Saturday 14 March 2015

Shrimp Risotto

Risotto is an unconventional rice dish from Northern Italy that is a comfort food favourite and a dish that I have been meaning to share on the blog since its inception. Rather than using steam, the rice in risotto is cooked by sautéeing and adding increments of liquid while stirring. The result causes the rice to release starch creating a naturally creamy sauce. There are an infinite amount of ingredients that you can use to flavour a risotto. Shrimp is the leading star of this recipe with supporting roles from peas, shallots, lemon, parsley and chives. It's delicious and easy to do.

The main liquid used in any risotto is broth. I'm going to show you how to make a beautiful shrimp stock from scratch that will work perfectly in this recipe. It involves some prep and about an extra 40 minutes of time but it is so worth it. If for whatever reason you'd rather not trouble yourself to make a stock, then you can use any good quality fish or chicken stock in its place. The broth plays a key role in the flavour of your risotto. Making your own will create a much better product. To prepare the broth for this recipe, you will need the shells and tails from 2 lbs of shrimp, but you'll only need 1 lb of shrimp for the risotto. 


Get yourself 2 lbs of shrimp and divide them in half. You can use any shrimp you like, here I'm using black tiger shrimp. Mine came deveined, but if yours aren't you'll want to do that yourself. That means removing the dark vein-like digestive tract that runs along the back of the shrimp. This can be done easily with a paring knife. Peel the shells away from the shrimp and pull on the tail to remove the meat in one piece. The tail and shell should slide right off with little resistance. Reserve all of the shells and tails. These will be the base for the stock. Once your 2 lbs of shrimp are deveined and peeled, you can use 1 lb for this recipe and the remaining lb you can seal in an air tight bag and freeze for another day within 4 months. 


Risotto also requires a specific kind of rice. I typically use carnaroli rice, but you can use arborio which is a very popular alternative. Some other examples are maratelli, baldo, padano, roma and Vialone Nano. These varieties are high in starch, low-amylose and short grain making them nice and sticky. Other kinds of rice won't work for this specific technique.  Also, do not rinse the rice beforehand as this will remove starch that is essential to making risotto work.

Before we get on with the recipe, I'd like to point out one thing. This recipe uses both cheese and seafood. Many chefs and cooks alike live by a code that cheese should never be combined with fish or seafood. I, too, live by this code most of the time. Seafood risotto is one of those very rare exceptions. I would never put Parmigiano Reggiano on a seafood pasta dish, but I use it every time I make risotto, whether it's seafood or not. It just seems to work. You'll have to trust me on this one. 

Ingredients for shrimp stock

Shells/tails from 2 lbs of shrimp
1 white onion, roughly chopped
1 small carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 rib celery, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped 
1 hot chili pepper, roughly chopped (optional)
1/3 cup fresh chives, roughly chopped
1 tsp peppercorns
1 dried bay leaf
Sea salt
2 tbsps olive oil
6 cups water 

In a large pot over medium heat, add 2 tbsps of olive oil. Add the white onion, carrot and celery with a pinch of salt. Sautée for 5 minutes.

When the veggies have softened add the chili pepper and garlic. Sautée for an additional 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the shrimp shells and tails to the pot. They will change colour within seconds. Stir for about a minute. This will accentuate the natural shrimp flavour. 

Add 6 cups of water and increase the heat to just below high. Add the peppercorns, bay leaf and fresh chives to the liquid. 

When the water comes up to a gentle simmer, reduce the heat to low and maintain that gentle simmer for 30 minutes. During this time you may have to add a bit of hot water here and there to compensate for evaporation. Play with the heat as required but never let a stock boil or it will kill the flavour. 

Then drain the solids from the stock, reserving all of the liquid. Use a wooden spoon to press down on the solids to extract any excess liquid through the strainer. 

You'll only need about 4 or 5 cups to make the risotto but it's always better to have a little extra than not quite enough. Place the stock back on the stove and keep it warm. Taste to gauge the salt level and adjust accordingly. 


Once the stock has been salted it becomes broth. Keep the shrimp broth warm while you get on with the risotto. 

Ingredients for shrimp risotto

4-5 cups of shrimp broth
1 cup dry, white wine
1 cup carnaroli rice
1 lb shrimp, deveined and peeled
2 shallots, finely diced
1/2 cup frozen peas
3 tbsps fresh parsley, finely chopped
3 tbsps of fresh chives, finely chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice from 1/2 lemon
2 tbsps olive oil
2 tbsps butter

Add 2 tbsps of olive oil to a pan over medium heat. Sautée the shallots until softened.

 Add the carnaroli rice to the shallots.


Stir until every grain of rice is very lightly coated in oil. 

Add 1 cup of dry, white wine and stir. As the risotto cooks, the alcohol will burn off and the rice will begin to absorb the wine. 

Stir until most of the wine is absorbed. There should be very little liquid but it shouldn't be burning. 

Then add a ladle of the warm shrimp broth and stir that in. 

The rest of the process is basically repeating the last two steps until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente. This will take about half an hour or so. It's just a matter of adding a little bit of broth, stirring and stirring until the liquid is absorbed, adding more broth, stirring and stirring then so on.

I can't stress this enough: do not walk away from your risotto. It will stick and burn in the blink of an eye. You've really got to babysit a risotto. Once that rice is in the pan, you have to commit to seeing it through every second of the way. Don't stress out about it, it's certainly not hard. Personally, I find it kinda therapeutic in a relaxing way. You've just got to man (or woman) your post. 


Over time the rice will absorb more and more of the broth and swell up. After 30 minutes taste a little bit of the risotto to test for doneness. It should be soft but still have a little bite to it. 

Be careful as not to overcook the risotto or it will be mushy. When it seems about right, add one last ladle of broth along with the shrimps and the frozen peas.

Continue to stir. The shrimp and peas will only take about 2 minutes to cook through. Add the butter as well.

When the butter has melted add the freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. I say 1/4 cup in the recipe but don't trouble yourself to measure it out. The beautiful thing about Parmigiano Reggiano is that its very hard to add too much of it, so grate to your heart's content. 

Once the cheese is stirred in, check the consistency of the risotto. It should be thick, but still loose and runny. When you run a wooden spoon through it, the channel should close back up. If it's not runny enough, stir in a little more broth. When the consistency is good, you can turn off the heat and stir in the fresh lemon zest and juice.

Sprinkle in a little fresh parsley and chives and stir. Now you're ready to plate and serve. I like to add a little extra Parmigiano, parsley and chives after it's plated.

This is a stellar dish. It's rich and creamy, has a little sweetness from the shrimp and the peas, brightness from the lemon, some earthiness from the parsley and chives, nuttiness from the Parmigiano and everything is tied in with the symphonic flavour profile of the homemade broth. This is how risotto is supposed to be prepared. You can't go wrong (unless you break the one cardinal rule by walking away from your risotto while it's cooking). I find risotto makes a good appetizer but there's nothing stopping you from serving it as a side or even enjoying it as a main with a fresh salad. Risotto is quite filling so a little goes a long way. 

It's nice to treat yourself to some comfort food now and then and this is a great recipe for such an indulgence. I'm sure you can see several areas where you can tweak this recipe to your liking. If you have any leftover veggies you're not sure what to do with, sneaking them into the broth is a great way to use them up. You may choose to omit wine and just use the broth as well. There are lots of ways you can make this your own.

I hope you enjoyed! This is my busiest time of the year with work so I'm sorry there hasn't been the same momentum on the blog. The good news is that within a few weeks everything should calm back down and the blog will be back in full effect. In the meantime, this is a great little risotto to keep you satisfied. lol

Until next time,

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