Porcini Risotto and Scallops : Oregano

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Cooking risottos can be a bit of work, and I personally like to stick to the “traditional” slow stirring of the pot, rather than adding all the liquid at once and letting it cook. I believe the starches do release better with the constant mechanical action of the wooden spoon. I have never run a comparison test between the two, which would be interesting. Making one risotto dish is already plenty of work for a regular week night dinner.  Perhaps not the most original risotto recipe either, but it is definitely one of my favorite ones. Porcini Risotto. I have used dried porcini mushrooms this time.  They are readily available, although not the cheapest mushrooms out there, and definitely not the mushrooms I use more frequently either, spending a little extra on this one though, will never disappoint… if you like mushrooms that is.

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Now the addition of scallops is interesting in itself. Mushrooms and seafood do work together, and there are many examples of this, although they are more commonly paired with meats. What’s a little more odd is the pairing of parmesan cheese and seafood, at least in my experience. When using delicate white fish for example, I can see how the strong cheese flavor would mask or hide that of the other. With nicely caramelized scallops, a shellfish, the story changes a bit. The scallop flavor is so intensified by the caramelization that it adds a component of character to the dish rather than getting lost in the mix.  Umami and buttery caramelized sweetness. Try it if you haven’t. I thought it worked really well.  

Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings):

6 Scallops (I used jumbo, but there are tastier ones out there)
1 Cup of Arborio rice
1 cup of dry porcini mushrooms
1/2 white onion small dice
3-4 cloves of garlic thinly sliced
2-3 Cups of chicken, vegetable or mushroom stock (combining to taste is fun)
1/4 Cup dry white wine, like pinot griggio or a dry chardonnay
1/2 Cup grated parmesan cheese
1 bay leaf (fresh if possible)
10 oregano leaves
1-2 Tbsp unsalted butter
Splash of Fish Sauce (yeah, I went there)
Olive oil for sautéing
Salt and Pepper to taste

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The risotto. Sweat the onions in a dutch oven or cast iron deep skillet over medium heat in a little olive oil (you can use a wide saucepan, or a stock pot.. each vessel will require to be used slightly differently). Add the rice to the pot and very lightly toast the rice, don’t allow to brown, just ever so slightly. Add the wine at this point. The rice will absorb it quickly. Add the garlic. Add some salt. Cook and stir for a less than a minute making sure it doesn’t brown. Add a cup of stock and stir. Bring to a simmer. stir some more. And so it begins, the stirring of risotto. Add the oregano leaves. Add more stock, stir some more… the whole process will take about 30 minutes, sometimes as long as an hour, depends on the rice really. If you run out of stock, use water. Too much stock and your risotto will taste like stock. Taste for doneness. When the rice is feeling only slightly undercooked, it is time to add the mushrooms. For the mushrooms. Add the dry mushrooms to a small saucepan, with a little water. Bring to a boil covered. Remove from the heat. Let sit for a few minutes, you can do this ahead of time. I sometimes do it in the microwave using a microwave safe container. Add mushrooms and mushroom liquid to the risotto. The mushroom liquid should only be a little, a few Tbsp of it at the most. Flavor concentration is what we’re looking for.  Add the butter. Melt, keep stirring. If you’ve been adding salt through the process, make sure to under salt a little. We will be adding parmesan cheese and optionally some fish sauce… so make sure the end result isn’t salty, just well seasoned.  The cheese will melt. Reduce any excess liquid until you end up with a creamy risotto. Remove from the heat and get ready for scallop action. You could add a splash of lemon juice at the very end. Just saying…

The scallops. Heat some vegetable oil on a stainless steel skillet. High heat. We’re gonna sear one side really nicely. Salt and pepper the scallops a few minutes before searing.  Dry the scallops with a paper towel. When the oil in the skillet ripples a bit and about to start smoking, add the scallops carefully. Allow to sear for about 1 minute, minute and a half. Do not touch before that. The scallops get stuck to the skillet at first, if you try to move them, you might damage them… game over. After a minute, the scallops are naturally released and you can even check if they’re browning nicely. Remove from the heat. Flip the scallops and cover the skillet with a lit for about 2 minutes. They will be cooked in their own steam. Reserve the scallops. Deglaze the skillet with a splash of wine, scrape the bottom and reduce a little bit. Add this liquid to the risotto and stir well. Nothing should go to waste.

The Plating. Self explanatory. It is a very straight forward dish to put together. A drizzle of olive oil around the perimeter of the risotto serving and a little fresh oregano leaf completes the dish. Enjoy.

 

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