28 March 2011

Gypsy Kitchens: Shrimp and Asparagus Risotto

A few days ago we made a nice, seasonal dish in our little apartment: shrimp and asparagus risotto. Now, you can go any number of places for a risotto recipe, and many people believe risotto can't really be made well from instructions, so this is really more about the shrimp broth that we made and how we used it. It's only the end of March, but the asparagus is almost past its prime here, if you can believe it. We are in such a tropical climate!
The broth gives the dish a wonderful fishy-ness that can't be attained just by adding cooked seafood. It also uses what otherwise would be lost: all the flavor in the shrimp shells.
Shrimp broth is incredibly easy and uses everything that you don't want from the crustacean - the head, shell, legs, antennae, blood, eyes, etc... Simply put a pot of water on the stove, bring to a boil and shell your raw, whole shrimp directly into it. Actually, let me rephrase that - keep the shrimp, put everything ELSE into the water. Flavoring is a matter of taste, of course, but I added a bay leaf, three garlic cloves, a pinch of coriander and some salt. Also, olive oil and white wine - the wine I added later, though, about fifteen minutes before I started using the broth.
This process should be started long before you plan on cooking the risotto - preferably several hours before. Cook it at a steady simmer right up until you need it, then strain it, discarding the shells and other detritus. Keep the liquid at a steady boil. It needs to be hot to go into the rice.
Steam the asparagus until soft, then wash quickly in very cold water so that they don't get mushy and so that they stay green. Also, cook the shrimp however you'd like. We sauteed them fast in butter.
Like I said, everyone makes risotto differently. I am far from an expert, but here's how we approached the process. Cook a moderate amount of yellow onion slowly in a good deal of olive oil with two teaspoons of lemon zest (we've been on a big zest-kick recently!) When the onions are soft, add a little more olive oil and the rice (really, you should use arborio). Cook the rice in the oil until the grains are mostly translucent, then begin adding the stock, slowly. Add a few spoonfulls of stock at a time, stirring the rice constantly. Wait for the liquid to be absorbed before adding more broth.
Cook like this (stirring always!) until the rice is almost done, then add the garlic and parsley. Keep adding broth (if you run out, start using boiling water) until the rice is finished, then turn off the heat, stir in the chopped asparagus and the cooked shrimp, then let sit for a minute or two. The rice should be moist, not dry. If you like, you can make it even soupier.

Here's the recipe:
1 pound shrimp, head and shell on
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 cup cooked asparagus
1 cup olive oil (at least)
1 cup white wine
1 small yellow onion
5 cloves garlic
2 tsp lemon zest
1 bay leaf
However much parsley you think you should use

As far ahead as possible (maybe even the day before?), bring about a half gallon of water to a boil. Remove the shrimp heads, legs and shells and place them into the water. Devein the shrimp - discard the veins into the trash, not the water!
Boil the shells for several hours with 3 garlic cloves, a good bit of olive oil, the bay leaf and some coriander. Let sit overnight (refrigerated) if you can.
Before using the broth, strain out all the shrimp bits and other stuff, add wine and bring to a slow simmer.
Cook the shrimp and asparagus, then chop both into small pieces and set aside.
Dice the onion and saute slowly in a large pot or pan with a lot of oil until onion is quite soft. With this, cook the lemon zest.
Add the rice to the oil and begin stirring the rice. Try to stir it the rest of the way, until you turn off the heat. This can be tiring.
When the grains of rice are translucent, add a little salt and begin spooning the broth into the pan slowly. Let each amount of liquid be absorbed before adding more. Cook like this for hours and hours (not really; about 20 to 30 minutes) until rice is almost done. Add the garlic and parsley, and continue cooking. If the broth runs out, use boiling water as a replacement. Don't use cold water - it will separate the creamy starch that has built up in the risotto, and the texture will be ruined.
When the rice is done, turn off the heat and let sit. Make sure that there's a good deal of liquid in with the rice. Stir in the shrimp and asparagus, test to make sure it's all salted well, and wait about a minute, then serve.

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