risotto
12-14 c. of stock, chicken, vegetable, shrimp or a combo (see recipe for shrimp stock below)
4 tbs. of olive oil
4 shallots, finely chopped
4 c. of arborio rice
1 pinch of saffron threads (optional)
2 tsp. of white pepper
salt and black pepper, to taste
1 and 1/2 lb. of rock shrimp, peeled and cleaned well
1 bunch of chives, chopped
zest of 1 lemon
4 tbs. of butter
Prep all of your ingredients before you start to make your life easier. When you begin, you should have dishes of all of your ingredients, measured out and within an arm’s reach. In a large pot, bring your stock to a simmer and keep warm throughout the entire process.
In a second large pot, add your oil and heat until shimmering. Add your shallots and cook on medium until translucent. Add your rice (and saffron if you are using it) and stir to coat the grains with olive oil. Continue to cook until the rice becomes translucent. Pour in the wine and stir until the alcohol cooks off.
Grab a ladle and spoon 2-3 ladlefuls of broth into the rice. Stir constantly to incorporate the broth and keep the rice from sticking. When all the broth is absorbed, add another 2 or 3 ladles of stock. Keep adding broth and stirring until the rice is tender (taste it to make sure) and a lovely, creamy sauce has formed. Once your risotto is cooked to perfection, add your raw shrimp and stir. The shrimp will need about 2 minutes to turn pink and cook all the way through in the hot risotto. Turn the heat from medium to low and add the butter in small chunks, stirring rapidly after each addition to melt the butter into the creamy goodness. Turn off the heat and toss in your lemon zest and 3/4 of the chives.
Spoon risotto into bowls and top with the rest of the chives. Serve immediately – risotto needs to be eaten right away, or you are missing out in a big way.
shells from 1 to 1 1/2 lbs of shrimp
2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped
1/2 small onion, roughly chopped
4 sprigs of parsley (with stems)
1 sprig of rosemary
1 tsp. of salt
1 tsp. of white pepper
2 bay leaves
8 c. of water
Add all ingredients to a pot and bring to a boil. Turn to medium low and simmer until stock has reduced by one half. Strain stock and toss solids. Save broth for some lovely like a gumbo or a risotto.