Sunday, 18 September 2016

Risotto, and a Lesson about Poor Peoples' Food

Throughout western world history the rich and wealthy and powerful have almost always had it good on the food front. Have someone kill something (usually large), chop it up into big pieces and then cook it some way and eat the chunks. Poor people usually had to make do or get by somehow with leftovers from the rich; with what could be scrounged, stolen or hunted for after the wealthy had taken what they wanted, or could.

Risotto is a good example of poor peoples' food ... it is made from little bits of things ... from leftovers, essentially. A little old wine, a little rice, a bit of onion or garlic, a bit of cheese, some water or stock ... nothing large, nothing which would be noticed if purloined from the kitchen of the wealthy.

In Italy Chef Gualtiero Marchesi has elevated risotto to the absolute top of the food world ... serving this classic dish of the poor as though it is the most expensive thing ever. He offers it with a piece of gold foil in the centre, makes it with saffron (the most expensive thing, per gram, to buy on the planet)
and presents it on dishes of royal blue with a gold rim.

Monarch Park Culinary Arts students don't have the fancy plates, and seem to be short of gold foil...but they do have lots of passion for excellence, great food and a desire to learn. So ... this week was risotto week ... and learn they did. And they worked with leftovers.

First, the concept of mis-en-place. Literally meaning 'put-in-place', the culinary world uses this phrase to say 'get ready'. Before that we have to get ready to get ready. Are the counters clean? Do we have the basic bowls and tools? Then, after successfully setting, the preparation is done. Measure the rice (100 gm per person if a main course, 65 gm if a starter), prepare the onion and garlic (remembering to remove the anima), melt the butter but not too hot, then infuse it with the garlic. Have the stock heated to simmering, and the wine for pulling the fond nearby. This is the mis-en-place for risotto

The last thing a good cook does is ... cook. Do all the preparation THEN start with the heat to make the magic.

INFUSE the bitter butter and reserve after straining.

SAUTE the onions, and add the rice for toasting when the onions are fairly dry

TOAST the rice until a little colour starts to appear and the bottom of the pan is dry and beginning to resist the spoon as the remaining butter has been absorbed

PULL the fond with a goodly splash of white wine

REDUCE the wine to almost nothing but don't allow to dry

COVER with hot stock and reduce heat

Keep rice slightly covered with hot stock for about 18 minutes

STIR occassionally

SHRED the parmegiano and reserve

INFUSE saffron tea in a ramekin and reserve

SAUTE the mushrooms for risotto al funghi (if desired) and reserve

WARM the serving plates

STIR IN saffron at the 16 minute mark

When rice is al dente, remove from heat

STIR IN bitter butter

STIR IN parmegiano and adjust liquid if needed

ADJUST flavouring with S/P

STIR IN mushrooms (if desired)

SERVE on heated plates, with saffron 'smacked down' to a flat presentation to the beginning of the rim but not over it


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