Made risotto for dinner and it turned out smooth, delicate and soothing. Lovely flavours, great textures, seriously good. Got me thinking about cheffy tricks, the little things chefs have up their collective sleeve that makes a dish work really well or takes it from one level to the next with a piece of magic generally unknown and unrecorded. But if you trawl as much as I do for good food an occasional nugget will fall into your cooking pot that adds that extra something to the dish du jour.
The reason risotto ended up on the menu at all was that I'd bought and roasted a chicken on the weekend for a fine Sunday dinner, and then had it cold for the next few days in lunchboxes with salad. Having paid £14 for the bird it had already translated into £1.75 per meal and there was still the strong boned carcass and a reasonable amount of meat to be picked from the bones and a fair amount of skin from the underside. I had stock in the freezer, carnaroli rice in the cupboard and courgettes and celery in the fridge. Had risotto written all over it!
It is true that the rice needs lots of stirring for a creamy finish but that is generally well known and the only decision to be made is just how long you will stand stirring smoothly - for ages if you find it relaxing or no time at all if you mostly find it irritating. But the things that took this one from nice to amazing was the stirring in of butter and Parmesan at the very end, off the heat, then covering the pan and leaving it to 'fluff' for about five minutes. Marvellous the difference that makes.
My other trick was crispy chicken skin. It really is something I saw a sleb chef - sorry can't remember which one - do on the tv. Chicken skin, particularly the skin on the back and the thighs can be transformed by simply shredding into thickish strips then warmed through in a dry pan over a low heat. The fat rends, the skin turns a rich gold, and the flavour is essence of chicken. Serious wow. Scattered over the top of the risotto it adds a brilliant finish.
Chicken & Courgette Risotto
2 tbspns olive oil
1 tbspn butter
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 stalks celery, washed and finely sliced
200g carnaroli or other risotto rice
1 litre of stock, warmed to simmering
1 medium courgette, quartered lengthways, then diced
About a cup of cooked chicken flesh
As much skin as you can strip from the carcass
2 tbspns butter
3 tablespoons Parmesan, freshly grated
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Heat the olive oil with one tablespoon of butter in a large heavy based pan, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally over a medium heat till the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and celery and stir for a minute till the garlic changes colour. Add the rice and stir to coat with the onion/butter mix.
Pour one ladle of stock over the rice and stir continuously till it is absorbed by the rice, which will be fairly quick. Keep adding the stock, one ladle at a time, stirring a lot, adding a new one each time the previous one has been absorbed.
After about 15 minutes of ladling and stirring add the chicken and courgettes and stir through. Taste and season. Continue adding the stock gradually till all the stock is used. Taste the rice - it should be creamy, not chalky, but still with a tiny resistance to your bite. If it has not reached this point and all the stock is gone add boiling water till it is perfect.
Leave the pan on the hob but turn off the heat. Stir through the butter, cheese and parsley, cover the pan and leave to sit for a few minutes.
Meanwhile put a small fry pan over a low heat and add the shredded chicken skin. Warm through, stirring, until the fat rends and the skin crisps.
Take the lid off the risotto, check the seasoning, then scatter the crisp skin over the rice and serve.
Thoroughly delightful. Good next day for lunch.
And I still have a carcass for more stock...