Monday, June 6, 2011

Risotto, Beer and a Brain Fart

First our apologies. Mike the Gay Beer Guy did his part: He got his post about beer and risotto in plenty of time for his monthly post ... and then we blew it. We meant to post it on Friday, we really did, but then M got sick and Rachel forgot and Janet didn't check in because she was too busy and, well, here we are on Monday putting up Friday's post.

But we know you know how that is so we're hopeful to have your forgiveness.

At any rate, here are Mike's pearls of wisdom. Enjoy!

Hi Janet, Hi Rachel. As both of you know, moving is a pain. I moved a few weeks ago, and my new kitchen is simply a chaotic mess ... pots and pans everywhere, random ingredients strewn about, AND, in the middle of all this confusion, someone ordered the wrong stove and fridge, so we were stuck with only a microwave for a few days! Although the process of moving is a pain, a benefit is finding all of your kitchen items at the old place that were stuck behind things (I know I know, “things” is a very ambiguous word, but seriously ... it’s all just THINGS). On cleaning, I stumbled upon Arborio rice that I had once bought to make risotto. PERFECT COMFORT FOOD. Here is my quick and easy risotto recipe, with chicken stock almost from scratch (I fudged a few things since I don’t have my kitchen completely set up yet.)

Making chicken stock (or beef or whatever) from scratch is something people shy away from. There aren’t any huge secrets, so it’s seriously no big deal! You can make it as simple or as complex as you want or have the time for. In this example, I’ve cut a few corners.

For the most robust flavor, I suggest roast chicken parts, or even a whole chicken, rather than just putting raw meat and bones into a pot of water. I didn’t have the time to roast a chicken, so I bought a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket. Either way, prepare your chicken, eat the meat, and keep the bones. In addition, I saw a chef on a cooking show brown an onion in a dry pan until some parts were blackened so I added this to my stock. Add carrots, celery, leeks, bay leaves, thyme — whatever else you like (don’t forget to season!). Cover with water, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer; keep like this for a few hours, at least until the onion has cooked and the veggies have softened. I simmered for about 2 hours and had to leave to teach ... I just left the pot covered on the stove to cool until I came back. Strain out the bay leaves and the chicken carcass, keeping the little pieces of meat and all or none of the veggies, and put the stock in a container in the fridge to cool overnight. In the morning, skim off about 80 percent of the schmaltz (ok for you non-Jews, it’s the fat), and keep in the freezer for 3 months until you’re ready to use!

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 side portions

This is a VERY basic recipe... feel free to explore other possibilities, such as adding asparagus, lobster, grilled squash, or whatever else you like. The key here is to add the stock slowly, letting the rice completely absorb each addition before adding more. Making risotto isn’t difficult, but it does require careful attention to details and the love your Italian grandmother would give (everyone has an Italian grandmother, right?)

Chicken Stock, on a back burner of the stove heating to medium-low
1-2 T EVOO
1 small shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
a few splashes of white Wine (I’ll say what I used later on)
Peas, or other veggies (we’re using frozen)
1-2 tablespoon butter
Parmesan cheese (not from the can please!!)
Fresh rosemary

Start with “mise en place. For those not familiar, this little French saying means that everything is in place, i.e. all ingredients are prepared and ready to go before you begin to cook. In this case, warm your chicken stock (there is no specific amount, just a medium pot on the back burner will do ... it’s better to have more than you need rather than not enough); mince the shallot and garlic (keep separate such that you can add each individually), uncork the wine, pour a glass for yourself, prepare the peas (we’re using frozen, so we just have the bag open on the counter ready to go ... remember cutting corners?), and have your salt and pepper handy (we have a little stainless prep bowl with a lid for our salt and a pepper grinder). As some steps in the recipe will go quickly, it is necessary to have everything in order. When I make risotto, the timing from batch to batch is always different, so it’s also handy to have all of your ingredients within reach! Also, make sure you have a ladle for the stock and a wooden spoon to stir the risotto.

Heat a skillet or large pot with shallow sides over medium heat; add enough EVOO to cover the bottom of the pan if you were to swirl, but not enough so that it doesn’t create a big layer of oil (1-2 T feels like the right amount, but you may need more or less). I keep the skillet on medium heat; the last thing you want to do is burn the shallot or the garlic. Speaking of that, when the skillet is hot enough, add the shallot and cook until half-way cooked through. Add the garlic, saute until almost cooked through and season lightly with salt and pepper (keep in mind, the stock you are adding has seasoning in it). At this point, you want to add the rice when you have just over a minute of cooking time left for the shallot and garlic ... for me, the rice addition is shortly after I add the garlic.

When the shallots and garlic have cooked through and the rice is reasonably toasted, add the liquid additions. Add enough wine so that it almost fills up the pan but not too much that you make a soup. The alcohol will quickly burn off, and then adjust the heat if you need to. There shouldn’t be large simmering bubbled, but you need to have some heat activity going on; in addition, you need to watch that the rice doesn’t cook too quickly. When the wine is absorbed by the rice, add a similar amount of stock to your pan. This is also important: resist the urge to add more stock! Only add more stock when the previous addition has been absorbed by the rice. The whole process takes about a half hour, but has also been as long as 45 minutes for me.

To finish, use your judgement. Try tasting the risotto; the texture should be creamy, yet with some bite to the rice. Add your peas, or whatever you’re using, butter, and cheese off heat, and stir until incorporated (adjust your seasoning too if you haven't yet). Still off heat, place the lid on your pan and let the risotto rest for 2 minutes (this is necessary for flavors to meld and for the creamy texture to further develop). Finish with some more fresh cheese and garnish with some rosemary.

Serve as soon as you can!

Beer (and Wine) Pairing

Rather than give a beer recipe this month (seriously, who has had the time to brew!?!?!?!), I thought I’d share some pairings I’ve put together; this goes back to my very first posting with LTIR, when I staged my own beer tasting dinner! I think this risotto recipe would be a great first course to any dinner... it can be as light or heavy as you want, and can be paired with something equally as delicate or robust!

As I mentioned earlier, we used a nice white wine to not only cook with, but to sample while cooking. Today I used a bottle from Umberto Fiore, 2009 Muscato d’Asti (Asti is a sub-region in Italy). To describe it (keep in mind, I’m the gay BEER guy, not the gay WINE, guy ... personally, I think there are too many of the latter in the world!!!), I feel it is very aromatic, pretty dry (although there is some sweetness), and very light without being too acidic and tart. Another interesting aspect is that this wine has tiny, tiny bubbles ... not quite the carbonation of a true sparkling wine but certainly something interesting in the mouth-feel. AND, it’s just around $10 (we bought it at Costco). Use it to cook, use it to drink ... be happy, enjoy the comfort food love.
For beer, I suggest a nice Saison. Saison Dupont is the classic example, but many breweries foreign and domestic have something similar. Our local big brewery in Kansas City, Boulevard, make a Saison as part of its “Smokestack” series (small batch and limited release). Once or twice, they’ve released a batch of the Saison infected with Brettanomyces, a wild yeast strain popular in Belgian-style ales, and I’ve been cellaring a few bottles; this might be a dish to pair Boulevard’s “Saison Brett.” Speaking of Brett, you might also want to pair this with a well-cellared bottle Orval, one of the Trappist Breweries. The longer it ages, the more Brett character comes through. My light Belgian ale from my beer pairing dinner is based on a recipe designed to be similar to Orval, which would also work in this situation (for the recipe, check out LTIR December 23, 2010), as would Victory’s Wilddevil (I’m also cellaring a bottle of this ... I can’t get it here in the Midwest!!!). Cheers and enjoy!!

Mike the Gay Beer Guy

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