Sundried tomato lobster risotto

It’s okay to be selfish with shellfish

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


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.

Curry-dusted scallops with minted peas

Loosen up: cooking à la minute

Originally appeared in the June 14, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

My favorite form of cooking is à la minute, which essentially means cooking to order.  Mise en place (or making sure all your ingredients are prepped and portioned) is critical in all applications of culinary arts, but it is particularly important when cooking à la minute.

For this week’s installment, you can see the recipe is composed of these simple ingredients: scallops, peas, mint, some fat, some liquid, and some seasonings—that’s it.  Sure, we all need guidelines to execute a recipe, but I think you’ll see it’s much more fun to wing it in the kitchen.

When you’re ready to cook for your guests, you’re mise en place should already be prepped and arranged in an easily accessible arrangement (why do you think most old-school kitchen are so tightly confined?—it’s easy to keep thing within reach).  Heat your pan with oil, dust your scallops with salt, pepper, and a bit of curry powder, and you’re off.  After removing your scallops, use the same pan to sauté your peas.  Trust me: you can make a show of it and be serving your culinary comrades in no time.

Yes: recipes are important, but it’s more important to have fun and loosen up, and cooking à la minute is an ideal way to be free.

Curry-dusted scallops with minted peas

Serves 2

  • 6, medium-sized sea scallops
  • As needed, curry powder
  • As needed, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • As needed, olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sherry wine
  • As needed, fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup frozen peas (thawed)
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh mint
  • ½ tablespoon unsalted butter

1.  Heat a medium-sized sauté pan on medium-high heat; add a small amount of olive oil.  Lightly dust your scallops with curry powder, salt, and pepper.  Gently settle scallops onto sauté pan.  Sear scallops until golden brown before flipping to other side (adjust pan with more oil if needed.  When scallops have gained color and are nearly cooked through, reserve them on a plate.  Deglaze pan with sherry wine, scraping fond form the bottom with a wooden spoon; allow to reduce halfway.  Add lime juice and momentarily simmer.

2.  Add peas and stir to heat.  Remove pan from heat and add mint and swirl in butter.  Adjust seasonings before plating peas.  Rest three scallops on top of peas for each serving.  Garnish with extra mint.

Published in: on June 14, 2012 at 5:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Shortcuts aside, clams are still a classic

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

Okay—so I slightly missed the window for in-season clams.  I had been so looking forward to sharing the recipe linguine alle vongole.  What can I say?  I got busy.  And the notion of being busy (along with all its hectic trappings) makes a nice segue.

Sometimes when you become overwhelmed by the lack of time in your day, you come understand that being spread so thin involves a certain amount of compromise.  Whether it’s your career or your craft or both, culinary shortcuts are, from time to time, not only a reality but a way of survival.  Substituting canned clams for the fresh, in-shell variety may not be a cardinal sin, but I like treating the classics like classics.  So we’ll call this an ersatz vongole.  This way, I can give an earnest nod toward the noble dish without feeling too awful deviant.

The ingredients are pretty straightforward, and the dish itself is relatively easy to execute—something that, in a restaurant, could certainly be prepared a la minute, meaning all components (sauce, starch, protein) are cooked to order, and typically in the same pan.

Maybe your conscience is clean.  Maybe I just need to stop wringing my hands about this and start cooking my own batch of linguine and clams.


Linguine with spicy white wine clam sauce

Serves 3 – 4

  • 6 ounces dry linguine (Barilla is nice)
  • As needed, extra virgin olive oil (plus more to garnish)
  • 1, 10-ounce can sweet clams, drained (juice is saved for the end)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • To taste, crushed red pepper
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
  • To taste, kosher salt and cracked black pepper
  • As needed, chopped fresh Italian parsley

1.  In a large pot of salted, boiling water, cooked linguine until al dente (or just cooked enough to have some bite).  Meanwhile, in a sauté pan over medium heat, warm your olive oil.  Add in clams and sauté briefly.  Add garlic and stir, cooking until aromatic; add crushed red pepper.  Pour in white wine and gently scrape bottom of pan with wooden spoon.  Allow wine to reduce until the bottom of the pan is almost (that’s almost) dry.  Add a small amount of reserved clam juice and bring to a simmer.

2.  Briefly drain linguine and pour into clam sauce.  Toss pasta and adjust seasonings.  Lower heat and add butter, swirling into sauce until mixture thickens and butter melts.  Adjust consistency with any remaining clam juice.  Garnish plates with chopped Italian parsley.

Published in: on April 19, 2012 at 9:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Fried oysters with creamed spinach

Be brave for these beloved bivalves

Originally appeared in the January 12, 2012 edition of the Southside Times.

In the Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens’s Samuel Pickwick comments that “poverty and oysters seems to go together.”  Yet in our current culinary zeitgeist, oysters are a delicacy (particularly the raw variety), often associated with more cosmopolitan eating scenes.  But it might just be an issue of bravery.  For it was a brave man, wrote Jonathan Swift, that first ate an oyster.  People are eager to try something exotic, particularly here in the Midwest.  Read more here: (more…)