Uni Risotto

Dining date: 8/1/13

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I’ve chronicled a number of risotto dishes on this blog, but I’ve been meaning to prepare a sea urchin (uni) risotto for a while. I was recently inspired by a meal at Mexicali Taco & Co., in which an uni-diving friend brought pounds of fresh urchin to top off our tacos. With some of the residual uni and its juices, I went home to finally prepare this risotto.

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Truffle Risotto

Dining date: 6/28/13

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Risotto is one of the rich, luxurious dishes associated with fine dining. The single most expensive dish I’ve ever eaten was a risotto, but it’s also something I’ve found to be fairly easy to make at home without costing a lot. I’ve definitely made my share of risotto dishes at home (my favorite thus far probably being this lobster risotto), and figured I’d make a truffled version (a classic pairing) when recently purchasing a fresh truffle.

This was my first time buying a fresh truffle, stumbling upon a black summer truffle at my local Japanese market. Unfortunately I couldn’t tell where it was from, but it looked/smelled as good as expected and the price was right…so I figured I’d buy it and give it a try.

Inspired by The French Laundry’s white truffle risotto, I sought out to duplicate Keller’s version at home, substituting my summer truffles for the white ones used in his recipe.

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Lobster Risotto

Dining date: 2/26/12

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When I first started to cook sous vide at home, one of the things I wanted to make was lobster. Like most seafood, it can be a bit challenging for me to prepare since it’s so easy to overcook. With sous vide, I could ensure it would be cooked perfectly each time. I really like seafood risotto, so I decided to pair the lobster with the rice dish. It would be an ideal way to use the whole lobster too, since the body/shell could be turned into a stock for the basis of the dish.

To start with, I purchased a 3+ pound live lobster. As far as I can remember, I’ve never handled a live lobster. In fact, I think this is the first time I’ve had to dispatch anything live for consumption. I’ve read and seen that the quickest, most humane way to kill a lobster is with a knife through the middle of the head; when contemplating that, I felt it was too…direct. So I decided to go with the boiling water method, blanching the lobster for just a minute or two. In short, it had a slow-ish death; I immediately regretted it and was completely disturbed. I hate to say it, but I like to stay removed from the whole process of killing one’s own food.

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Once blanched, I regained my composure and took apart the lobster by twisting the tail off and pulling off the claws and legs. I removed all of the still-raw meat and cut up the shells in order to make a lobster stock. The sight of the whole tail was something else – conjuring up some willpower, I abstained from turning the tail into a lobster sashimi on the spot.

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The shells were sauteed, adding celery, onions, carrots, tomato paste, white wine, thyme, fennel fronds and a bay leaf. Finally, I added water to cover and simmered for about an hour and a half. I didn’t add any salt, figuring I would salt to taste in the final stages of the actual risotto. While simmering the aroma of the stock was incredible, making my apartment smell something like a seafood shack. I half expected the neighbors to come knocking for some fresh lobster rolls and chowder.

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At this point, preparing the lobster meat was probably the easiest part of the entire process. I cut the tail into two portions and combined each portion with one claw’s meat and a generous amount of butter in a vacuum-sealed bag. It would then sit in a 59.5C water bath for about 45 minutes.

Before:

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After:

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While the lobster was cooking, I prepared the risotto. I followed a recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook:

Saffron Risotto

Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 onion, minced
Salt
2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 teaspoon lightly crumbled saffron threads
1 cup dry white wine
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
Pepper

1. Bring the broth and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cover and keep the broth warm over the lowest possible heat.
2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until lightly browned, about 9 minutes.
3. Stir in the rice and saffron threads and cook until the edges begin to turn translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until it is completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add 3 cups of the warm broth mixture and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed, about 11 minutes.
4. Continue to cook, stirring in roughly 1/2 cup of the broth every few minutes, until the rice is cooked through but is still somewhat firm in the center, about 11 minutes.
5. Stir in the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

I followed the steps pretty closely with a few exceptions. First, I used carnaroli rice instead of arborio. Second, I used my homemade lobster stock (duh!) instead of chicken broth, as well as a much higher ratio of stock:water than what’s stated in the recipe. Third, I omitted the cheese.

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Finally, I plated the risotto, topping it with my lobster, chopped parsley, and some lemon zest. Voila!

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I was pretty happy with how everything turned out. As expected, the lobster was perfectly cooked – delightfully spongy and sweet. I think the risotto could’ve been a touch soupier, but I was still happy about it. Both the saffron and lobster stock brought a ton of flavor that really made the risotto, and I liked the lemon zest for the fresh citrus flavor without the tart acidity.

Looking back, it was a lot of work for one dish but it was pretty damn satisfying and I’d do it again. I would experiment with some shortcuts, including using just lobster tails, as well as playing with store-bought chicken/shellfish stock for a dish that would hopefully be close, but much quicker to prepare.