A brief statement of purpose

There are already about a billion food blogs, so what might be a justification of yet another one, and who am I to do it?

What I aim to do in this blog is more than simply provide recipes. While recipes of my own will, in fact, be posted, some of the blog will consist of a variety of comments about restaurants and their practices, food preparation tips, personal annoyances (such as loud restaurants and the epidemic of misspellings on menus), and whatever else pops into my head relating to what we put in our mouths (and swallow, I hasten to add). The whole thing is meant to be somewhat provocative. I hope, if nothing else, it won't be boring. I, of course, solicit reader participation.

As for who I am and why I think I might have something to contribute to public discussions on this essential and pleasurable activity - eating - you'll have to click here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Risotto rosso, or, crayfish risotto

I created this recipe - not to imply that it's never been done by others in human history - for aesthetic reasons. I though it would look pretty, and it does. In the bargain, it tastes pretty good, too, particularly with the filé powder sprinkled on the finished and plated dish. In fact, the file powder is damn near essential in making the whole thing taste quite good. Red is the theme. The broth is a product of tomatoes, red bell peppers, and red jalapeno chiles, and the cooked crayfish, or crawfish if you prefer, are red. 
Typically, the preparation of risotto requires the gradual addition of chicken broth, but I thought the reddish broth produced here would add to the color and taste in such a way as to result in a sort of risotto Creole dish.
None of this is difficult. Some patience and a beverage of your choice in your hand is, however, required to prepare risotto as it should be prepared. I’ve seen some cooking methods which largely eliminate the somewhat laborious procedure of adding small amounts of broth for twenty or twenty-five minutes, but I don’t trust them. Then again, restaurants don’t wait until a diner orders risotto to start its preparation, so shortcuts or, more correctly, interruptions are fine. So if it’s necessary or simply desired, one may cook the risotto almost to the point of its being done. Turn off the heat, cover it, and then let it sit covered for several minutes (not hours or days or weeks). When it’s time to finish and eat it, remove the cover, turn the heat back on, and ladle in more broth.
About that filé powder: It’s from the sassafras root and is about as common as salt and pepper in New Orleans-type cooking. It’s an important ingredient in, for example, gumbos. Ordinarily, its purpose, aside from adding a unique flavor, is as a thickener. In this recipe, we don’t need its thickening properties; we want only its flavor, so it’s sprinkled on rather liberally after the risotto is on the serving plates, 
Risotto rice, such as Arborio, Vialone, or Carnaroli, 2 c
A lot of tomatoes and red bell peppers, plus a couple of red jalapenos (deseeded and deveined unless you know what you’re doing), all chopped.
Shallots, 1/2 c
Leek, white part,divide: part julienned and part minced.
Fresh oregano
Olive oil
Crayfish, cooked, 1 lb
Lemon vodka, 1/2 cup
Filé powder
A hard grating cheese such as asiago, grana padano, parmigiano-reggiano, etc, 1/2-3/4 cup
Salt and pepper

1. Place some fresh oregano leaves in about a half cup (or more) of extra-virgin olive oil and allow them to get acquainted for a few hours. Strain, keeping the oil.
2. Quickly sauté the julienned leek strips in just a few drops of olive oil.
3. Place the chopped tomatoes, red bell peppers, and red jalapenos in a pot with enough water to cover the vegetables by a couple of inches. Add 1 tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for ten minutes or so. Turn off the heat, place a cover on top, and allow to steep for at least a couple of hours. At the end of this time, strain the liquid into a large bowl, using a sieve. Do not press on the solids since all you want is the flavored water, nothing thick. This will serve as the broth or cooking liquid for the risotto.
4. Heat 3 Tbs olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter in a pan suitable for risotto. Add minced leek and shallot and saute until soft but not brown. Add lemon vodka and allow to burn off. Now add the risotto, and stir around to ensure the grains are coasted with the olive oil and butter. Add the lemon vodka and allow most of it to burn off. Turn down the heat to medium, and follow risotto-making instructions; i.e., add a half cup or so of the flavored water, allowing each addition of liquid to cook off before adding the next bit of liquid. Stir constantly. After about 20 minutes or so, the rice should be soft and creamy, definitely not dry. Mix in the cheese. Add the crayfish now and mix in. Taste for salt and pepper. If the risotto appears too dry, add more of the liquid. Risotto should be creamy, although not soup-like.
Place the risotto in serving bowls, drizzle some of the oregano oil over it, sprinkle a good amount of the filé powder over it, and garnish with the julienned leek.

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