Thursday, December 30, 2010

Brown Rice "Risotto" with Shiitakes and Pea Pods

I'm with Benjamin Franklin--the turkey was a great candidate for the national bird.  We had a beautiful turkey from Harr Farms for Thanksgiving and I froze the bones and uneaten portions of dark meat for stock.  My poor husband called yesterday to tell me he was coming home from work early because he was sick and he asked if I could make him some soup, so I hauled the turkey out and set to work on a stock.  I love homemade chicken stock, but I think turkey stock has an even richer flavor and deeper color.  Even after a full pot of soup, I had about 6 or 7 cups of stock left.  Time to make something delicious for me!  I had never thought of making risotto with brown rice until I read Mark Bittman's The Food Matters Coookbook.  In Bittman's Lemony Zucchini Risotto, he parboils the rice because brown rice absorbs more water than white rice and takes longer to cook.  I think, though, that part of the satisfaction of making risotto is the time it takes to stir the rice while it absorbs small additions of liquid.  That effort makes the dish mean more.  This is by no means a traditional risotto.  No arborio rice means that the final product is not quite as creamy, not quite as rich as usual.  I love the slightly chewy texture of the short grain brown rice and the homemade turkey stock made this risotto rich in a different way.  Here's my recipe/method:

1 Tbsp. butter, drizzle of olive oil
4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced and stems removed (saved for vegetable stock)
2-4 oz. pea pods
2/3 c. short grain brown rice
Splash white wine (I used leftover Champagne--waste not, want not, right?)
4 c. stock, heated
Water
Salt
Pepper
Butter
Shredded Parmesan Cheese

First I prepped the shiitakes and pea pods for cooking by cleaning and slicing them.  I love asparagus in this recipe in place of the pea pods, but the asparagus at the market looked terrible today.  So, this sort of became a stir-fry inspired risotto.  I put about 1/2 Tbsp. butter and a little olive oil in the pan over medium heat and sauteed the mushrooms.  When they started to turn brown, I added the pea pods and cooked them until they were heated through but still crisp.
I transferred the mushrooms and pea pods to a bowl, added some leftover roasted chicken, then returned the pan to the burner over medium, medium low heat (I did not wipe it out.)  I added the second 1/2 Tbsp. butter and, once it was melted, poured in the rice.  I stirred the rice, letting it cook until it was coated with fat and beginning to turn translucent around the edges.  I poured in a healthy dose of wine, scraping the fond from the vegetables from the bottom of the pan. 
Once the wine cooked down, I began adding the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently.  I also added a generous sprinkle of salt because I don't salt my stock when I make it.  If using storebought stock, you may not need to add any salt here.  Once one addition of liquid was absorbed, I added the next (see photo to left, ready for more stock).  After 4 cups of stock, I started checking the rice for doneness.  It should be chewy on the outside with a firm center.  Once the stock was gone, I began adding hot water 1/2 cup at a time until the rice was done.  If the rice is soft all the way through, it has cooked too long.  As soon as the rice was done, I pulled it from the heat and stirred the vegetables back in.  A dab more butter and a little sprinkle of shredded parm finished the risotto.  This makes a super generous bowl of risotto (read too much) for one person; with enough extra veggies and maybe more meat this could probably be a light meal for two.  Also, feel free to adjust the amount of rice (maybe 1 1/4 c. for two people).  You'll just need to adjust the amount of liquid.

Like I said, this isn't a typical risotto.  Not super creamy, not terribly rich.  But flavorful and with a more interesting texture than the classic version.  I enjoy the chewiness of brown rice, it's food that requires a little energy to eat.  I like that.  You could easily substitute your favorite flavors and additions to this dish.  Mark Bittman uses lemon juice and zucchini.  I might have added small-diced winter squash in place of the mushrooms and pea pods and allowed it to cook in the stock with the rice.  In the spring, I look forward to making this with in-season asparagus and fresh, shelled peas.  Risotto is one of those dishes that seems intimidating, but is actually really easy (pour, stir, eat).  I hope you'll give it a try.  Be creative and enjoy!

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