Saturday, 20 February 2010

Unseasonal itch...

You know when you get that urge? That certain craving? That itch? That wanting that no other taste or texture will make up for? Craving a risotto was a first for me. No need to check my oestrogen levels to know that this was out of the blue. But urge, craving, compelling pull, call it what you will, this was an itch that needed scratching. Badly.

What to do? Faced with an already defrosted chicken breast in the fridge, I had thought of a simple (read: bland) cep risotto with fried chicken breast. Quirky, angular cuts of opaque meat scattered with the remainder of some forest green thyme leaves, gently placed on a small bowl of Harris Tweed-dappled, ivory coloured Arborio rice and tobacco and nutty brown mushrooms, and hints of creamy yellow parmesan cheese. Smoke, beef and wooded mushroom flavours contrasting with the succulent, sweetness of the meat and the sharp, saline nuttiness of the cheese. Very simple and appealing to my blokey nature.

However, my tweetamie @Hollowlegs, with the tact and smoothness of a Venetian ambassador, suggested that it was too simple and needed livening up. Flatten the chicken breast and coat it in lemon zested breadcrumbs. Wonderful! Added sharpness with the zest would contrast very well with the thyme and mushroom. Crisp breadcrumby crunchiness matching the bite of the rice (it’s Arborio not Ambrosia). But by then there were more items on my shopping list than indictments against the Parmelat Directors, and if I were to go that far, why not go all the way? Come on girls, blokes like gilding the lily!

Lou’s lifted Nigella Lemon Risotto with Chicken.
2 shallots
1 stick of celery
Olive oil
150 grams risotto rice
400 ml chicken stock (I used a pack of Waitrose liquid stock but home made would have been richer)
Lemon juice and zest of half a lemon
Yolk of an egg
Parmesan 2tbsp and some for scattering
2 tbsp double cream,
Maldon sea salt
Chicken breast and garlic for flavouring the frying oil

Technically you shouldn’t have moved away from the risotto as it needs to be constantly stirred at a gentle simmering point (but you knew that already). So, firstly, prepare. Heat the stock but don’t boil it. In a bowl, mix the egg yolk, cream and the 2tbsp of Parmesan, lemon juice and zest, and rosemary. Next, finely chop the celery and onion. At the same time (who says men can’t multitask?), heat some olive oil in a pan and add some garlic making sure it aromatises the oil and doesn’t go burnt or bitter. Remove the garlic and get ready to fry the chicken breast.

Melt some butter and olive oil in a pan and gently fry the onion and celery until translucent. Add the rice and coat with the oils thoroughly, then, put in a ladle of the stock until it is absorbed. Repeat this process until all the stock is used up and the rice is done, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, fry the chicken breast adding salt if necessary.

To assemble, once the rice is done add the creamy mixture, I tend to spoon some of rice stock mix into the egg cream first, stir and then pour it into the risotto pan so as not to curdle or shock the egg. Mix and add a bit more cheese if necessary. Slice the cooked chicken breast and either stir it into the rice or lay it on top in said quirky manner. Garnish with a little rosemary (and maybe a couple of slices of lemon zest lifted out of the Martini that has been helping you through this process).

Although this is a recipe aimed at bringing comforting warmth on those slightly chilly but sunny first days and weeks of Spring, what is striking about this recipe is the combination of simplicity and richness; smooth, unctuous and creamy textures; the sharp lemon tang and the almost sweetening effect of the salt; the yolky cream coating the mouth, not in an unpleasant way, wrapping you in a comfort blanket and protecting you from the sharp acidity of the lemon; the slightly crystalline, gritty Parmesan cheese; nutty rice bites against soft, moist, garlic infused chicken; and, hints of smoky herb from the rosemary, adding balance to the overall flavour. The stock, originally meant to be Marigold vegetable bouillon, is richer and adds a bit of beef (chicken actually) to the sauce and lifts what could normally be a bland meat into something more lively.

I poured myself a glass (or two) of Soave (Strele, Oddbins £10.99) with its balance of flavour adding to the creamier elements of the dish while helping give punch to the lemon. More-ish and satisfying, I can’t think why I never tried it before, so thanks @Hollowlegs for the inspiration.

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