Sundried tomato lobster risotto

It’s okay to be selfish with shellfish

Originally appeared in the October 4, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

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Don’t get me wrong, I love shellfish.  But a little bit goes a long way.  Give me a modest-sized yet high-quality disc of lump crabmeat formed into a crispy, golden cake and it’s aces in my book.  Then there’s the alternative: a hearty portion of a mostly-breaded concoction formed into a rubbery puck.  No thanks, friend.  What I’m trying to tell you is this: you don’t need to break the bank to impart all the hallmarks of high-quality ingredients—particularly lobster.

You only need a little lobster here.  (In fact, I’d rather have you focus on technique with the cooking of the risotto grains, but we’ll get to that in a second.)  We’re just looking to impart a little flavor and permeate this creamy dish with the distinctive aroma of lobster.  The sundried tomato adds a bit of tartness to counterbalance the sweetness from the lobster.

Now, back to technique.  If, while stirring your risotto, it seems as though your arm might fall off, you’re doing things precisely right.  This takes a little labor, but as I’ve said before:  it’s worth it.  And although it’s perfectly fine to be selfish with shellfish, don’t forget to share.

Sundried tomato lobster risotto

Serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 shallots, fine chop
  • 2 tablespoons chopped sundried tomato
  • 1 ½ cup Arborio or carnaroli rice
  • ½ teaspoon or to taste cayenne
  • 1/3 cup dry white vermouth
  • 6 ¼ cups shellfish, fish, or light chicken stock, simmering
  • 8 ounces cherry tomatoes, quartered and seeded
  • 2-3 tablespoons heavy or whipping cream
  • 2 cups cooked, coarsely chunked lobster
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chervil or dill

1.  Heat the oil and half the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add shallots and cook for several minutes until tender; add sundried tomatoes and cook until tender.  Add the rice and cayenne and cook, stirring frequently for about 2 minutes, until rice is translucent and coated with hot fat.

2.  Pour in vermouth (it will bubble and steam rapidly).  Stir continually until liquid is absorbed.  Add in a large ladleful (about 1 cup) of simmering stock, and continue to stir constantly until liquid has absorbed.

3.  Continue adding the stock, about half a ladleful at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next installment.  Never allow rice to cook completely dry.  This should take 20-25 minutes.  The risotto should have a creamy consistency and the rice should be tender, but firm to the bite.

4.  Stir in tomatoes and cream, and cook for a couple minutes.

5.  Add the cooked lobster with the remaining butter; add in chervil or dill.  Cook long enough to just gently heat the lobster.  Serve immediately.

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Pad Thai

Pad Thai: an inclusive noodle

Originally appeared in the July 19, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

Most cultures have a mind-numbing variety of noodle or pasta dishes, but one of the most versatile and flavorfully complex is the popular Pad Thai.

Pad Thai is composed of, well…it depends.  Like many stir-fry specimens, the profile for pad Thai will have requisite variations, but it is the homogenous arrangement of often numerous individual ingredients that contribute to its singular personality.  What you can be certain of is the presence of rice noodles, sautéed onion, perhaps some for form of protein (pork, chicken, tofu, eggs), with hints of citrus and sweetness along with a nuttiness from the oil and crushed peanuts.  And then there’s the issue of heat.  If you’re dining out, you can often request a heat level for many stir-fry dishes; but if you’re cooking at home, you won’t have that problem, will you?  All it takes is a little Pad Thai tinkering and crushed pepper experimentation.

My suggestion is that you take advantage of the season’s fruits and vegetables by incorporating generous amounts of citrus and fresh herbs (pad Thai is known for fresh scallion).  Stir-fries are inclusive and unpretentious dishes, so approach this with a friendly attitude, because you should be prepared to share.

Pad Thai

Serves 4 – 6

  • 1 pound dried, rice-stick noodles
  • ½ cup fish sauce
  • ½ rice wine vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 ounces garlic, mashed to paste
  • 10 ounces chicken, cut into thin strips
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons or to taste Thai chili powder or cayenne
  • 4 ounces scallion, bias-cut into thin rings
  • 4 ounces unsalted peanuts, fine chop
  • 3 cups mung bean sprouts
  • ¼ cup minced fresh cilantro

Condiments­

  • Bean sprouts
  • Fine chop unsalted peanuts
  • Lime wedges
  • Thai chiles, thin slice
  • Minced cilantro

1.  Soak rice sticks in bowl of warm water until soft (about 15 minutes).  Meanwhile, combine fish sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and ketchup in a small bowl.  Stir until sugar has dissolved.  Drain noodles—reserve until needed.

2.  Heat oil in wok or wide-bottomed sauté pan; add chicken and sauté until meat begins to turn white; add garlic and cook briefly (don’t burn).  Add fish sauce mixture, and bring to a boil; add noodles and gently toss with sauce.  Continue to cook until noodles have absorbed sauce (about 2 minutes).

3.  Pour eggs into the pad Thai mixture, and mix thoroughly until egg is set.  Add chili powder or cayenne, along with scallions; cook until scallions are softened.  Stir in peanuts and bean sprouts until incorporated well.  Sprinkle pad Thai with cilantro, and serve with condiments.

Pumpkin and Pancetta Risotto

Risotto:  it’s a stir thing

Originally appeared in the October 27, 2011 edition of the Southside Times.

Risotto—we’ve talked about it before; and if anything resonates it’s probably this:  It’s not fast food.  Of course, this is far from a bad thing.  The risotto method—which resembles a pilaf technique in the opening steps—utilizes a slow-simmering process to coax starch from the squat-shaped grains of rice.  We’re using Arborio for this pumpkin and pancetta permutation (mainly because of its easy-to-obtain availability), but you can also use carnaroli or vialone nano.

And speaking of availability, when it comes to procuring a pumpkin, this is prime time.  (And here’s a fun autumnal addition:  clean your pumpkin seeds, toast them appropriately, and use them as a garnish.  Just a thought.)  Click here to read more: (more…)

Cast-iron chicken with apple cider orzo

A guilt-free glimpse at fall

Originally appeared in the September 15, 2011 edition of The Southside Times.

“It tastes like alternative Thanksgiving.”  That was my wife’s initial reaction when presented with this dish.  Although the mere mention of the aforementioned holiday may seem preemptive, it’s honestly not that far away.  And besides, I knew what she was meant—you have the bird, the herbs, and so many flavors of fall.  Continue reading after the jump: (more…)