After creating two risotto dishes we find ourselves competing with five other amazing food bloggers for the title of Integrale Risotto Master. The key to this last round of the competition is to create a dish that is so visually appealing that the judges will want to devour the submitted photo. As stated in the Round 3 guidelines below “It’s all about the presentation.”
Now we will be the first to admit that presentation is not our strong suit here at Great Outdoors Cooking. Heck, we typically eat outside, frequently in the woods, at the beach or even in the rain. Creating great recipes that reflect our love of the outdoors is generally our focus. We tend to leave the nouveau cuisine plate designs (and the pathetically small portions that typically go with them) to those who are charging $30 for an appetizer. So when we learned that the ultimate winner of this competition would be judged on how pretty the plate looked, we were understandably a little apprehensive.
So the first step was to determine what featured ingredient would really make the judge’s mouths water while maintaining our focus on locally sourced ingredients that reflect our love of the outdoors.
The obvious answer was “Oysters!”. Nothing makes our mouths water like the sight of fresh bivalves on the halfshell or the deep golden goodness of fried seafood. So we decided to make a risotto that featured a medley of preparations of our favorite shellfish. We also knew that color would be important, so we chose to incorporate bright red roasted bell peppers and vibrant green serrano chilis into the rice. The end result looks almost as good as it tastes – and it tastes AMAZING. So check out our recipe for Oyster Risotto below and let us know what you think.
Since this recipe calls for preparing oysters three ways (sauteed into the risotto, fried and grilled), the key is to select the appropriate variety of shellfish for each cooking style. For this recipe we chose Chesapeake Bay oysters to be sauteed for the risotto due to their creamy texture and flavor. We also decided to go with the Chesapeake Bay oysters for the fryer as they are typically a bit larger bodied than other varieties and thus can stand up to the batter that will cover them. Finally, we chose Maine oysters from Taunton Bay for the grill as they stand up well to heating and have a buttery character that will compliment our risotto nicely. Both of these oyster varieties were readily available at our local market (in this case Whole Foods) and fairly reasonable with regard to pricing.
The first step is to get your Chesapeake Bay oysters ready for the fryer as this will be the most time consuming portion of the process (next to making the risotto of course). These oysters are frequently available pre-shucked and stored in their own juices, which is another reason that they make a perfect candidate for deep frying. Be sure to save the juice as this will be used to add flavor to the risotto later.
The process for frying your oysters is very similar to that which you would normally use for fries or onion rings, with a few exceptions. Warm your oil (we always use a 50/50 combination of peanut oil and canola oil when frying seafood) to 350 degrees farenheit. While your deep fryer is heating up, mix corn meal and unbleached all-purpose flour in equal portions into a medium paper bag. Add enough of the spice mix so that you see specs of color throughout the batter mix.
Set up a standard battering station of dry/wet/dry (flour/egg/batter) and begin by draining the oysters (remembering to save the juice for later) and place them one by one into the flour, then egg, then shaking them in the bag to batter. Remember to fully coat each oyster with flour, then fully coat with egg and drain off any excess before dropping it into the battering bag. Give the bag a nice serious of vigorous shakes (a great activity for young aspiring sous chefs), then gently drop 2 – 3 oysters into the frying basket while it is suspended above the hot oil. Slowly lower the basket into the oil and make sure that the oysters are neither touching one another nor stuck onto the bottom of the basket. Fry each oyster for 2 – 3 minutes or until the batter is golden brown. Be sure not to overcook your oysters as you want them to be plump and juicy and not overly reduced, which would give them a rubbery texture.
If you do everything just right, your oysters should look like the ones in the photo below.
Next up, it’s time to grill some oysters. Once again, the key to success is to not overcook your shellfish. Get your grill fired up and try to maintain the temperature right around 300 degrees farenheit. If you are using a charcoal grill equipped with louvers that control air flow, use these to adjust the amount of oxygen that feeds your fire. As always, we suggest using hardwood charcoal for your grill over gas or traditional coal-based charcoals.
Once your fire is stable and heating consistently at 300 degrees, place the oysters in the shell directly onto the grill over the center of your heat source. Spread them so that there is plenty of space between each shell to allow distributed heat flow for event cooking. Wet a towel or burlap sheet and wring it out so that the material is moist but not dripping water. Place the towel/burlap over the oysters and close the lid on your grill. The moist towel will steam the oysters and help to prevent them from becoming overly cooked.
Leave oysters over heat for 3 – 5 minutes until the shells just begin to open. Once cooked, remove the oysters from the grill and cover with the same towel you used to steam them. This will keep your shellfish moist and warm until you are ready to add them to your risotto for serving.
Now place your two red bell peppers and vidalia onion on the grill and open up the airflow just a bit so that flames begin to appear around your coals. Brush olive oil liberally on each vegetable and turn regularly until all sides are darkened. The skin of the peppers should begin to pull away from the inside flesh and be golden brown in places. You will know your onion is ready when it begins to release a bit of juice and you can pierce the outer layer with a fork. Remove the vegetables from the fire, finely chop each and place them into a single bowl.
Time to prep the ingredients for your risotto. For this recipe we suggest using a pickled pepper, such as the serranos pictured above. To ensure that your peppers are sufficiently pickled, it is best to place them in a pickling solution for at least 24 hours. If you have never made a pickling solution or simply don’t have time to make one up, you can reuse the pickling juice that accompanies any store bought variety of dill pickle. This is not our first option, but is certainly useful in a pinch.
Chop your pickled peppers and fresh herbs into small pieces so that these ingredients will disperse evenly and not clump on the bottom when added to your risotto. Assemble your grilled red bell peppers & vidalia onion, herbs, pickled peppers, grated gruyere cheese, chopped garlic, olive oil and butter. Head on inside and let’s make some risotto!
A Note on the Compound Butter Used for This Recipe
We were fortunate enough to have prepared this recipe on June 16th, the day after National Lobster Day. As such, we had some wonderful compound butter made from combining the tomalley of several lobsters with garlic and lime juice that we had prepared the day before. This special butter adds creamy, tangy & salty flavors to our risotto. As one famous chef would say, the compound butter “Kicks it up a notch”. If you have the opportunity, grab a few lobsters from your local market or seafood retailer and try whipping up a batch of tomalley compound butter for use in your favorite recipes that calls for a little flavor of the sea. You won’t be sorry!
Preparing the Risotto
Everyone who has been following our progress through the Integrale Gauntlet should be well acquainted with the process for making a traditional risotto by now. Step 1: Preheat a base protein stock solution Step 2: Saute rice, butter and herbs in a saucepan. Step 3: Slow add warmed stock solution to the sauteed rice one ladle at a time, mixing continuously, to release starches from the rice to produce a thick risotto. Step 4: Add butter or cream (or both) and serve risotto.
Since the Integrale rice that we are using is unprocessed, with the bran left intact, we experimented a bit with pre-cooking the grain to see if we could coax a little more starch out of kernel for a thicker risotto. We found that by basting the rice grains with butter and then toasting them in the oven, we were able to do just that. As an added bonus, the toasted rice produces a slightly smokey flavor and deep brown color that really makes this dish pop. If you want to give this a try, preheat your oven to 400 degrees, place the rice in a deep baking pan and liberally baste with butter. Cook the rice for about 10 minutes or until the kernels are a deep golden brown.
Allow your rice to cool to room temperature. As your rice is cooling, start warming up your protein stock solution over low heat. For this recipe we used some Turkey stock that we had stored in the freezer. Anytime you cook ANY bone-on meat, it is a great idea to save the bones for making stock. Simply place the left over bones into a saucepan with water, some salt, pepper and a little olive oil and cook slowly over low heat for at lest 3 – 4 hours. The longer you let your bones simmer, the stronger (and tastier) your stock will be. Once fully rendered, simply cool your stock and divide it into portion sizes of about 2 – 3 cups. Place each portion into freezer bags and store it for later use. You never know when a good stock solution will come in handy.
In a deep sauce pan combine a ladle of your stock solution, the juice from your Chesapeake Bay oysters, a little olive oil, chardonnay, garlic, all of your compound butter, a pinch of the pickled serannos and a few spoonfuls of your roasted pepper and onion mixture for the next step. Bring the temperature up on this this mixture slowly until you just begin to see some steam rise out of the pan. Add your toasted rice to the sauce pan and stir, being sure to evenly coat all the grains with moisture from the pan.
In a separate sauce pan, combine your rosemary & thyme, the rest of your onion, peppers, garlic, olive oil and wine and stir over low heat. As these ingredients heat up, they will release moisture that we will use to add concentrated flavor to the risotto. Now we follow classic risotto technique – adding stock solution to our rice one ladle at a time, allowing each ladle of liquid to be fully absorbed by the grains before adding the next: with one slight variation. Between each ladle full of stock solution, drain the liquid from your sauteing veggies and add this to your risotto as it cooks. Allow this liquid to be fully absorbed into the rice before moving on to the next ladle of stock solution. Continue this process until the rice is al dente (firm but not crunchy). Pour in 1/2 cup of buttermilk and thoroughly stir your risotto. Add just enough of your sauteed vegetables from the second saucepan so that you see a hint of color mixed in with the golden brown grains of rice. Toss in a few pinches of the grated gruyere cheese to taste (not too much as this type of cheese has a very strong flavor) and continue to stir until all the cheese is melted into the risotto. Pour the risotto into your serving bowl.
Now it’s time to make this dish POP with a few added touches. Sprinkle a small amount of fried green seaweed over the top of your risotto. You can typically find this product at most Asian markets. Be sure that you get a brand that is either unseasoned or lightly salted. Some varieties come with sugar added and you will want to avoid these as the sweetness will overpower your dish. On top of the seaweed lightly sprinkle a little more grated gruyere cheese. Remember: go easy on this stuff. You want it to add flavor, not overpower your dish.
Choose one of two of your best fried oysters and gently slice them so that you get a nice cross-section of batter and oyster.
Place this on top of the rice around the perimeter of your dish. Next, shuck two of your grilled oysters, and arrange those in the center of the risotto without the shells. Place a spoonful of tobiko on top of the grilled oysters in the middle of the plate to add a nice bit of color.
Finally, sprinkle some bonito flakes (a commonly found in most Asian specialty markets in the sushi aisle) over the top of the dish to give it a nice crunch and add a touch of flavor to the dish. Serve with your favorite brown ale or IPA.
Hopefully this dish will make your guests’ mouths (and those of the Marx Foods judges) water with anticipation. Stay tuned to the Marx Food blog and Twitter feed for updates as the winner will be announced on Tuesday, June 26.