Wednesday, May 07, 2008

If You're Indian or Italian, Don't Read This!

REGARDLESS OF YOUR NATIONALITY, welcome to this description of my first culinary mashup. I'd never had risotto before, but I dig the concept. I also dig curry. I decided to introduce them to each other. Oh, the heresy!

To backtrack, while eating the Whole Foods Indian hot-tray food this past Saturday, I reflected on the ingredients. There's a fair number of good veggies in various curries. Indian cuisine was my gateway to sampling cauliflower, for instance. I suspected there was a way to prepare Indian-style vegetables on the home front, if I had the right recipe.

I've also nursed a recurring fascination with risotto. I don't know how many of the local Italian restaurants offer it, so I suspected I'd have to make my own. It seemed labor intensive, but after reading about the basics of risotto in How to Cook Everything, I revised that impression.

Sunday dinner left me with a spare, whole Costco roast chicken. Lots of free meat. I'd also bought broccoli and cauliflower, in the hopes of digging up some way, on the Net, of making a veggie curry from them to serve over rice.

Then I thought, why not satisfy two urges in one pot?

Trader Joe's sells arborio rice and vegetable stock. (I often find chicken stock overwhelming, especially when reduced, as it would be in this recipe.) I grabbed both. I already had spices and some of the other elements of risotto. So I figured I'd give it a whirl, with a trip to the local pizzeria as backup in case I conjured a funky ruin.

The risotto recipes in Bittman called for butter as the primary fat, as do most Indian dishes, but I had also seen olive oil used in some online risotto recipes. So I started with 3 tablespoons of oil, which I heated over a medium flame along with 2 teaspoons of Penzey's Hot Curry Powder, to bloom the spices.

Once it began foaming, I added ¾ cup of arborio rice, or half the amount in one of the Bittman recipes. I'd also begun heating about half the recommended amount of stock, 2½ cups, in a saucepan. I stirred the rice until it was evenly coated with spicy oil, then let it heat until it steamed slightly.

At that point, I added my first ladle of stock. A plume of curried steam greeted me. The rice immediately began absorbing the stock, which led me to turn the heat down a touch. I added a couple of shakes of Penzey's Hot Chili Powder, a few grinds of pepper, and a bit of salt, then set the microwave timer for 10 minutes. I added more stock bit by bit, and then stirred the rice every so often until it began to "tighten up." Once it seemed a little more dry than wet, I added more stock. Very scientific.

At the 10-minute mark, I added 3 oz. of finely cubed chicken and a double-handful each of broccoli and cauliflower chopped small. An extra amount of stock allowed them to begin blanching. The rice at this point still had a crunchy core. I set the microwave for another 10 minutes, then continued to add stock and stir as before.

I eventually used the entire box of stock, as by 15 minutes, I was running low of the heated stuff in the saucepan, and there was about a half-cup or so left in the box, a small amount I couldn't imagine using over the rest of the week. The trick now was to get the rice to the proper level of doneness while cooking off, or inducing the absorption of, the remaining stock.

I managed to bring it home well at the 20-minute mark: not too loose, still easily stirred, but with tender rice all the way through. The veggies were cooked but not mushy, and the chicken was beginning to shred nicely. I didn't add any more olive oil at the end; some recipes call for a last dab of butter to finish, but I decided not to up the calories any further (this essentially is a starch-based meal, which I usually try to avoid for weeknight dinners). I filled a plate and sampled it.

This would've made a great cold-weather meal, as its physical and spice-based heat would've beaten a heating blanket soundly for warmth. I feel I succeeded in crafting a basic curry risotto.

And a helluva lot of it too: Even after two servings, I still had half a pan full of it. I'd heard that storing risotto and resurrecting it the next day was sometimes dodgy, but I just covered the pan and placed the whole thing, once cooled a bit, into the fridge. With any luck, there's still enough moisture in it to warm and loosen the mix tomorrow over the stove.

Considering this was a cobbled-together, unorthodox take on risotto, I feel qualified to follow a more traditional recipe for it, assuming this stuff is indeed good tomorrow. Leftovers are always nice. It also let me sample Trader Joe's vegetable stock, which might be a good base for a chicken curry or basmati-rice/veggie recipe. So my first experiment in cultural mix-and-match was a success.

I sense spicy doings ahead, and I haven't even gotten to Vegas yet.

No comments: