Italian Comfort Food: Risotto

Cooking with Beer by | Feb 2014 | Issue #85

Photo by Sean Z. Paxton

When I think of risotto, that creamy and dreamy rice dish with origins from Italy, I can’t help but salivate. This dish is so simple—just some sautéed vegetables, a short-grain rice and really good stock. The cooking technique for risotto rice is different from regular rice. The hot stock is slowly added and absorbed by the rice over time, verses adding all the liquid at once in the beginning of the cooking process. When choosing a rice, arborio is the most common and easiest to find, but hunting down carnaroli is worth the effort and time, as it has an even higher starch that makes the ultimate creamy dish.

Mushroom Stout Risotto
Mushrooms, parmesan cheese, miso, anchovies and soy sauce are just a few of the umami-rich ingredients that add flavor to this risotto without using extra salt or sugar. Additionally, the Stout, whether it’s an Oatmeal Stout, Coffee Stout or Irish Stout, reminds the palate how the roasted barley mimics and enhances the umami experience in the final dish.

Serves: 6–8 guests

1 oz shiitake mushrooms, dried, stems removed
1 cup boiling water
3 tbsp olive oil
1 each yellow onion, large, peeled and half-inch dice
1 each leek, washed, sliced white and light green part (about 2 cups)
2 each bay leaves, preferably fresh
5 each garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tbsp thyme leaves, preferably fresh (or 1 tbsp dried)
2 cups rice, short grain, such as arborio
1 lb. mushrooms, brown or Portobello, cleaned and quartered
2 tbsp olive oil
12 oz Stout- or Porter-style beer
6–7 cups stock, roasted vegetable or chicken
1 tbsp miso paste, optional, available at an Asian grocer or specialty store
2 tbsp soy sauce
3/4 cup parmesan or Asiago cheese, grated
3 tbsp Italian leaf parsley, chopped

Rehydrate the shiitake mushrooms by placing the caps in a container and covering with boiling water. Place a pint glass or other object on top to fully submerge the caps, and let sit for at least 30 minutes to soften.

In a large Dutch oven, over medium heat, add the oil and sauté the onions for 6–8 minutes, until they become somewhat transparent. Add the leeks and bay leaves, lightly seasoning the vegetables with a few pinches of salt; continue sautéing for another 6–8 minutes. Once the leeks are tender and the onions are just starting to caramelize, add the garlic and cook for another 2–3 minutes. Add the thyme and rice, mix to combine, and toast the rice for 3–4 minutes, stirring continually until the grains are a light golden color. While the rice is toasting, slice the rehydrated shiitake mushrooms (strain the mushroom broth into the pot with the simmering stock).

As the onion mixture is cooking, heat the stock on another burner over low heat with a lid, until it comes to a low simmer. When cooking risotto, it is important to add only hot stock and to have enough of it nearby ready to go. Set aside.

Clean the brown mushrooms, and add them to a medium-size bowl. Add the olive oil, season with a few pinches of salt and toss to evenly coat them in the oil. Preheat a large cast iron pan or sauté pan over high heat for a few minutes. Add the mushrooms to the dry pan cut-side down. Avoid the temptation to stir, and leave the mushrooms for a good 4–5 minutes, until they are a dark brown color. Flip the mushrooms and repeat, until they’re caramelized and slightly shriveled up.

Once the rice is toasted, add the roasted brown mushrooms and the shiitake mushrooms to the Dutch oven. Stir to combine. Add 10 ounces of beer, stirring well using a wooden spoon with a flat edge. Remove any fond (browned bits on the bottom of the pot) with the spoon and add a few small ladles of hot stock to the pan. Continue to stir the rice until the liquid has almost evaporated. Then add a ladle or two more of the stock and stir again. Keep the heat to medium and just be patient as the rice cooks and you stir. After about 25–30 minutes of adding stock and stirring, check the tenderness of the rice grains; they should be just past al dente.

Once the rice is ready, add in the remaining 2 ounces of beer, miso paste and soy sauce. Give the risotto a good stir to incorporate these flavors, and then add another ladle of stock. Turn off the heat and cover the pot, letting sit for 5 minutes undisturbed. Taste and adjust the salt content if needed, and add in some cracked pepper. Mix in the grated cheese and parsley.

The finished risotto should have some viscosity, not firm like mashed potatoes, but not wet like a chowder. Dish the risotto into a wide-rimmed bowl and garnish with some extra cheese. The risotto can be served as is, or topped with a piece of roasted chicken and steamed vegetables.

Photo by Sean Z. Paxton

Photo by Sean Z. Paxton

Crab Risotto with Tripel Karmeliet
Beer yeast esters are very interesting when considering pairings. Belgian beers, such as Tripel Karmeliet from the Brouwerij Bosteels, with their peppercorn, citrusy and herbal flavors, play up the crustacean in this risotto recipe.

Serves: 6–8 guests

6–7 cups stock (fish, shellfish or chicken)
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 each yellow onion, large, peeled and half-inch dice
1 each leek, washed, sliced white and light green part (about 2 cups)
1 each fennel bulb, core removed and diced, saving the fond for garnish
1 each bay leaves, preferably fresh
7 each garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 tbsp thyme leaves, preferably fresh (or 1 tbsp dried)
2 cups rice, short grain, such as arborio
1 each anchovy filet, packed in salt (optional)
16 oz Tripel Karmeliet or other Tripel/Golden Strong beer
1/2 tsp nutmeg, grated
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp chives, chopped fine
2 tbsp Italian leaf parsley, chopped
3/4 cup parmesan or Asiago cheese, grated
2–3 each Dungeness crabs, cooked and cleaned, yielding about 8 oz of meat
1 tsp fennel pollen, optional

In a medium-size pot, over low heat, add the stock. Once the stock is at a low simmer, cover with a lid and leave until ready to use with the risotto.

In a large heavy-bottom pot or Dutch oven, over medium heat, melt the butter. Add in the onion, leeks, fennel and bay leaf, seasoning lightly with salt and stirring frequently with a wooden spoon with a straight edge along the bottom, for 8–10 minutes until the vegetables just start to brown. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for another 2 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant and just lightly browned. Add in the rice and toss to coat evenly in the butter. Toast the rice for 2–3 minutes. Add the anchovy filet.

When the rice is toasted, add about 12 ounces of the Tripel. The beer will foam up and quickly turn to steam. Once the beer is mostly absorbed by the rice, add in a few ladles of the hot stock and continue to stir for the next 25 minutes. Add just enough stock each time to barely cover the rice, stirring constantly. Once all the stock is used up, the rice should be tender, just past al dente.

Turn the heat off, add the remaining 4 ounces of Tripel, along with the nutmeg and butter; stir to incorporate and cover with a lid for about 5 minutes. Stir in the chives, parsley and grated cheese. Fold in half of the shelled and picked crab. Blend this into the risotto, just to warm it up. Adjust the seasoning if needed, adding a few drops of lemon juice to pop the acid a touch. The consistency of the finished risotto should be similar to soft oatmeal. If the mixture is too thick, add a touch more beer and/or stock to get to the desired consistency.

Spoon out the risotto into a bowl or rimmed plate, and top with a nice mound of the remaining crab. Place a few of the fennel fonds on top for a little green and a hint of what’s in the risotto, along with a light pinch of fennel pollen, if using. Add a few steamed or blanched snap peas, green beans or other vegetables to create an elegant meal.

*This technique will break off some of the starch from the grains and make the risotto very creamy.

If crab isn’t available, try adding shrimp or prawns to the risotto. Add them just as you turn off the heat and cover the pot with a lid. This will slowly and perfectly cook the shellfish during the 5-minute rest.

Photo by Sean Z. Paxton

Photo by Sean Z. Paxton

Risotto Cakes
Risotto cakes are a great way to reinvent leftover risotto. These are perfect for breakfast with an egg on top, or as a starchy side for another meal.

Flour Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp pepper, freshly ground

Egg Wash Ingredients:
2 each large eggs, room temperature
1 tbsp beer, Pilsner, Wheat ale or Blonde
1 tsp kosher salt

Bread Crumb Ingredients:
1–2 cups bread crumbs, such as panko, dried or freshly made from a few slices of bread

In a wide bowl or pie plate, add the flour, salt and pepper, whisk together and set aside. In a separate bowl, add the eggs, beer or water, and salt, whisking to make a pale yellow mixture, and set aside. In a third bowl, add the bread crumbs and set aside. Have all the bowls in order as they are made.

Portion the leftover risotto into about 4-ounce balls. Form the balls into the shape of a hamburger patty, or leave as round, depending on how they are going to be served. Place the rice patty into the flour mixture and coat evenly, tapping off any extra flour. Next, dip the patty into the egg wash and coat on all sides. Then place and press into the bread crumbs to make a good crust. Repeat with remaining risotto.

In a sauté pan or skillet over medium-high heat, add a half-cup of olive or vegetable oil, and heat to 325°F. Carefully place the breaded risotto patties into the hot oil and fry on each side for about 2–3 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to a few folded paper towels, allowing any remaining oil to wick off, and serve immediately. Try topping with leftover crab and a poached egg.