RCP /FoodLetter: Seafood risotto

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RCP /FoodLetter: Seafood risotto

Postby Robin Garr » Thu Nov 09, 2006 12:56 pm

Seafood risotto

It's hard to believe that the years fly by so fast. I still think of the <i>Wine Advisor's FoodLetter</i> as our "new" publication, while in fact I've published more than 230 of these Thursday articles and will mark the FoodLetter's fifth anniversary in January.

Looking back over the archives this morning, I noticed with some interest that my first edition (<I>Risotto Pescatore</I>, Jan. 24, 2002), featured a brief song of praise to risotto. I declared this Italian rice specialty one of my favorite dishes, and went on to prove it by offering four more risotto dishes before the end of 2002. And then, it seems, I quit talking about it (although I certainly didn't stop <i>making</i> it); I haven't featured another risotto recipe since.

Let's break that dry spell today, returning to the seafood risotto featured in the original column as a demonstration of how even the dishes in our standard repertoire evolve with time. In the 2002 version, I simmered the seafood briefly in water to cook it and create a light broth. Now I start by sauteeing a combination of seafood and fish in olive oil, flash-cooking it and building a flavored oil to use as a base for the rice. This revised procedure seems to result in a risotto with stronger, fresher seafood flavors in the finished dish, and that's a good thing.

One thing, however, has not changed: What I said in January 2002 remains just as accurate today:

"<I>You will see risotto ("ree-zoe-toe") turn up frequently in my food and wine matches. Italian cuisine is one of my (many) favorites, and this rice-based dish is a strong part of the basic repertoire around here because it's filling, can be made with almost infinite variations, and - despite its reputation as a "difficult" dish because it requires nearly constant stirring - it's quite simple to make and just about foolproof as long as you give it a reasonable amount of attention. I generally make it as a dinner-in-a-dish, containing the evening's starch, protein and vegetables all in one, needing nothing more than a salad or green vegetable to make a meal. Once you've mastered the simple procedure, you can fashion a risotto out of just about anything in the house</i>."

This seafood risotto can be made out of just about any combination of seafood and fish that you like. I generally let a trip to the fish shop be my guide, bringing home a combination of seafood, firm and flaky fish to provide a variety of textures and compatible flavors. This time I used shrimp, sea scallops and scrod, but squid, clams and firm-fleshed fish like tilapia or bass are also good candidates.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

6 large shrimp in the shell
6 large or 12-15 small scallops
4 ounces (120g) scrod or other flaky white fish
1 quart (a scant 1 liter) clam juice or clam or vegetable broth
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon (1g) dried red-pepper flakes
2/3 cup (160g) Arborio, Carnaroli, Vialone Nano or other short-grain risotto rice
Salt to taste

PROCEDURE:

1. Rinse the shrimp and, if you're using the large scallops, cut them into quarters. Cut the fish into chunks about the same size as the scallop pieces. Put the clam juice (I used reconstituted Minors brand clam "base") in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium heat on a back burner.

2. Peel the garlic and chop it fine. Heat the olive oil, garlic and dried red-pepper flakes in a saucepan over medium-high heat until the garlic turns translucent and becomes aromatic but not brown. Put in the shrimp and toss-fry them briefly, just until their shells turn pink. Take out the shrimp and put them in a small bowl. Quickly saute the scallops in the same oil just until they turn opaque, removing them to a second bowl; and repeat the process with the fish, taking care not to break it up.

3. Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary, and put in the rice, stirring constantly for two or three minutes until it's "toasted," showing an opaque white on the outside of many of the grains.

4. Reduce heat to medium and stir in about 1/2 cup of the simmering clam broth, then continue cooking as in the standard risotto procedure: As each addition of broth is absorbed by the cooking rice, add a little liquid, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently, repeating the process as needed. You don't have to stir constantly, but do keep an eye on the pot to guard against sticking, and continue adding more broth as each addition is absorbed.

5. While the risotto is cooking, take advantage of breaks from stirring to shell the shrimp. When the rice is nearly done - usually after about 15 minutes of adding broth and stirring, although the exact time will vary, and taste-testing is best - pour in the accumulated juices in the bowls of seafood and fish as the last round of liquid. When the rice is just about done, stir in the shrimp, scallops and fish in that order. Don't worry if the fish flakes into shreds at this point ... it's supposed to do that, adding another texture element to the dish.

6. Under the influence of Marcella Hazan and her luxurious Emilia-Romagna cooking style, I often add butter and grated cheese at this point, and this certainly adds richness. Butter is really optional, though; and in much of Italy it's not customary to use cheese in seafood dishes. The simple, pure flavors of the seafood and fish in this risotto work best for me without butter or cheese. Take care to keep the finished dish creamy, not dry, and you'll never miss the dairy.

<B>MATCHING WINE:</b>
Normally I would choose a crisp but not lightweight Italian white with this dish - a fuller-bodied Soave or a quality Pinot Grigio from Friuli's Collio hills or Alto Adige, or maybe a full-bodied Southern Italian white. For a change of pace, though, I served this one with a bubbly Loire Chenin Blanc, the François Pinon NV Vouvray Petillant Brut featured in Monday's <i>30 Second Wine Advisor</i>, and I couldn't have asked for a better match.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Seafood risotto

Postby Jenise » Thu Nov 09, 2006 2:03 pm

Fun to look back, isn't it?

But about the recipe: what is scrod, anyway? Obviously it's a flaky white fish but the fact is that over here on the left coast I've both never had it nor seen it for sale in a fish market. (I've said it before: it's so impressive what you guys get for seafood in Kentucky--living between coasts, you seem to get EVERYTHING, while someone like me who actually lives right on salt water goes all winter without eating fish because there's almost no fresh fish available, it's so WEIRD.) So I don't know what it looks like or where it's native to. For those of us scrod-challenged, could you provide a little more information?
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Seafood risotto

Postby Jeff Yeast » Thu Nov 09, 2006 2:08 pm

I have never made risotto but I am going to try this. Does a non-stick pan help with possible sticking?
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Seafood risotto

Postby Dale Williams » Thu Nov 09, 2006 2:27 pm

Jenise,
Scrod is a catchall term for fish from the cod/haddock family. Fishermen contract to bring back scrod, that way it doesn't matter if its cod, haddock, hake, etc.

Betsy does a similar recipe. We tend to use lobster/shrimp shell stock rather than clam juice.

Thanks Robin.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Seafood risotto

Postby Robin Garr » Thu Nov 09, 2006 3:31 pm

Jenise wrote:Fun to look back, isn't it?

But about the recipe: what is scrod, anyway?


Dale has given a much more precise answer than I would have, Jenise, but to reinforce it, a scrod, like a sardine, isn't actually a swimming-around fish but a fishmonger's term for a type of fish - in this instance, cod-like mild, flaky white fish.

It's also the subject of a classic joke about a gent who arrives in Boston, eager to get a taste of this great local dish, jumps in a cab and asks the driver, "Where can I go to get scrod?" The driver thinks for a moment, then says, "I have been asked this question many times, but never before in the past pluperfect subjunctive."
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Seafood risotto

Postby Robin Garr » Thu Nov 09, 2006 3:33 pm

Jeff Yeast wrote:I have never made risotto but I am going to try this. Does a non-stick pan help with possible sticking?


Jeff, it couldn't hurt in any way, but as long as you pay attention and take care to put in the next dose of liquid before the previous dries out completely, and stir often, sticking really shouldn't be much of a threat.

As long as you've got a pan or pot big enough to hold the finished dish plus room to stir, though, nonstick would be a good safety option. Just be aware that the 2/3 cup rice used here will expand quite a bit as it takes up liquid.

And don't use regular long-grain rice. It just plain won't make a good risotto. Short-grain puts out the starch that's needed to make it creamy.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Seafood risotto

Postby Jeff Yeast » Fri Nov 10, 2006 9:10 am

Robin Garr wrote:
Jeff, it couldn't hurt in any way, but as long as you pay attention and take care to put in the next dose of liquid before the previous dries out completely, and stir often, sticking really shouldn't be much of a threat.

As long as you've got a pan or pot big enough to hold the finished dish plus room to stir, though, nonstick would be a good safety option. Just be aware that the 2/3 cup rice used here will expand quite a bit as it takes up liquid.

And don't use regular long-grain rice. It just plain won't make a good risotto. Short-grain puts out the starch that's needed to make it creamy.


You're right Robin, I used a stainless-lined Muviel saute pan and had no problems with sticking. This was a nice dish and was a lot less intimidating than I thought it would be. My rice probably could have cooked another minute or two, but not having made this before I was reluctant to push the issue. It had a nice al-dente texture and was very creamy. Robin, where did you find your clam base? I used clam juice, but I think it would be easier to have the soup base on hand for impromptu cooking.
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Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Seafood risotto

Postby Robin Garr » Fri Nov 10, 2006 9:24 am

Jeff Yeast wrote:where did you find your clam base? I used clam juice, but I think it would be easier to have the soup base on hand for impromptu cooking.


Jeff, one of my ugly little secrets is that I frequently use Minor's brand "bases" as a short-cut for stocks and sauce bases. They come frozen and appear at first glance to be on the pricey side because they sell for $10 to $15 for a little tub, but you use only a little at a time so a tub lasts for months.

They're quite widely available in Louisville at just about all the "upscale" grocers. Lotsa Pasta has them, and Burger's, maybe Doll's, and I think Liquor Barn has them, so you might check the LBs in Lex.

It's also widely avaiable on the Web, but lots of vendors (including Amazon.com) list it. Here's one link to the clam and other Minor's seafood bases. It's a large vendor of soup bases, and you can click "Minor's" at the top of the left-hand column to see the meat and poultry bases and other things.
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