Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Deconstructed Paella, or Paella-Inspired Risotto, and Chicken Picatta with Preserved Lemon Risotto

I mentioned in one of the previous posts that I was planning to make something with the saffron that I thought I would have left over from another dinner, but didn't because I burnt the first batch while toasting it. I also mentioned that I was doing something top secret.
Well, the time has come for me to reveal my under-cover project. There's a group of bloggers who call themselves the Daring Cooks. There's also a group of Daring Bakers, but they're kind of out of my league, and I've mentioned that I'm not especially keen on having baked goods around the house, so I joined the Daring Cooks.

This is how it works--every month, someone is elected to pick a recipe of the month, which they post on the 17th. You then have until the 14th to make the recipe, per the specifications, and make a blog posting about it.

My first month's challenge was risotto. I was totally stoked about this, as I love risotto, and I recently found a large stash of Arborio rice in my spiffy kitchen drawer thingy. I've mentioned the zombie hoarding issues, but I haven't yet mentioned the moth issue.

Yeah, there were moths breeding in my spiffy drawer thing. It was really gross, and I probably shouldn't mention it in any kind of public arena, but I can assure you that the offending breeding ground was thoroughly eradicated. Anything that was not very tightly sealed was thrown out. I hate to be wasteful, but a lot of this stuff was a legacy of the hoarding days and was really old.

The Arborio rice, however, was tightly sealed and begging to be cooked. As Nick said, it was like they had read my mind.

In this Daring Cook's challenge, you can make a base recipe and elaborate from there, and you can also make the authors' recipe for Pumpkin Risotto or Preserved Lemon Risotto. Because of my Meyer lemon kick, Nick and I had actually recently discussed making preserved lemons. We talked about how it sounds pretty cool, but we weren't sure what to do with the lemons. Again, it was like they were reading my mind.

I mentioned the preserved lemon option to Nick, and we got to talking about what we would make with the preserved lemon risotto. One of us mentioned chicken cutlets, and Nick mentioned chicken Marsala. "Yeah, chicken piccata," I said, because I had been thinking the same thing. (That's what he meant, and I knew what he meant.)

Fortuitously, the risotto challenge also coincided with the arrival of Sunday Suppers at Lucques, which just happens to have a recipe for chicken piccata.

First, however, I had decided to do a paella-inspired risotto, partially because my Dad loves paella. And what do you know, Suzanne Goin has a recipe for saffron risotto in her book; it's really too bad I didn't follow it.

I meant to follow the recipe, but as I mentioned, I burned the saffron that was intended for this recipe. I also meant to buy more when we went to Wegman's to shop for dinner, but by the time we got to the saffron, Nick and I were totally hypoglycemic, so we had a very full shopping cart, so we decided that we didn't want to spend the $16 on the saffron. Plus, Nick was still a bit traumatized by the intensity of the saffron in the last dinner, and I was not too excited about a plasticky-tasting spice. So we left it out.

In retrospect, though, I think that the dish could have used it, and I also wish that I had added fresh thyme and a crushed chile de arbol like Suzanne Goin suggested. If I ever make this again, I probably really will use her saffron risotto recipe the way I had initially intended, and I'll probably throw in some paprika somewhere. I somehow forgot that it's a key component in paella.

I decided that this would be called "deconstructed" paella because paella and risotto take antithetical approaches to the cooking of rice. Risotto is cooked slowly and incrementally, with more liquid continually added as the previous portion of liquid is absorbed. Paella, however, gets liquid added to the rice, it's all covered, and it all (meat and seafood included) goes into the oven to cook undisturbed. It wouldn't really be possible to cook risotto in the same manner because it would then not be risotto, so it was all cooked separately and combined at the end. Hence, "deconstructed" paella.

We started by pan-searing some dried chorizo in an attempt to get some tasty fat in which to cook the rest of the ingredients. Surprisingly little fat was rendered, so we added some olive oil and sauteed a chopped onion. Then the rice was added, and it was toasted until it was glossy and only a little spot of white remained in the middle. White wine was then poured in and simmered away.

At this point, hot chicken stock was added a cup at a time, and the mixture was stirred frequently until it had reached the point where the rice was tender without being mushy, and the rice was kind of coated with a sauce-like liquid, but was not gloopy and gelatinous.

In the meantime, we caramelized some sliced shallots and roasted a red pepper. The red pepper was eventually peeled, thinly sliced, and added to the onions. We called this a shallot roasted red pepper confit.

We also peeled some shrimp, tossed them with garlic and salt, let them marinate, and pan seared them.

The mussels were steamed with garlic, onion, and beer. Unfortunately, I decided to see if it would work to throw everything in the pot and steam the mussels that way, partially because we had no butter available, and we had used the last of the olive oil. Now I know, though, that you really need to saute some aromatics before adding the mussels. The mussels weren't terrible, but they could have been more flavorful.

To put it all together, some peas and the sliced chorizo were stirred into the rice, and this was plated in a pile. The mussels went around the rice in a ring, and the red pepper shallot confit was placed on top of the rice. The shrimp went on top of the confit, and it was all garnished with chopped parsley.

The risotto was a bit under-seasoned both salt and herb-wise, and I've mentioned that the mussels weren't the most flavorful batch ever. Overall, though, it was a nice meal.

The confit was actually Nick's idea, and it was quite lovely added a note of freshness and flavor to the dish. We discussed ways in which, if we were to make it again, we could do much better, but none of us were sure if it is worth doing again.

We also discussed the fact that I managed to burn myself on the toaster oven. I wasn't even doing anything interesting. I was making toast, which is really quite lame. As Nick said, I can make 'deconstructed paella,' but can't make toast without giving myself a second degree burn.

I don't know if you can tell from this picture, but it went through the epidermis into the dermis. This picture is after a few days of healing; it actually looked bigger, and you could clearly see the two layers of skin.

So, while my Dad liked the paella, it just can't compare to the paella that he used to get in New York. That paella was the pinnacle of paella, and it is never to be duplicated. Paella is like that, though. There are a million different ways to make it, and everyone ends up with an ideal version in their minds, and no other paella will ever live up to that standard. It might be their grandmother's version, the version they had while sitting in a town square in Spain, or the one they had 30 years ago in New York.

I guess I'll never really get it right. Especially if I leave out the saffron and paprika. It's not really paella at all, then, is it?

So after the semi-successful paella, it was time for some preserved lemon risotto with chicken piccata, or, what Suzanne Goin calls Chicken Paillards with Parmesan Breadcrumbs. Before making the risotto, however, I had to make some more stock because the Daring Cooks stipulate that you must make your own stock.

There are a lot of approaches to making chicken stock, and they include using a whole chicken, a lot of chicken wings, chicken carcasses, and various other combinations of poultry parts. The stock suggested by the Daring Cooks uses a whole chicken, and they tell you to use the chicken meat for other purposes. I'm sorry guys, but for a multitude of reasons, I just didn't like that idea.

I used to make a recipe from Epicurious, but I've been finding it bland, so I decided to try Mario Batali's Brown Chicken Stock recipe because I like to freeze the bodies of the chickens that we've roasted and use them for stock.

This recipe involved browning the chicken carcasses, removing them to a plate, and sauteing the vegetables until they're soft and brown.

Per Suzanne Goin's brilliant suggestions, I substituted fennel for celery.

Water and herbs were added, and the mixture was simmered for a couple hours.

It turns out that heat was the element previously lacking in my stock-making procedure. Because the chicken and vegetables were seared, this stock was way more flavorful than any other I've made before, and I've decided that it is now my go-to stock recipe. Thanks, Mario.

Now that I had restocked my stock supply, it was time to make the risotto. As usual, an onion was sauteed, rice was cooked until it had a nice sheen, the pan was deglazed with white wine, and stock was added bit by bit.

Toward the end, some chopped preserved lemon peel was stirred in.

In the meantime, chicken breasts were pounded thin (which makes the bunnies really mad), and they were coated with flour, egg, and a panko breadcrumb, Parmesan, and parsley mixture.

They were then pan-seared until golden and just cooked through.

The chicken were removed, and garlic and a broken up chile de arbol were sauteed until aromatic, and the previously steamed broccolini was cooked. This step was supposed to involve sauteing escarole, and it was supposed to include rosemary. I decided, however, that we would prefer broccolini and rosemary wouldn't be so great with the broccolini.

When the broccolini was finished, butter was browned, poured into a little dish that we got in Mexico, and capers and parsley were stirred in. The recipe calls for lemon to be added to the brown butter, but it was already in the risotto so I didn't want to overwhelm the dish with lemon.

So how was it? Delicious. The risotto could have been salted more and cooked a bit longer, but it was still yummy. Also, we were cautious with the preserved lemon, but once the risotto was combined with the chicken, the lemon got a bit lost.

Nick said that his chicken was overcooked, but mine was perfect--tender and juicy, and the breadcrumb topping was deliciously crisp.

What really made the dish, though, was the caper sauce. I'm not always a fan of capers, but they're growing on me. The nuttiness of the brown butter, the freshness of the parsley, and the salty pungent element from the capers perfectly tied all of the other flavors together, and I just couldn't stop eating this meal.

Once again, this recipe made me really excited to try more of Suzanne Goin's recipes. So far, her recipes add up to more than the sum of their parts, which equals deliciousness.


Audax said...

OMG what a great posting I was really there for a moment that charring of the capsicum (peppers) looks frightening. Your final risotto looks delicious and the caper sauce does sounds intriguing. About rice dishes in general I think the first one you like is the way it must be done from there on is the rule and everybody seems to have a different opinion on how wet or dry they should so I never worry to much about that aspect so long as I like it. Well done on this challenge a wondrous posting. I love how you did the "deconstructed" paella. That burn looks like it did hurts hope it heals cleanly. Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

tariqata said...

Congratulations on your first challenge :)

Both your risottos sound delicious, but the chicken and lemon one in particular is something I'll really have to try! And your stock looks great!

anjelikuh said...

Congrats on your 1st post! Love how you took us through every step and the detailed pictures. I'm also sorry to hear about (and see) your burn!

Denise said...

Wow, Leah, this is quite the post! Beautiful job with the risotto challenge and welcome to the Daring Cooks! I also joined the DC first because of my intimidation with the DB, but I gave in after a few months and love being part of both groups. I needed some help in the baking department and usually end up sharing with the neighbors and friends so I don't eat too many sweets. I also love your cookbook collection which has inspired your blog and wish to great success!

Lisa Michelle said...

I burnt myself badly too..but in the stupidest way - a way so common. I grabbed the handle of a skillet that had just been taken out of the broiler (roasting some of my peppers..similar to you) with my barehand. I literally smelled skin! I got under running ice old water immediately and held it there for 5 minutes, then slathered it with neosporin and a wet towel. This is a tip for when you burn yourself. It always stops the burn and I have yet to develop a scar...seriously.

Ok, now that I wrote a novel about emergency care for burns..can I just say your risottos, post and photos are spectacular!?! Love how you and your guy worked as a team and created these amazing flavors and presentations. Love the mussels and chorizo!

Nick said...

She stole the good Chicken. :P

Dougal said...

That burn looks painful! Welcome to Daring Cooks and I hope you have fun!

Thanks for the blog comment :)

- Heather Mulholland

Leah said...

Thanks, everyone!
You're all so nice, and I appreciate the concern about my burn. Lisa Michelle--I always think that my burns won't really be that bad, so I don't do the cold water thing unless Nick sees me burn myself. If he witnesses the occurrence, he yells at me until I do it, so it's really too bad he wasn't there this time.
It really wasn't that painful. The worst part was the location--I had to worry about getting other people's blood, amniotic fluid, poop, etc. into it. Yuck.
And Nick--I offered to trade, so shut it.