Culinary Experiment: Mushroom Risotto
After three weeks in my new apartment I decided it was time to have people over for a proper dinner. Trouble is, my closest friends in the city are both vegetarians and most of what I know how to cook well involves tasty, delicious meat. Thus, I had to step out of my comfort zone to find a dish to inaugurate the dining room. After talking it over with Sarah, I decided to make mushroom risotto out of Jamie Oliver’s cookbook. Why, exactly, I allowed Sarah to convince me to make a risotto I will never know, as this is not a dish for the uninitiated. Here lies the tail of how I attempted, and partially succeeded, at preparing mushroom risotto.
The recipe called for four large handfuls of mushrooms and a number of other vegetables I didn’t have in the house, so Brett and I headed over to Berkeley’s Monterey Market for heaps of fresh produce. I was able to choose from a number of fine mushroom specimens, eventually selecting oyster mushrooms, baby shiitakes, chanterelles, and the elusive matsutake (eat your heart out Santa Cruz anthro students!). The day of the event I went down to our local grocery store and picked up “no-chicken” chicken stock and some desserts. Then I embarked on my cooking adventure.
First I had to clean the kitchen. My apartment has no dishwasher, and I am a lazy, lazy man… so it took a while to work through the dish backlog. But eventually I got to the sparkling kitchen you see above.
The recipe is divided into two steps, the initial preparation of the risotto followed by the preparation of the mushrooms and integration of the same with the risotto base. Above is the first stage of the risotto, which I realized was designed to feed eight people!
Sarah had told me there was vermouth in the cupboard meant to be used with a risotto but had never been actually used, so I assumed there was a more or less unopened bottle up there. Not so! I was two ounces shy of what was needed, but figured I would be fine with what I had.
Risotto is made by pouring in small amounts of warm stock which the rice absorbs while it cooks. This is supposed to be a time consuming process full of concern for whether or not the risotto is going to actually absorb all the liquid. In this case, that was never a concern. The rice continued to absorb the stock seconds after I put it into the pot. This probably should have been cause for early concern.
After step one was complete the recipe instructs you to put the rice in a large pan to let cool while preparing the next step. Here you see all the rice. This turned out to be a pretty dangerous setup, as there isn’t enough counter-top space to put this pan down, so it ended up on one of my kitchen stools where my dinner guests kept running into it while moving about the kitchen! Thankfully it never actually fell off the stool.
I had originally purchased four mushrooms types, but I think I bought too much of each, so I decided to drop the shiitakes from the mix. That still left three varieties, oyster on the top, chanterelles on the right, and matsutakes on the left. I wasn’t 100% sure of the best way to prepare the matsutakes, so I ended up cutting the stems into smaller bits — which was good as the stems were chewy — and the caps into roughly 8ths. The oyster mushrooms were more or less diced, and the chantrelles were cut into strips. This allowed one to identify which mushroom was which based just just on the size.
After the mushroom prep, I ended with five cups of mushrooms. That’s a lot of mushrooms!
Into the frying pan with a ton of butter. This started to smell fantastic about five minutes into cooking.
Now, I don’t have any photos of the steps between mushroom prep and the final product, but this is where the wheels fall off the wagon. It turns out my risotto isn’t anywhere done enough. I keep adding stock, it keeps soaking it right up, rice continues to be crunchy. We eventually add WAY more stock than the recipe calls for, throw on the lid and let it cook for an additional 15 minutes untouched. This finally got the risotto rice to soften up in the core, but it also ensured the rice converted to roughly 70% paste. The final product was not “oozy” so much as it was “gooey”.
Here we are about to sit down for the meal. I picked up a bottle of white wine from South Africa called “Goats will Roam” that was pretty decent, but not great. I had hoped it would be less fruity, but turned out to be amazingly fruity. The risotto itself was perfectly acceptable. It was quite dense and cheesy, and you couldn’t always taste the different mushrooms, but I still enjoyed it. I can’t say the matsutakes where anything amazing. Perhaps they are meant to be savored in a more delicate dish? We rounded off the meal with a loaf of bread.
Later that evening I realized I had failed to add the lemon juice I had squeezed earlier. Everyone agreed that the risotto would have been much better with the juice, as it would have helped to cut the richness and perhaps reduced the gooey factor. Rookie mistake.
With only three people eating a dish designed to feed eight, I ended up with lots of leftovers. Thankfully it cooks up really nice in a fry pan and I’ve already had one good meal with almost no prep required thanks to my overcooking.
Of course, the kitchen ended up a disaster once again, but such is the cycle of life.