Sunday, March 04, 2007

Whitefish Risotto With Saffron and Fresh Spring Chives

Here's a great dish to make with any leftover shrimp stock from your Louisiana gumbo experience! Most Americans I know think of risotto as difficult and most Italians seem to think of it was easy. It certainly is quick, cooking time being about 15 minutes, but the dish definitely has its particularities. The process becomes easy only once you have figured out the parameters of the situation. In order to cook a perfect risotto, you need to feel out (or mistake your way toward) the right balance between amount of heat (which determines how fast the liquid boils and thus evaporates), width of the pot (which helps determine how much evaporation occurs) and cooking time. I think Italians who’ve grown up watching their parents make risotto, don’t have to reinvent these particulars; they just reproduce what Mom & Dad did. If we had no risotto-making genitori growing up, we need to suss things out for ourselves. As you see in this photo, I let the risotto go a bit too long, having not set the table beforehand, so it got too thick. The fish was perfect, though.

4 cups shrimp (or fish) stock
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup minced scallions
2 cups arborio (or carnaroli) rice
½ cup white wine
1 pinch of saffron stamens (or 1 pkg saffron powder)
¼ to ½ pound of whitefish, cubed (I used plaice*)
1-2 tbsps minced fresh chives
salt to taste

Heat the shrimp or fish stock in a medium pot over a medium-low flame until it simmers. Hold at low throughout the recipe.

In another medium-sized pot, heat the oil over medium and add the minced scallions. Cook, stirring constantly until they are wilted and transparent. Add the rice and stir until each grain is shiny, coated with the oil and has toasted a bit, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and stir vigorously as it fervently boils and steams and almost completely evaporates/gets absorbed.

At this point the stock should be simmering. Add one ladleful of stock to the rice, stir constantly. Once that has been mostly absorbed, add another and continue this way until the stock is gone. Ideally this will take 15 minutes. During the last 2 minutes of cooking time, add the cubed fish and stir in. It will only take that long for the fish to get cooked through and still be tender. Salt to taste. Sprinkle on fresh chives at plating time.

If you got your heat - pan size - time ration right, the final product should feature tender, ever so slightly al dente rice grains and should be able to perform “the wave”. That is if you shake the plate your just-poured risotto is sitting on, it will shake it’s way down, and spread out. Music to shake your risotto down by: "Walking on Sunshine" by one-hit-wonders, Katrina and the Waves. You should not be able to make restaurant-style “tall food” on it. No placing, for example a fillet of pan-fried halibut diagonally up the side of your risotto mountain. Ditto, no staking chive shoots, flagpole-style in the middle of your mound o’risotto. If you’ve done the risotto right, it’ll be too liquidy for all that.

*I used plaice for this dish, but you can use haddock, cod, pollock, hake, whiting, sole, etc. You get the idea. In fact, if you use lake perch, you'll be creating your own version of Lake Como's famous dish, "Risotto al pesce persico"


Blogger beenzzz said...

I love risotto! I haven't actually made it before, so I shall try my hand at it!

6:16 PM  
Blogger Asha said...

Looks beautiful.Great color .I made Saffron Chicken(Kesari Murgh) today,will post on wed.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Tracie B. said...

c'è a chi piace ondoso, a a chi piace stretto :)

i think it looks great! i just can't seem to find saffron that doesn't taste like chemicals. any suggestions?

10:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always gain weight reading your blog. :-)

2:54 AM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi beenzzz, Give it a try and let me know.

Hi Asha, Can't wait 'til Wednesday!

Hi Tracie, I always use that crazy powdered stuff, if that's what you mean. There's a really expensive shop called Peck here in Milan where they sell the saffron stemens at luxury prices.Or why not pick some up in texas?

Hi Violette, Sorry!

2:43 PM  
Blogger ML said...

I really love risotto. I love making it and eating it. Thanks for the great recipe! YUM!

6:14 PM  
Blogger hellomelissa said...

i think most americans are told to NEVER stir their rice after it's in the pot or it will turn into a stkcy mess... not fluffy at all. so risotto, with it's creamy, stirred texture, is almost like breaking a rice rule. does that make any sense at all?!

the color is amazing of your risotto... and i think of the spice vendors lined up along the alleys in granada selling the cheapest saffron i've EVER seen.

8:33 PM  
Anonymous scott said...

Susan, that's a great risotto rule: if you can use it as a tall-food foundation, it is too thick.

I always find I have to use more liquid than most recipes call for.

8:46 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi ML, Any time!

Hi Melissa, No, that rice rule makes all the sense in the world. Maybe that's why so many Americans think risotto is hard. You know, I totally missed out on all the foodie stuff in Spain. I was a spaghetti in red sauce girl at the time. C'est la vie.

Hi Scott, So you've got your risotto ratio right if you always know to add more stock for the right result. That's the only trick, I think.

8:56 PM  
Anonymous rowena said...

Haha! That's so true about italians who've grown up watching their parents make risotto. Whenever we feel like rice for dinner, it's common agreement that my husband does the risotto...I do the asian fried rice!

9:23 AM  
Blogger Tracie B. said...

maybe i just don't like saffron that much...have you ever tried riso gallo blonde? BEFORE you tell me that you would NEVER get caught dead with it, it makes a terrific texture and is impossible to overcook.

3:40 PM  
Blogger LeahKodisMom said...

Hi Susan - just came across your Blog. I love your site and have added it to "My Favorites" on my Blog side (

But I have to ask about the Risotto. The picture is perfect - that is exactly the way my grandmother (from Lonate Pozzolo) taught me how to make it. Slightly mushy and not able to run down the plate. My recipe takes 1/2 - 45 minutes to do. She told me to always put the lid back on after a ladle hot stock is added. At the end she would add a big spoonful of fresh parmesan and sometimes add chicken livers (yuk) to her portion before she served us kids. I love all your recipes. I just started my Blog and I will also have some old family recipes to share. Can't wait to make the Guiness Cake, too! The art of Italy and Italian cooking is going fast though. In my old home town of San Rafael, CA (where lots of people from Lonate Pozzolo came in 1865) there used to be Garatti's Grocery where only Italian was spoken. When he retired in 1996 I went in the store in a panic thinking I would never find my beloved little amber bottles of powdered saffron. The new people who took over where from India. Go Figure. Everything Italian was gone. I asked where the big fish bowl was that used to sit on the counter with the bottles of Saffron and the idiot said "Oh I had no idea what these were so I was going to throw them away." I bought all 10 little bottles and still have 5 left. They are hard to find.

7:37 PM  

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