Caramelized scallops? A creamy sherry risotto? AND tips to help you achieve absolute risotto perfection every time? What more could you possibly want this weekend?!
Risotto has been one of my favorite foods for a long time, and each time I cook it I am transported back to my student days in Pavia, a small town outside Milan in Italy. Every weekend, in true Italian style, we would line the length of the corridor with tables, the kitchen would be filled with people, chatter and incredible smells, and at around 2pm we would all sit down to a bowl of the most delicious risotto you can imagine. The life of an Italian student really is a whole world away from the typical junk-food diet English students so enjoy (not judging, been there, done that, got the tshirt!)
Once you know how to cook it just right, risotto is one of the finest foods you can get. Flavoring this simple version with sherry gives it a rich nutty flavor. Add some beautifully caramelized scallops and a brown butter and sherry sauce and you have the ultimate weekend dinner!
The texture you’re looking for with the risotto is what the Italians describe as “all’onda” (wavy). Want to know why? Well, if the risotto is cooked right, you should be able to toss it up in the saucepan, like you would a pancake, and it will rise and break just like a wave. You’ve got to love the Italians for their romantic take on life!
Take a look at my top risotto tips below, enjoy, and have a wonderful weekend!
5 TIPS FOR THE PERFECT RISOTTO
As with all things Italian, a little love and care are what lie at the heart of a perfect risotto.
1. The rice – I’ve cooked literally HUNDREDS of risottos (what can I say, I studied Italian and lived in Italy for a year – it was all part of immersing myself in the culture!). I have used Arborio rice many times, and the result is just fine. BUT once you try Carnaroli you never go back. These grains of rice absorb more liquid, are much harder to overcook, and give a wonderfully loose, creamy, flowing risotto which beats its sticky arborio cousin hands down! Oh, and Arborio takes longer to cook, so if you’ve ever been frustrated by a risotto recipe that claims it will take you 20 mins and ends up being an hour, your choice of rice may well be the answer!
2. Butter vs oil – In the butter vs olive oil debate, I am firmly on the side of butter. It might not be the healthier option, but hey, it’s OK to indulge ourselves every so often and in this restaurant-style fancy dinner you don’t want to go scrimping on the flavor that’s for sure!
3. The onions – All good risottos start with an onion, and this is a crucial step to get right if you want the perfect flavour. The aim is soft, translucent onions with a delicate sweet taste. What you don’t want is to brown them or you will take the onions from the gentle background notes achieved by softening, to an overpowering sweetness that will throw off all of the other flavors in the dish.
4. Stir, stir, stir! – I know you will have heard this one before. So had I, many times, but I’m one of those people who needs to understand why I’m doing something for me to actually bother doing it. Well now I know. By stirring the rice, you are releasing the starch in it, and this is what gives a risotto such a luxuriously creamy texture. So no arguments, just give it a try – I promise you it will be worth it, and you’ll work those arm muscles at the same time – practically burning off the food before you’ve eaten it! 😉
5. “Mantecatura” – literally meaning the process of creaming, this is the finishing touch for any risotto and, according to Giorgio Locatelli, the Italian risotto king, it is THE most important step. So remove your pan from the heat, leave to cool for 2-3 minutes (this is important – if it is too hot, the butter and cheese may melt too fast and split the risotto) then vigorously beat in grated parmesan and small cubes of cold butter for a risotto with a glamorous shine and perfect texture.
Oh, and if you’ve got the risotto sorted, but need a little help with searing your scallops, check out this video with some great tips for the perfect scallops!
- 25g butter
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 400g Carnaroli rice
- 150ml Sherry Fino
- 1.25 litres chicken stock
- 50g cold butter, cut into cubes
- 50g Parmesan, grated
- Salt and pepper to season
- 12 scallops (completely defrosted if frozen), seasoned with salt and pepper
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 75ml Fino Sherry
- 25g butter
- Freshly ground black pepper
- In a saucepan, bring the stock to a boil then lower the heat and simmer until ready to use
- In a large pan, melt the butter on a medium heat. Add the onion and cook slowly until soft and translucent. Take care not to brown the onions.
- Slightly increase the heat and add the rice. Cook for a minute or two, stirring constantly until the rice is completely coated with butter. Do not let the rice brown.
- Add the sherry and reduce it down, stirring constantly until the rice has absorbed almost all of the liquid. The sherry should sizzle as soon as it hits the pan.
- Return the heat to medium-low and add a ladleful of the stock, stirring until almost all of it is absorbed. Repeat this process of adding stock until the rice is tender and the risotto is loose and creamy. This should take about 20 minutes
- Remove the pan from the heat, let the risotto rest and cool slightly for 2-3 minutes, then use a wooden spoon to quickly beat in the grated parmesan and cubes of butter until the risotto has a lovely shine
- Season with salt and pepper and set aside while you cook the scallops
- In a large frying pan, heat the oil over a medium-high heat until very hot
- Season the scallops, then place them in the pan, starting at the top and working round the side like a clock face so you remember which one to turn first. Cook for about a minute without moving until they are golden brown on the bottom, then turn and cook for another 30 seconds or so
- Remove the scallops from the pan and set them aside
- Pour away most of the fat from the pan then add the sherry. As the liquid boils, use a wooden spoon to scrape up the residue from the scallops from the bottom of the pan. Once the sherry has reduced to half its volume, turn the heat to low, season the sauce with pepper, and whisk in the butter until slightly thickened
- Spoon the risotto into 4 bowls, place 3 scallops on top of each, and pour over the sauce
- To make ahead: follow the steps for the risotto until half the stock has been added and the rice is still al-dente. Cool and store in the fridge for up to 24 hours. When ready to serve, heat the remaining stock and continue adding ladlefuls to the risotto until the rice is cooked and creamy. The scallops should be made just before you serve
- Risotto does not freeze well and becomes spongy in texture