Sunday, March 14, 2010

Daring Cooks' March Challenge - Risotto

The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of MelbournefoodGeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.

This month’s Daring Cooks’ challenge was pretty familiar to me: I’ve made risotto often. Although I have to admit, for the longest time I didn’t even consider making it: I used to think it was a fancy, complicated dish. But it’s actually fairly simple, albeit a little time consuming.

It’s also extremely versatile, which makes it convenient as hell. I’ve made risotto with smoked salmon and asparagus, aragula and gorgonzola, lemon and mushrooms… For this challenge, I decided to steer away from Italian flavours, and take the fusion road.

Fusion cuisine is not something I do often. I prefer discovering national cuisines and understanding how they work and blend flavours, before messing around with them. And since I always feel like I still have much to learn, I never get around to fusing. But I have come across fusion recipes that worked out extremely well. And it seemed like the perfect way to get creative with this challenge.

One of the requirements was to make our own stock. I delegated most of this task to Laurent, because he is the stock expert in the house. Me, I know how to make stock, but he seems to enjoy it so much more than I do – the exceptions being Asian stocks, such as Japanese dashi and Vietnamese pho broth: that’s my territory.

We used out usual stock recipe, since we know it works with any dish: one whole chicken, a couple of extra breasts, celery, carrots, onion, peppercorns and a classic bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, and bay). And quite a bit of salt. We simmered it at low heat for 3 hours, and ended up with 3 litres of deep, clear stock – along with loads of poached chicken meat, to use in salads.

For my first fusion experiment, I made a Tex-Mex Risotto, with sautéed bell pepper, black beans, corn, red Spanish onion, grated Monterey Jack cheese, jalapeno, and fresh cilantro. But, even though Tex-Mex cuisine tends to use long grain rice, I stuck with Italian Arborio rice, which works best for risotto. The result was really pretty good. And the fusion really didn’t taste weird at all: on the contrary, it felt natural. It might seem like I put a lot of stuff in there, but I always make risotto this way. To me, risotto is always an all-in-one meal, because I find it too filling to be a side-dish. So I always try to incorporate veggies and protein in there.

I took it a step further for my second try: Japanese risotto. Again, I used Arborio rice, because Japanese rice would probably have yielded a sticky mess. But instead of regular onions for the risotto base, I used scallions. And I deglazed the rice with sake, instead of the usual white wine. Finally, I replaced the chicken stock with diluted miso (not too much, otherwise the meal would have been way too salty – but enough to imbibe the rice with umami). I garnished the risotto with sautéed shiitake, and salmon teriyaki.

It came out great, I thought. The slightly salty rice contrasted well with the sweet-and-salty teriyaki – I made a point of not blending the ingredients too much, so as to prevent the sauce from getting everywhere and killing the miso. And the shiitake added a nice chewy texture to the mix. The rice was creamy and moist, very different from the usual sticky rice that comes with Japanese cuisine.

So, thank you to Eleanor and Jess for this fun, versatile challenge! Please check out the challenge recipes over at the Daring Kitchen: there are yummy risotto ideas, including preserved lemon, or pumpkin risotto! And don’t forget to check out the other Daring Cooks’ dishes!

Tex-Mex Risotto

Serves 3-4

For the risotto base:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium Spanish red onion, diced
200g (7 oz) Arborio rice
1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
120 ml (1/2 cup) dry white wine
1 litre (4 cups) homemade chicken stock

For the vegetable topping:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded, cleaned, and cut into strips
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
250 ml (1 cup) cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
250 ml (1 cup) corn kernels, canned or frozen

Final touches:
80 ml (1/3 cup) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
A handful of fresh cilantro leaves, washed and chopped
Salt to taste

Heat the chicken stock in a separate saucepan, until steaming. Keep warm.

Prepare the vegetables:
In a skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper and the jalapeno, and stir-fry until tender. Add in the black beans and corn kernels and cook until heated through. Remove from heat and set aside.

Make the risotto base:
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat 2 tbsp of oil over medium heat. Add the diced red onion and cook until tender. Add the rice and the cumin, and stir to coat each grain in oil. Pour in the wine and continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated or been absorbed.

Pour a ladleful of hot stock over the rice. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until all the stock has been absorbed. Repeat these steps until the rice is almost cooked to your liking.

Assemble the dish:
In the final minutes of cooking, add the cooked vegetables to the rice and stir them in. Continue cooking until warmed completely. At the last minute, stir in the shredded cheese. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Serve immediately and garnish with chopped cilantro.

Japanese Risotto

Serves 2-3

For the risotto base:
2 tbsp olive oil
3-4 scallions, chopped
200g (7 oz) Arborio rice
60 ml (1/4 cup) sake
1 tbsp white miso, diluted in 1 litre (4 cups) warm water

For the salmon teriyaki:
60 ml (1/4 cup) sake
60 ml (1/4 cup) mirin
30 ml (1/8 cup) soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar
300g (10.5 oz) salmon fillet, skinned
1 tbsp olive oil

For the shiitake:
360 ml (1 1/2 cup) shiitake mushrooms, washed, stemmed and sliced
1/2 tbsp canola oil
Salt, to taste

Prepare the salmon teriyaki:
Combine the soy sauce, mirin, and sake in a small saucepan. Stir in the sugar and cook over low heat, until the sugar has dissolved. Transfer to a bowl or deep plate, and let cool completely. Add the salmon fillet and marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Remove the salmon from the marinade, shaking off any excess liquid. Make sure to reserve the marinade. In a skillet, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over high heat and sear the salmon to your liking; do not let it get too dry inside. Remove the salmon from the pan, and cut it into chunks. Reserve.

Transfer the marinade into a saucepan and cook over medium heat, until the sauce has thickened considerably (it should form a slightly liquid glaze). Reduce heat and add the salmon, stirring gently to coat the chunks of fish. Keep warm over low heat and reserve.

Prepare the shiitake:
Heat 1/2 tbsp oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Add the shiitake and stir-fry until tender. Salt to taste, remove from heat, and reserve.

Make the risotto base:
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat 2 tbsp of oil over medium heat. Add the sliced scallions and cook until tender. Add the rice, and stir to coat each grain in oil. Pour in the sake and continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated or been absorbed.

Pour a ladleful of hot miso broth over the rice. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until all the liquid has been absorbed. Repeat these steps until the rice is almost cooked to your liking.

Assemble the dish:
In the final minutes of cooking, add the sautéed mushrooms to the rice and stir them in. Continue cooking until warmed completely. Divide the risotto into individual servings, and top each plate with a helping of warm salmon. Serve immediately.


  1. 2 very interesting risottos (risotti????). Good job!

  2. omg I love your tex-mex risotto - that is perfect is so many ways! Great fusion idea! Your japanese risotto looks great too, but I am definitely drooling over the Tex-mex one!

  3. Good for you and challenging your fusion barriers. I agree the texmex got my attention first but both look great.

  4. I love risotto - it's easy to make, can easily be gluten free (a must for me), and is so versatile, as your two recipes prove. These both look excellent - I'm not sure which one to try first! Thanks!


  5. Isn't fusion so much fun! :)) Love your Tex-Mex version! I did a Mexican fusion risotto as well1 :)

  6. Loved that you came up with more than one version - one East and one West. Both look delicious and great job on this challenge.

  7. I love your risotto versions, I almost made a dirty rice version.. you have inspired me to give it a shot. Thanks!

  8. Beng one who basks in fusion..I'm in love with your Tex-Mex and Japanese risottos!! I used to make Giada's Dirty Risotto until I got sick of Beautifully done as always, Val :)

  9. Wow those are really great flavors for risotto. The japanese risotto sounds really lovely :)

  10. Just love that you did two versions but the tex-mex one looks so pretty and must of been delicious. But the Japanese one is my favourite wonderful use of flavour combining. Superb efforts. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

    Gorgeous photos as well.

  11. Tex-Mex! Sounds like a such a fun idea to make. And its great how you added so much stuff in there, i also agree that risottos should all-in-one. Crazy how italians really eat them as appetizers, i would be stuffed by the end of the first course. The japanese fusion risotto is also genius. Love the presentation with the fried mushrooms!

  12. Now there's a thought! A tex mex risotto... Brilliant idea!
    I think I actually did not use enough salt while making the stock... I used some of the leftovers today and after adding loads of salt it does taste a whole lot better (well, I added salt AND lots of other stuff...) I will be using a different method for next time though..:)

  13. These look amazing, especially the Japanese version. Good job!

  14. Risotto is just so versatile, love your fusion version of tex-mex and japanese. The tex-mex version is very colorful and outstanding, but they are both look just as delicious..

    Sawadee from bangkok,

  15. You've done a great job with this challenges and I love your slant on risotto. As a matter of fact, I love the adventurous quality of your blog. I'll be back often to see what you've been making. Have a great day...Mary

  16. The fusions look great! Sounds like a wonderful way to fill my tex-mex cravings!

  17. That Japanese risotto sounds delicious! I love miso and rice. I just signed on for Daring Cooks and can't wait to get started on something that's not dessert! Too bad I missed this one:(

  18. Hello Valérie!!

    Your risotto's do look so lovely & apart too!

    You have done an excellent job!! Yeah!

    Yum Yum Yum,...

  19. Risotto is the freedom of putting any ingredients and it always turn out delicious. Recently on Foodbuzz, someone did a mole risotto, even chocolate risotto.

  20. Valerie, I have something for you at my blog... Please click...

    Sawadee from Bangkok,