Shrimp Risotto

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.

Shrimp Risotto Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a side dish or appetizer.

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.

Ingredients

  • 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
  • 2 cups of the smallest pink shrimp you can find
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
  • Salt

Method

1 Add the clam juice to 4 cups of water in a pot, heat until steamy. Do not let it boil.

2 In separate pot (thick-bottomed), heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat, and sauté the minced shallots for 2-3 minutes, until just translucent.

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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 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 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.

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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.)

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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.

Links:
Seaside risotto with clams, shrimp, and mussels, from Hank of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
Maine shrimp risotto with pancetta, roasted leeks and garlic from Stephen Cooks
Risotto with shrimp and asparagus from Lydia of The Perfect Pantry
Coconut shrimp risotto from Framed
Thai green curry shrimp risotto from The Sugar Bar
Shrimp risotto with sweet peas and leeks from Little Spatula

16 Comments

  1. Baboon

    I will make this soon. I haven’t had a seafood risotto in a while although we eat seafood every Tuesday! If I can just add a little something…the most common expression is risotto “all’onda” or “wave risotto” (in any case “sull’onda” means “on the wave” not under) and it refers to the characteristic “wave” that you get when the risotto is ready and you move the pot: as you said not too liquid, not too thick. But honestly, no Italian over three would think of eating it with a spoon…!

    Thanks for the clarification! ~Elise

  2. Meredith

    How do you always know exactly what I’m craving?

    It’s a northern California thing. Decades of hippy training, hot-tubbing, and stopping to smell the flowers give us special psychic access into the hopes and dreams of all living creatures. ;-) ~Elise

  3. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    We’ve been lucky to travel to Venice many times, and on our very first trip, on our very first night in Venice, we found a small trattoria on the edge of the old ghetto. We had two kinds of risotto there: shrimp, and squid ink with cuttlefish. Both were so indescribably delicious that on every subsequent trip, we ate at the same place on our first night, and we had the same risotto. It was definitely a good lucky charm, because Venice was always kind to us.

  4. Stephanie - Wasabimon

    I have to say that I’m totally in love with the color palette of this photo. :)

    Thanks Stephanie! I’m finally cooking and shooting from my new home, still trying to discover which places are going to give the best light. ~Elise

  5. Paula

    Elise: thanks for this recipe. It has made a light go off in my head. I make lots of risotto so the general technique is part of my cooking repertoire, but I don’t often think of shrimp (usually do mushroom duxelle). Now you’ve given me the perfect dish for the wonderful tiny Maine shrimp that are available for just a short time around February every year. They’re so small I couldn’t think of anything to do with them. Here is the solution. Even though cleaning those little bitty sweet morsels is a hassle, this recipe will make it all worthwhile. Thanks, Paula/Cooking on the Seacoast of NH

    Hi Paula, Stephen of Stephen Cooks has an interesting looking Maine shrimp recipe (Maine shrimp risotto with pancetta, roasted leeks, and garlic that you also might want to check out. ~Elise

  6. Magda

    I have visited your blog so many times but I’ve never said thank you for all the wonderful recipes you’re sharing. I’m sure others have done that before me so this must not be such a unique comment but really, thank you! :)
    Love this shrimp risotto recipe… Looks so good!
    Magda

    Thank you Magda! ~Elise

  7. Stephen

    Hi Elise…

    Looks and sounds wonderful…

    FYI, as Paula mentioned in the comments, those little “boreal shrimp” are the same “Maine shrimp” I rave about every winter. The scientific name is Pandalus borealis and they are also known as “Northern shrimp” and, in Eastern Canada, “Metane shrimp.” They are also available from North Atlantic, Oregon and Alaskan waters and are sometimes marketed as “salad shrimp” or “cocktail shrimp.” This is a sustainable fishery and a great alternative to farmed shrimp (more flavorful, in my view). The season for Maine shrimp closes this year in late May, by the way, so there’s still plenty of time to enjoy them.

    …and of course: thanks for the link(s)!

    Best, Stephen

  8. Marion Olson

    Wow – this looks great! We love risotto, and I’ll be making it very soon. It’s really too bad that the Maine native shrimp season just ended for the year. They’re tiny, bright pink, and delicious. They’d be perfect in this recipe!

    Hi Marion, my pal Stephen in Maine just mentioned (see comment above) that the season ends at the end of May this year. ~Elise

  9. Amber

    As soon as I saw this, I knew I had to make it, and it did not disappoint. Thank you for the rice recommendation. My local gourmet shop had Vialone Nano. Wow, this was absolutely fantastic, and super-easy. Thanks! (One question: did I miss what happens to the third tbsp of butter? I ended up just not using it and it was totally fine, but just curious where it would have gone.)

    Good catch! It goes in with the shrimp at the end. I’ve corrected the recipe. So glad you liked it! ~Elise

  10. Memoria

    The best looking risotto I’ve ever seen. Is there a non-alcoholic substitute for the wine?

    It won’t be the same, but if you must, you can try substituting 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and a cup (minus a tablespoon) of water. ~Elise

  11. Julie

    I made your Shrimp Risotto last night for dinner and it was simple and delicious!! Thanks for another great recipe! I am now completely over my fear of making risotto.

  12. Sara

    I think I ate at the same place you are describing…in 2003 my husband and I went to Venice, and had the most amazing shrimp risotto in a small place along the Grand Canal, just a short walk from St. Mark’s. It was “for two”, and it had these tiny shrimp that literally exploded with flavor with each bite. I have been striving to make that risotto just like that ever since…

    thanks for the memory :)

  13. Robert

    The recipe looks really good, but I haven’t found the tiny shrimp to have much flavor after being cooked, shelled and frozen unless you are very close to the source. For sweetness and texture, I prefer large, uncooked shrimp, boiled just until they float, peeled and chopped.

  14. Ashley R.

    Made this a couple nights ago and I was very impressed with myself. :-) Can’t wait to try the asparagus risotto. A new fave.

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