I’ve said it before that the majority of my evening meal cooking happens, organically, so to speak. I think about what I would like to eat, I mooch around the cupboards and hopefully, in around 30 minutes or less I am eating the product of whatever I dreamt up. Occasionally, it’s really good but I am so worn out or distracted by things on my to do list that I never write them down and they are lost forever. Then other times such as last night, it’s so delicious I have to get it on paper so there’s no excuse to eat it again, and soon please. Hungry Hubby loved this one although I did curse his name a little as I sweated in my stifling kitchen on this stormy, hot and very humid day, getting a little insight to what it must be to work in a professional kitchen at any time, not just the height of summer.
Having been to a very local food market – like a 20 minute (downhill) walk from The Apple Chapel – and being seduced by the mushroom stall, groaning with positively magnificent examples of oysters in grey, blue and pink, not to mention packets of dried porcini and bottles of truffle oil, I knew dinner had to involve ‘shrooms of some sort. A container of perfect white shimeji ‘shrooms called the loudest to me and after a quick brainstorm with a fellow mushroom-mad blogger friend Joost of The Vegetable Chopper, this dish was created.
I hesitate to call this a risotto but really, this *is* what it is. There are some terms which really tick me off in the foodie arena and “fusion food” is one of them (“clean eating” is another one). It conjures up such cliched nineties cheffy cooking it makes me want to shriek. Sure, besides the cooking process and the use of Arborio rice, the rest of the ingredients are literally a world away from Italian eating as can be. Looking at it from an Asian perspective, the dish just makes sense. Why wouldn’t you have rice with your umami rich mushrooms with heat from the fresh chilli, saltiness from fish sauce, sweetness and pungent aroma from garlic and shallots they are cooked with? Tradition often calls for a slosh of red or white wine when making a traditional risotto which you add after the rice has been slicked in the oil but as we have left the Mediterranean in favour of the flavours of the Orient, I used Shaoxing rice wine instead. Likened to sherry, it has a sweetness and richness of fortified wine without being as intrusive as Marsala or Madeira, it’s Italian cousins.
One of the tricks I’ve learnt over the past maybe five years of risotto making in my kitchen (I came to it late in life), is to make a mulch of veggies which you sweat down to a pulp first. It’s great if your stock isn’t very strong as you are using the archetypical stock veg which you also eat in the finished dish. It’s a fantastic way of adding more vegetables to your meal (and maybe therefore allowing you to reduce the carb quotient) as well as flavour. It’s a win-win situation. When it comes to the rice itself, I like Carnaroli best but often have to make do with Arborio and it is either a feast or a famine. Like cooking dried pasta, the portion control portion of my brain switches off as soon as I pick up the packet and we either eat till we pop or find ourselves looking at a mean little bowlful which sees us reaching for the cheese and crackers an hour or two later. I was a good blogger this time and weighed it for you and can tell you, the stated amount makes a generous amount for two but not so much you couldn’t squeeze in a little slice of something delicious and sweet half an hour later… We had lime and lemongrass cheesecake for instance, again bought at that wonderful farmer’s market… 😉
To finish the dish, I toyed with what the final seasonings should be. Both Italian and Asian cooking look to simple and clean flavours so I really held myself back from throwing the contents of my Chinese cooking kit at it. There was a vote for soy sauce in my head but I decided that nam pla, or fish sauce, would be the best way to introduce saltiness to this rice dish. My stock is from a very low salt, organic stock cube (*readers recoil in pure horror* :O ) so it needed a little seasoning to make the other flavours sing. The addition of cheese in the form of parmesan would have been all wrong and therefore there was no salt from it to be had. Making risottos is one of the few dishes which I really and truly believe you must have a stash of teaspoons next to you whilst cooking so that you can taste as you go along – you need to check that the rice is done and visual clues in terms of opacity turning into translucency will take you only so far plus the seasoning will need to be adjusted gradually. I added 3 teaspoons of fish sauce in the end to mine and the flavour of the mushrooms as well as all that minced up veg really shone through. Plus it’s the hot and bothered cook’s perk to get extra little taste tester spoonfuls, just to check it’s good enough for their loved one and their rumbly tumbly 😉
- 200g enoki or shimeji mushrooms, base removed
- 2 ribs of celery, roughly chopped
- 1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
- 6 small shallots, halved and peeled
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 175g risotto rice
- 1.5 – 2 litres of stock (vegetable or chicken, as liked)
- 4 tbsp/¼cup Shaoxing rice wine vinegar
- Cracked black pepper, as liked
- 2-3 tsp fish sauce (or to taste)
- One small red chilli, finely chopped
- 1-2 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
- First throw the carrot, celery, garlic and shallots into a food processor and blitz until they resemble fine confetti.
- Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in the frying pan you are making the risotto in and on a medium-high heat, cook the mushrooms through. Don’t brown them but you want them softened and they will turn a light golden brown in parts. Keep stirring the whole time to prevent them sticking. Put on a plate to one side.
- Add the rest of the oil then tip in the confetti veg on a medium heat, no hotter, and cook until wilted down and softened. The garlic and shallots will smell wonderful as it cooks. Add in your rice and turn it in the vegetables until it looks a little glossy.
- Slosh in the Shaoxing and stir until it is absorbed.
- Now, have your stock in a saucepan next to the risotto pan with your stock in – keep it just below the simmer point or it will just evaporate before you use it. Add a small ladle full and stir into the rice and veg. Do not be tempted to add more until the stock is absorbed. Each bag of rice seems to be different in its absorption of stock so some cook faster, some need a lot more liquid. Slowly but surely, add stock in this fashion until the rice is just losing it’s opaque whiteness, stirring all the time I’m afraid.
- Add back your mushrooms and turn in the almost fully cooked rice to warm them through again. Add one, maybe two more ladlefuls of stock until the rice is translucent and the pan is creamy and luscious looking. As there is no cream or cheese to be added to this recipe, you want the finished risotto to be extra oozy so don’t let the pan dry out too much. Add plenty of cracked black pepper (if you are as addicted as me).
- Take off the heat and taste the risotto – depending on how salty your stock was, you may not need any/much fish sauce but if it is bland, add it a teaspoon at a time until all the flavours sing. Stir well.
- Serve sprinkled with the chopped chilli and coriander.