An imperfect risotto

Last Saturday night, my good friend SG mooted that he and I and Plus One went for dinner at a Japanese restaurant on Tinakori Road. Under normal circumstances, I would be keen as mustard but given that we are presently kitchen rich but cash poor, and that we are looking after Lola Dog's best dogfriend Lucy, and I am slightly fearful that they will go a bit nutso if we leave them at home alone together in the house, I suggest that he comes to us and I will make something. The Japanese gaff can wait...

Given that my buddy RG popped over the previous evening, and I rustled us up a quick cheeseburger fix, I now feel like eating rice. You know how sometimes you just really feel like eating one particular thing - spaghetti, or sausages, or corn, or a steak - and nothing else is going to scratch that itch? Yup. Like that.

I settle on one of two dishes - either chicken, marinated in hoisin sauce, chili, garlic, honey, garlic, ginger and soy, or another old staple of mine - a risotto.

People really do like to mystify risottos. Basically, you make a base with garlic and onions (and celery if you like, which I don't, generally), add short grain risotto rice, and then slowly add stock and/or wine, building up the starch until it goes lovely and creamy and yielding to the bite.

People are impressed by risottos - they think it is posh food. But here's the thing - I don't reckon they are actually all that difficult. And here's another thing - even if you stuff it up a bit, so long as you get the flavour balance right, it still tastes pretty good, and it will be quite, quite edible.

Risotto it is.

And - I've already got the flavour combo down - I have some nice free range chicken thighs, some really top drawer parmesano reggiano from Mr Scheckter, some mint, some lemons, and, as always, some frozen peas. I don't have any leftover white wine (we are nothing if not thorough), so the lemon will have to suffice by way of acid to cut through the rich, creamy rice and chicken.

I halve the chicken thighs, and give them a little colour and seasoning in my trusty knock-off Le Creuset casserole dish in some oil, then let them finish off cooking in the oven. I soften some onions and garlic in the oil still in the pan, then add the rice - half a cup per person is usually about right. I have some leftover stock from cooking a chicken a couple of nights previously, so this forms the basis of my stock, to which I add water and, shock horror - a stock cube!

I actually find the stirring of a risotto to be quite meditative - I listen to a few records while I work - the new Unknown Mortal Orchestra album, some Prince and Sam Cooke (my favourite singer), and Neil Young's awesome "Eldorado" EP - they all seem to suit the task nicely.

And then - I stir. Gently, lifting the rice mixture up off the bottom of the pan, letting it get really hot, then adding the warm stock with a sizzle. Man, it's thirsty stuff this risotto - I soon use all the stock up - so I make some more. Stock cube, boiling water - no one will ever know...

All up I reckon it takes, 35, maybe 40 minutes. Not unpleasant or overly difficult. I grate some parmesan in, chop some mint and add a little to the rice, and save the rest to dress the plates with. I return the chicken and its juices to the pot, toss in a large handful of peas (that I have cunningly thawed in a sieve over the stock), and finish with a flourish of lemon juice.

It's actually a bit overcooked, bugger it all. But still - it tastes bloody good - delicious, succulent chicken, the freshness of the mint and lemon juice, the creamy rice and cheese. And - as SG is as nice a fellow as you could hope to meet, he is unlikely to throw it back in my face.

And - he doesn't. We have the slightly overcooked (and a bit dense and gluggy), but still quite delicious risotto with a nice green salad (one of my new favourite things is fried spring onions). And - if your friends are going to complain about your risotto - get nicer, kinder friends...

So, risotto - have no fear. Just pile on in there. Everything's going to be fine. Just fine. Seriously.

(btw - we had the marinated chicken with rice and steamed bok choi the following night... it was... pretty much flawless...)

Do you dig risotto? Do you make it? Any tricks? Flavour combos you like?

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