Monday, May 25, 2015

Meatless Monday: Morel Risotto

Meat isn't required at every meal... I know those of you who know me best are doing a double take and wondering if I hit my head. Yes I am a devout carnivore and probably would have had a happy life as a butcher if I had chosen to go that way.

However there are situations where meat just isn't necessary; situations where meat's texture and flavor aren't needed. Indian food springs to mind. Deeply flavorful masalas, kormas, and fritters don't need meat. Especially with the combination of lentils and rice which contain all of the essential amino acids which animal proteins usually provide.

Sometimes there are delicate flavors which could be overwhelmed by the addition of meat. And sometimes the variety of textures, flavors and colors provided by vegetables is a welcome respite for tired food. I actually often prefer veggie pizza because of the diversity of toppings that the veggie pizza has.

Today I'm going to show you how to make risotto. Specifically one of the most flavorful, interesting, unique and vegetarian versions that has ever been made.

I am a huge fan of morel mushrooms. For many people who dislike mushrooms this one is a game changer. It has a more firm, meaty texture then most mushrooms and a very strong flavor which is very deeply Umami and not very fungal. Best of all in the spring time they grow wild all over Wisconsin.

They are also very unique looking and have no similar looking mushrooms which are poisonous. It's one of the safest mushrooms to hunt. But remember guys always check anything you source from the wild. As a friend and wild mushroom aficionado in Croatia once told me "Everything is eatable, but some things are only eatable once..."

The first step to making any risotto is get the right kind of rice. Risotto has to be made with a very short grain rice like Arborio rice:

Generally the shorter the grain of rice the more starch it contains. We need as much starch as possible to make good risotto, because the starch from the rice is what makes the risotto creamy.

There is a balance with toasting which needs to be mentioned. When you toast dry rice, it performs the maillard reaction, which is the same as browning meat or making caramel. It adds toasty amazing flavor. This toasty caramelized flavor is one of the most important qualities to great cooking.

But there is a darker side to this which is more specific to starches. When you toast rice you develop flavor but you also breakdown the complex starches. If you over-toast you can destroy too much of the starch which will make your risotto not very creamy... but if you don't toast enough you won't get any of that tasty Maillard fond.

There are two options here, you can pre-rinse your rice, retain the starchy water and add it back during the cooking. Or you can toast only half of the rice. Either method works. I added the powdered ancho chili during the toasting step to extract the oil soluble flavors from the chilies.

I soak morels in salty water to remove as much of the dirt as possible. I usually never even rinse mushrooms in water because it dilutes the flavor of the mushrooms. However morels are more hardy then other mushrooms and stand up well to being soaked. These were also particularly dirty and I wanted to get rid of every bit of it.

After toasting the risotto, I add half of the vegetable stock and bring it lightly to a simmer. A few bay leaves go in now.

I leave the pot covered, stirring once in a while to make sure that all of the liquid hasn't evaporated. Once all most all of the liquid is gone I add half of the reserved vegetable stock. I also would add the Clam juice at this point if you are using it.

Some people insist on heating the stock on the side to speed up the cooking process. It doesn't hurt, but it doesn't help all that much either. I'd rather do one less dish then cook risotto 5 minutes more.

I fry the sliced garlic and mushrooms in butter.

mmmmm butter....

When the risotto is about 5 minutes away from being done (taste, taste, taste), I add the mushroom and garlic mixture and the almost all of the parmesan cheese, reserve a little to garnish.

Once the liquid has thickened and the risotto is at your desired texture, you can serve it! How do I know it's done? How do I know it's thick enough? This is the hard part of being a chef... you have to taste it! It'll thicken a little as it cools enough to be eaten. The stock may have enough salt, or it may not... taste it and add salt and pepper if necessary. Some people like it wetter or drier then others, you just gotta do you!


1 Cup of Arborio Rice
1.5 Quarts vegetable stock
1/2 C grated Sarveccio Parmesan Cheese
8 oz Clam Juice
Morels - as many as you got!
1/2 Tablespoon toasted Ancho chili powder
2 large cloves of Garlic sliced thin
2T butter
2 bay leaves

TL;DR version

Melt 1T butter in a pan, toast half of the rice in the butter with ancho powder until nutty and aromatic. Add half of the vegetable stock, simmer covered until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the clam juice and half of the reserved stock along with bay leaves. Let it simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Fry morels and garlic in the other tablespoon of butter. Add morel mixture and cheese to risotto with additional stock if needed. Salt and pepper to taste. Serves 2-3 very lucky friends.


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