Have you ever had a food epiphany?
Years ago I had a seafood risotto at a restaurant on the Grand Canal of Venice (back in the cushy days of business trips with expense accounts) that was so silky, so luscious, so creamy yet still light, I didn’t know what hit me. I ate every grain with a stunned and happy look on my face and still remember that risotto more than what was inside St. Mark’s.
Although I had no idea at the time, according to my friend Hank, seafood risottos are a specialty of Venice. There they are typically served all’onda, or “wave” risotto, which means a looser and almost soupy risotto best eaten with a spoon.
Hank and I spent the day cooking together and he showed me in great detail how he makes this Venetian-style shrimp risotto.
My father happened by in time for lunch and ate his bowl completely, proclaiming, “Hank, I don’t like shrimp, and I don’t like rice, but I love this.” So there you have it.
Use the smallest shrimp you can find. Try to find tiny pink shrimp in the supermarket’s freezer section. These “boreal” shrimp or Maine shrimp are uncommonly sweet and come pre-shelled and pre-cooked. Any shrimp you find larger than the last digit on your little finger should be cut in half.
Risotto recipes require risotto rice, an Italian rice that has enough starch to help make the risotto's creamy sauce. Arborio rice works for this purpose, but if you can get it, use a Carnaroli rice or even better a rice called Vialone Nano, which is more delicate and creamy than the other risotto rices and is well suited for this seafood risotto.
- 1 cup risotto rice (Arborio or if you can get it, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 large shallot, finely chopped
- 1 cup dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc)
- 8 ounces clam juice or fresh seafood stock
- 4 cups water
- 2 cups of the smallest pink shrimp you can find
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 Heat the clam juice and water: Add the clam juice to 4 cups of water in a pot, heat until steamy. Do not let it boil.
2 Sauté shallots; In separate pot (thick-bottomed), heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat, and sauté the minced shallots for 2-3 minutes, until just translucent.
3 Add the rice to the pot. Stir-fry the rice for 2-3 minutes, until all the grains are well coated in butter and are beginning to toast.
4 Add white wine and stir: Increase the heat to high and add the white wine. With a wooden spoon, stir the rice vigorously. Once the wine boils, turn the heat down until the wine is just simmering gently.
Stir almost constantly. You are doing this to agitate the rice, which releases its starch and creates the creamy sauce you want in a risotto.
5 Add two ladles of clam juice water mixture: When the wine is almost cooked away – under no circumstances should you let the rice sizzle on the bottom of the pot – pour in two ladles of the hot clam broth-water mixture. Stir well to combine, and add a healthy pinch of salt.
6 Stirring almost constantly, let this liquid reduce until it is almost gone, then add another ladle of broth. Continue this until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Taste the spoon and see if the risotto needs salt. If so, add a small pinch.
This much risotto rice should need about 4-5 cups of liquid total (including the wine) to come together, so start tasting the rice at the 3rd cup. If it is almost there – firm in the center but translucent on the outside, and fully surrounded with a creamy sauce – add one more cup of broth, stir well, and taste one more time for salt. (If not, you have old rice and you’ll need to go one more cup and let it cook away.)
7 Now add in the shrimp, the parsley, and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Stir constantly until this last cup of broth is about half gone: Remember you want this risotto to be loose and creamy.
Right before you serve, add in the lemon zest and serve at once. Best served with bowls and spoons rather than plates and forks.