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"