I’ve decided that it’s hard to beat things that are handy done. Things that I find are handy done: i). Breathing. ii). Laughing at Trump. iii). Making toast. iv). Singing out of tune. v). Eating a good risotto.
Things that I find are not handy done: i). Breathing underwater. ii). Taking Trump seriously. iii) Making toast without bread. iv). Singing in tune. v). Making a good risotto.
I often think about making risotto; it’s the perfect bowl-food with which to luxuriate in front of the telly. And it’s one of the only dishes that I really take my time savouring; whereas most of the rest of the time, I’m eating as if someone’s about to take it away.
But when it comes to making risotto, I’m often found wanting. There’s just no doubt about it, risotto is a mission.
There would have been a time – and I think I might have mentioned as much in this column once or twice over the past decade – that I used to find the making of risotto therapeutic. And then I wised up.
These days, if I’m at the hob for any longer than a stir or a poke then it’s too long. But therein layeth the problem. If you don’t spend time cooking food, it isn’t going to be any good.
There are exceptions to the rules of course, like cornflakes before bed or buttery toast or baked beans out of a tin (yes, I am partial to the odd cold bean or ten) but more often than not, good cooking requires patience and effort. I find too that a glass of something velvety and red helps as a sort of sedative, when faced with a long cooking process.
There are semi-handy meals though that I find myself increasingly favouring, like my new favourite pasta dish which I can have on the table in the same time as it takes the pasta shapes to cook through. Chorizo and tomato and garlic rigatoni is very satisfying and puts a big, fat tick (in permanent marker) through the box marked, ‘YEEAAAAAOOOooooo.’
There are some things though, that just aren’t the same unless you’re willing to roll the sleeves up and muck in. Lasagne is a mission and a half. Fish pie is a mission and three quarters and worst offender of all is beef Wellington. I made that once as an alternative Christmas dinner and nearly died of hunger before it hit the table.
Speaking of sleeves… That’s one.
thing that annoys me about chefs on the telly. People like James Martin et al only seem to like cooking when the cuffs of their shirts are poking into the food. Is it irrational of me to shout at the TV, “Roll yer friggen sleeves up, ya clatty clown!” Well, I don’t think it is.
All this verbal faffing about and I’ve finally arrived at the point: Risotto… Wile good. Wile un-handy. But sometimes, just sometimes, nothing else will do.
On Friday evening I went all-in. I’d cooked a chicken the day before and by way of designs for the ultimate risotto, I set about making stock.
Very basic stock isn’t un-handy at all, although it takes a bit of bubbling. Carcass of chicken into a pot (sans skin). Add a chopped carrot, a chopped onion and if you have any, a chopped celery stick. Pinch of sea salt and a few peppercorns and maybe a bay leaf and a pinch of dried thyme for the craic and simmer for the next YEAR. OK, so it doesn’t take a year but it’ll take a good two hours anyway.
Strain and it’s done. I don’t go in for the whole stock clarification malarkey either. If specks of thyme or a bit of cloudiness annoys you then I’d say, tighten up, this is home-cooking.
And if someone like James Martin started mocking my efforts on stock, I’d offer him outside, where we could settle the dispute like real men: Best of three with rock, paper, scissors.
However, with my stock done and the real cooking could begin.
This is my version of chicken and pea risotto and I kid you not, it’s a poultice for the soul. But don’t just take my word for it…
• 1 tbsp of olive oil
• 1 tbsp of butter
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 300g of risotto rice
• half a glass of white wine
• salt and pepper
• at least 1 litre of hot stock – possibly • a little more
• 150g of frozen peas
• 200g of chopped chicken
• generous handful of grated parmesan
• knob of butter
• grated parmesan to serve
THE MISSION PLAN
Start by heating the oil and butter in a deep pan and then sweat the onion on a lowish to medium heat – without browning – until soft, about five or six minutes.
Next turn the heat up a bit and add the rice all in one go. Stir it around to coat in the buttery juices (give it about a minute) and then add the wine. Stir fry until the wine has disappeared and then season with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Now start adding the stock.
Add two ladlefuls at a time and stir well, with small pinches of seasoning as you go. Adjust the heat so that the risotto is just simmering. You don’t want it cooking too quickly or for that matter, too slowly. And basically, you have to keep adding those ladles and keep stirring.
Check the rice after 20 minutes. It should be cooked through with just the slightest bite. If you think it’s too hard, give it more stock and another five minutes and check again. If you run out of stock, some hot water from the kettle will suffice.
When the rice is cooked through and there isn’t too much liquid in the pan, add the chicken and the peas to heat through – little more than a minute.
Remove the pan from the heat, add the parmesan and stir through. Now add that knob of butter, put a lid on the pan and let the pot sit for two minutes without touching.
After that, check the seasoning one last time and adjust if necessary.
Ladle into bowls, top with yet more parmesan and retire to the sofa. And if anybody argues with you about the sofa plan, offer them outside.
And if someone like James Martin started mocking my efforts on stock, I’d offer him outside, where we could settle the dispute like real men: Best of three with rock, paper, scissors…
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