Category Archives: risotto

Thanksgiving Leftovers and Leftover Leftovers: Turkey and Leek Risotto & Risotto Croquettes with Homemade Turkey Stock

it's not really much to look at...I suppose I could have molded, although I suspect that would have just made it look like something out of a can The Bird That Keeps On Giving

Even after feeding nearly 30 people on Thanksgiving, a single turkey carcass can produce over two gallons of stock. And not some watery broth—this is stock so rich that it once refrigerated, it will be a solid. I make stock from chicken bones all the time, and that’s pretty good, but this seemed like, well, a different animal.

I could have picked the remaining meat off beforehand, and it would have had more flavor, but I was just planning on putting it in things based on the stock anyway so it didn't matterPerhaps it was just the size of the bird, or the amount of meat left on it. It looked like it had been pretty well  picked-over, but there must have been a lot of meat left on the back. Or perhaps it was because I used Michael Ruhlman’s “oven method.” I normally just make stock on the stovetop—I brown the bones over medium heat along with a quartered onion and two or three roughly chopped carrots and crushed garlic cloves. Then, I add a splash of white wine or dry vermouth (or vinegar if I don’t have either of those around) and simmer that for a few minutes and cover it all with water and turn the heat down low. Usually, I start it in the mid to late afternoon and simmer it for 6-8 hrs, adding more water if necessary to keep the bones covered. Just before I got to sleep, I turn the heat off and cover it so. In the morning, it’s cool  strain the solids through a couple of layers of cheesecloth or paper towel and freeze or refrigerate it in pint or quart containers. 

I decided to try the “oven method” because the turkey carcass was so big, I couldn’t cover it completely with water even in my biggest stock pot. I thought perhaps it would be better to cook it longer on lower heat without letting any liquid evaporate. Putting it in an 180F oven overnight sounded like about the right idea.

180 wasn't quite hot enough for it to "simmer"--it was actually cool enough to touch, though not grab and hold after 12 hrs of simmering, the broth was golden but clear aromatics nearly overfilling the pot 6 hrs later, it was slightly reduced in volume and unctuous and if you have less storage space, you can reduce it further either before or after straining. Some people freeze it in ice cubes and use them like bouillon.

Ruhlman suggests letting the carcass cook for 8-16 hrs before adding the other ingredients, so I left it in the oven overnight and then added the onion, carrots, and garlic the next morning. They raised the water level so high, I didn’t trust myself to be able to get it back in the oven without spilling it so I finished it over low heat on the stovetop. In total, the carcass simmered for about 12 hrs before adding the aromatics and another 6 hrs with them. I let it cool for about 6 hrs, picked out the meat—about 6 cups of it, flavorless by then but still fine as filler protein—strained it through cheesecloth, and filled 4 quart jars plus a little extra.

the fat will rise to the top, and you can easily skim it off if you want. underneath, you basically get turkey aspic

Risotto: The Stock Showcase

I didn’t have any grand plan for the stock when I made it—I assumed I’d just use it to steam dumplings and thin pureed vegetables into soup, or anywhere else I’d normally use chicken stock or bouillon. But this stock was so good, I decided to make something that would really show it off. Since risotto is just rice that’s been simmered in broth until it releases its starch and forms a thick, creamy base for whatever additions you want, it seemed like the right choice. and risotto is the best way I know to show off good stock

I often use mushrooms in risotto, but after tasting the stock, I thought it would be sufficiently umami on its own. Instead, I decided to use leeks as the primary vegetable matter. I sweated the leeks in the turkey fat skimmed from the broth, which may have added some extra turkey flavor, but any other rendered animal fat or butter or olive oil would probably have been good, too. I added some sage and thyme, and once the rice had cooked to an al dente firmness, I added some finely-grated parmeggiano reggiano. The result is lovely—creamy, rich with turkey flavor but not at all dry or flavorless like some turkey leftovers can be.

Leftover Leftovers

Wait, it gets better. If you’ve never done this with your leftover risotto, seriously, try it—it’s the best reason to make this or any other risotto. No recipe below, because it’s easy and intuitive: heat some oil in a pan while you shape golf-ball sized amounts cold, leftover risotto into balls. If desired, make a depression in the ball and insert a small piece of cheese—something that melts well, like a little ball of mozzarella or cube of raclette. Dust the balls with some flour or breadcrumbs, and then pan-fry them, turning until they’re golden brown on all sides. The cheese in the middle melts and the risotto gets warm and creamy and the outside gets crisp. These are the kind of leftovers you look forward to while you’re eating the original dish. No pictures—they got devoured too fast.

Recipe: Turkey & Leek Risotto

Ingredients

  • 4-6 T. rendered animal fat, butter, lard, or olive oilI made a double-batch, so 6 leeks here. I save the green tops for the next time I make stock.
  • 3 large leeks
  • 2 shallots
  • 2 c. arborio or bomba rice (you can substitute all or part short-grain brown rice, although it won’t be quite as creamy; brown rice also absorbs more liquid, so only use 3/4 cup brown for every cup of white)
  • 1/2 c. white wine
  • 5 1/2 c. stock (see below) or water with bouillon.
  • 1 t. thyme, dried (or use 1 T. fresh)
  • 1 t. rubbed sage (or use 1 T. fresh)
  • 2 c. shredded or chopped, cooked turkey meat
  • 4 oz. parmesan cheese, finely grated (or substitute 1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

1. Melt the fat in a large pot over medium heat. Warm the stock in a smaller pot over medium-low heat. 

2. Trim the roots and greens off the leeks, slice them down the middle and rinse to remove any grit. Slice into 1/4” pieces.

3. Stir the leeks into the fat to coat. Meanwhile, mince the shallots and add them to the pot.

4. When the leeks and shallots have softened, add the white wine and cook for about 5 minutes, or until it’s about half-evaporated/absorbed.

shallots and leeks, sweating leeks and shallots softened, wine reduced, rice added

5. Add the rice and stir. I sometimes add another tablespoon or so of fat at this point just to be sure the rice gets coated with fat before I start adding broth. That helps it retain some structure even after it’s releasing its starch into the broth.

6. Add the herbs and begin adding the warm broth 1/2 cup at a time and stir until absorbed, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot to prevent it from burning. You don’t have to stir the whole time—you can walk away and do other things, like grate the cheese. Just check on the rice periodically, add more broth as needed, and stir to deglaze the bottom. Letting it brown on the bottom will actually enrich the flavor as long as you don’t let it burn. This process will probably take 30-40 minutes, or more if you use brown rice.

7. Once the rice is cooked through, remove it from the heat. Stir in the cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper.

a finer microplane works equally well. a box grater might be a little more unweildly or produce a coarser grate, but should still melt into the risotto just fine. again, this is a double batch. with the ingredient list above, you'll end up with half as much

I like to use the small or gnarly carrots in stock because I don't have to bother peeling them--just cut off the ends and scrub well, and throw them in the potRecipe: Turkey Stock—Michael Ruhlman’s Oven Method

  • 1 turkey carcass
  • 2 onions
  • half a dozen carrots
  • half a dozen cloves of garlic
  • some bay leaves (optional)
  • a few sprigs of thyme or oregano (optional)
  • a few celery ribs and leek or carrot tops (optional)

Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180-200F.straining out the solids--once most of the liquid has dripped through, I gather up the ends and squeeze it to get as much of the liquid, and flavor out as possible. it's like a giant turkey teabag.

2. Place the carcass in a large stock pot and cover with water. Cover the pot and place in the oven for 8-18 hrs.

3. Quarter the onions, roughly chop the carrots, and crush the garlic cloves. Add them to the pot and either return to the oven or place over low heat on the stovetop for an additional 3-6 hours.

4. Let cool, and then strain through cheesecloth or paper towel.

5. Chill, and skim the fat off the top if desired.

Morel “Risotto” with Israeli Couscous: On cost, value, and pleasure

my parmeggiano curls are not as pretty as they could be

The entry about identifying morels is here.

The Moody Sclerotium

This “risotto” was the fate of the morels that appeared in our yard late last month, which is unfortunately probably going to be the only harvest this year because the landlord decided that our little patch of moss and dandelions needed to be mowed and in the process, chewed up the ones I had left to see if they’d get bigger. Curse you, lawn maintenance norms.

I find it difficult to separate the gustatory pleasure of morels from their market value, even when I get them for free. Obviously I’m not the only person who thinks they’re great—they’re widely admired for their nutty, richly umami flavor and chewy, meaty texture, which is one of the reasons they’re as expensive as they are. But there are reasons for the price that aren’t related to how they taste, too. Fresh morels are extremely fragile, so they have to be handled carefully and transported and sold quickly. They can be dried, which makes them considerably easier to transport and store, and dried morels are nearly as good as fresh when they’re soaked in some hot water. But they’re expensive too, even when you take into account that about 3 oz of dried morels are equivalent to about 1 lb fresh.

click for source, along with way more info about morel cultivation from Volk's websiteThe main reason that morels aren’t as readily available or as cheap as button/cremini/portabella (which are all the same species: Agaricus bisporus) or even the more exotic and flavorful shiitake or oyster mushrooms is because there’s an intermediary step in their life cycle that makes them exceedingly difficult to cultivate—the lump labeled “Sclerotium” in the diagram. According to Thomas Volk, a biology professor at UW-Lacrosse, the sclerotium is made up of big, thick cells that can survive all kinds of bad weather—including, say, Michigan winters. In the spring, the sclerotium has two choices: form a new mycelium, which is a network of cells arranged in tiny threads underground, or form a fruiting body—i.e. a mushroom.

All kinds of factors have to be exactly right for it to pick the “fruiting body” option—soil nutrients and moisture levels, CO2 levels, humidity, temperature. To complicate matters further, different species probably fruit in response to different factors, and the same species might even respond to two different sets of factors. That would make sense given that the same morel fungi seem to work like symbiotic partners with living trees (the mycelia can extend even farther than the root base, bringing useful nutrients closer to the roots) and saprobes that feed on the tree as it dies, possibly speeding its demise and then thriving on the remains for years.

The symbiotic/semi-parasitic relationship with trees adds yet another complicating factor. Morels seem to prefer ash trees, tulip trees, old apple trees, and dead elm trees, although they can grow under any tree and also seem to like areas cleared by wildfire. But you can’t just grow them in a basement or a parking lot somewhere; you kind of need a forest.

There have been scattered reports of effective cultivation strategies—a few patents have been filed and I read somewhere (can’t find the link now) about at least one company that figured out a way to cultivate them, but ultimately failed because it couldn’t come up with a cost-effective way to remove the grit from all the little brainy ridges without damaging the texture or rendering them too unstable for transport. There are also anecdotal reports of huge crops appearing where people have poured the water used to soak or rinse morels over a compost heap or on the roots of a tree. And earlier this month, The Traverse City Record-Eagle quoted a chef from a hospitality company saying they were sourcing them from a “a gentleman, a scientist, who has figured out how to raise them, like farm-raising fish…year-round and at a fraction of the cost of the dried ones.” But whatever the gentleman-scientist’s secret is, he must be guarding it pretty well. I still only see them in markets around Ann Arbor between May and June, and this year they seem to be priced around ~$40/lb.

which makes this about $14 worth; in New York, where I remember seeing them priced at $80/lb this would be nearly $30 of mushrooms

So I almost never buy them (or much of anything else that’s $40/lb+, even taking spices into account, which obviously get used in much smaller quantities; the only exceptions I can think of are saffron, vanilla, and cardamom; even cinnamon and Szechuan peppercorns are only half as much per lb) and I find myself wanting to “stretch” the ones I get. The most common preparation seems to be breading and frying them, usually using flour or cracker crumbs and butter. I’m sure that’s delicious, but with only 5.5 oz, it would yield two or three appetizer/small plate portions at most. Cream sauces are also common, usually paired with pasta or meat, and they show up in recipes for egg dishes, like omelets and quiche, especially with ramps—the wild leeks that appear around the same time in the early Spring. I decided on something risotto-like because the defining characteristic of risotto is that the starch is cooked in the dish rather than separately, so it seemed like a good way to really get the morel flavor infused into multiple dinner-sized portions of food.

Instead of using one of the varieties of starch-exuding short-grained rice that give risotto (“little rice”) its name, I decided to use Israeli couscous (or ptitim). Israeli couscous is basically just a bigger version of normal couscous—the grains are probably closest in size and shape to barley. They have a little more chew to them than normal couscous and they’re often toasted lightly before being boiled in liquid, which gives them a nutty flavor that I thought that would play well with the morels. Some people recommend against soaking fresh morels because they claim it changes the flavor and texture, but I wanted to be sure to get all the dirt and any critters out. If I had known about the home cultivation technique, I might have dumped the water under the tree, but instead I strained it with a paper cloth and used it for part of the cooking liquid. Aside from that, the recipe is classic risotto: some shallots and butter, a little white wine and homemade chicken stock, and lots of parmeggiano regiano grated into a heap of delicate curls with a microplane (that way it melts into the dish easily and doesn’t clump up).

before toastingthere's probably no reason you couldn't do this to normal couscous...and perhaps from now on, I will

It was one of the most delicious things I think I’ve ever made.

When Food is Worth Its Weight in Gold

I’m not even the biggest fan of mushrooms. I hated them as a kid, and probably only acquired a taste for the flavor due to years of vegetarianism, since they’re so often used as a substitute for meat, especially in Euro-American cooking. But the texture, especially of all of the different sizes and colors of agaricus bisporus, still squicks me out. They’re one of the few foods I actively avoid and, occasionally, especially if they’re big, try to surreptitiously remove from my plate. I have less of an aversion to other varieties—I’m actually rather fond of porcini, shiitake, maitake, and enoki mushrooms, but I still tend to prefer them minced, cooked, and combined with other ingredients—part of the flavor profile, but not the dominant note.

So I’m a little surprised how much I liked this “risotto” given how intensely mushroomy it was. I probably never would have ordered anything like it from a restaurant menu because I would have assumed I’d only enjoy it moderation. But there was nothing moderate about how much I liked it. I could have eaten it for multiple consecutive meals. I would prefer it to just about anything else I can imagine eating for dinner tonight. I want it again. I want it now. And I suspect that at least part of that is due to the fact that I know how much morels are valued—both the fact that they’re supposed to be “gourmet” and how much they cost, which probably aren’t unrelated. For instance, it seems more than coincidental that the word we use to describe fatty, savory foods is “rich.”

slicing them into rings is another way to ensure that there aren't any critters hiding anywhere in either the hollow middle or any of the ridgesIt certainly seemed like my faux-sotto was different—and better—than it would have been if I had made it with cremini or portabella mushrooms. I find the thin, chewy pieces of morel way less objectionable than big chunks of anything agaricus bisporus. And the flavor was richer and nuttier and more umami than any cultivated mushrooms I’ve ever had. But, as I’ve mentioned before (both in the discussion about robots and the discussion about umami) the physiological experience of taste can’t be separated from the contextual cues and expectations that shape the perception of taste. Whatever real, scientific differences there are between a morel and any other mushroom, they don’t explain how I evaluate those differences as better or worse.

Does lobster taste objectively better than shrimp, or do I just think it does because I know it’s supposed to be better and it’s more expensive? “Objectively” is the wrong word—there’s probably no such thing as “objectively better” when it comes to taste, but it also isn’t as arbitrary and individual as “subjective” makes it sound. Chemical components and measurable physical attributes like texture and temperature elicit relatively predictable responses, and the combinations that generally register as tastier have greater social, cultural, and economic value.

My suspicion is that morels really do taste “better” (to most people, most of the time) than other mushrooms, and would even if there were no difference in their price or availability. However, I think that gets enhanced by, and is ultimately inseparable from, their crazy, mushroom-optional, sclerotium-based life cycle, not because the cycle actually changes anything about how they taste but because it makes them more expensive and exaggerates their perceived value. Or in other words, they are delicious because they are delicious, but they are even more delicious because they are rare, delicate, and expensive. Which doesn’t make the enhanced deliciousness false or invalid. The added pleasure is a bit like a placebo effect—real, measurable, and usually good, despite the fact that the medicine is fake.   

On the other hand, it also means that this recipe might be just as good—or nearly so—with any other mushroom, especially if you believed it would be. 

Recipe: Israeli Couscous Risotto with Morels

  • 2 large shallots (about 1/2 cup diced)
  • 5 T. butter
  • 5.5 oz fresh morel mushrooms or 1 oz. dried, soaked in hot water for a couple of hours
  • 1 cup Israeli couscous (ptitim)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 3 cups water or stock (and/or mushroom soaking water if you have it)
  • 2 t. bouillon (if using water)
  • ~2 oz. parmeggiano reggiano, or about 3/4 cup finely grated (microplane highly recommended)
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt 4 T. of the butter in a large pot or saucepan. Dice the shallots and cook in the butter until golden-brown (7-10 min).

my favorite allium...not like there are any i don't like  I assume butter foam is caused by its moisture content? I don't think ghee foams.

2. While the shallots cook, brush or rinse any dirt from the morels and slice them into rings, looking out for critters that may be hiding inside. Add to the shallots and cook until the mushrooms begin to release some of their liquid.

just after the wine is added...after about half the wine has evaporated

3. Add the wine to the mushrooms and cook until about half of the liquid has boiled off—what remains will thicken a bit.

4. Meanwhile, in a separate skillet, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and toast the couscous until golden (about 5 minutes).

5. Add the couscous and stock (and mushroom soaking water and/or bouillon if using) to the shallots and mushrooms. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is done, but still has a little chew to it (15-20 minutes). Add more water or stock at any point if it begins to dry out or stick to the bottom.

just after adding the toated couscous just after stirring in the finely grated cheese

6. In the last minute of cooking, stir in the grated cheese and season with salt and ground pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

7. Garnish with curls of hard cheese (I use a vegetable peeler) and, if desired, a few chopped herbs like parsley or chives.

golden, creamy, nutty, chewy, shallot-wine-and-mushroomy. so. freaking. good.