Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sasha's Kitchen: Triple-Mushroom Risotto And Food Sociology

I wasn't planning on posting anything today, 12/16, give that it is my birthday (I'm 26 again, for the 5th year in a row). However, now that it is after midnight, I couldn't resist sharing this recipe that my husband and I prepared last night.

I do most of the cooking (and the grocery shopping) in our house. However, my husband does his part as well - laundry and cleaning up messes (mostly mine). However, there are certain foods that Brad cooks and prepares extremely well, including any variety of risotto, Marsala, and boeuf borugignon.

I asked Brad to prepare a mushroom risotto last night, and bought enough mushrooms so that he would have quality ingredients to work with. The end result, a triple-mushroom risotto was excellent, and one of the best that I have had. It was only after tasting Blue Hill's mushroom risotto tonight that I have a couple of suggestions on how to improve the recipe.

According to my husband, the first step of the risotto is to saute the chopped onions (use 1 medium sized onion) in 2 tablespoons of canola oil and 2 tablespoons of butter. An additional note is that you could add a tablespoon of pure Truffle Oil if you are fortunate enough to have some (I am not, sadly). At that point, add a1 cup arborio/risotto rice and stir for 2 minutes. After that, add chicken stock, one cup at a time, until you have added a total of three cups, but only adding in one cup increments only when the stock has reduced. Continue stirring every couple minutes while it cooks so the rice does not get stuck to the bottom of the pot.

Another point to note is that we intended to prepare a homemade mushroom stock, in lieu of chicken stock, but did not have time to do this after a long work day so instead we substituted organic chicken stock. The end result was delicious, but I would highly recommend substituting a homemade mushroom stock if you have the time. A sample recipe for homemade mushroom stock can be found here. I suspect that this would have an excellent and rewarding result and plan to do this next time I prepare the dish and get started before 8 PM.

While performing the above, saute the assorted mushrooms in canola oil in another pan. With respect to the mushrooms - you can use any variety that is locally available (the more organic and unusual, the better, in my opinion). I selected Shitaki, portabello and cremeni. You should start with about twice the volume of mushroom that you need in the end (much to my husband's surprise), as they typically get reduce by about 50% as they cook and the mushroom juices come out. Midway through the third cup of chicken stock reducing, combine the sauteed mushrooms with the risotto and keep stirring until the third cup of stock has fully reduced. The last step is to add shredded or grated Parmesan or other cheese of your preference. It's also good to add some salt & pepper to taste.

Here's the recipe we used:

Sasha's Triple Mushroom Risotto

3 cups organic lowfat chicken stock or homemade mushroom stock
1 onion, diced
2 T butter
2 T canola oil
1 T truffle oil (if you are luckier than me and have truffle oil in your kitchen)
1 cup arborio/risotto rice
package of diced portabello mushrooms (stems removed)
package of diced cremeni mushrooms (stems removed)
package of diced shitaki mushrooms (stems removed)
salt to taste
pepper to taste
I would suggest adding 1 tsp star anise

I should add that tonight at my birthday dinner at Blue Hill we tasted a combination mushroom risotto that was strikingly similar to this dish. The main difference is that they had access to some super-fresh, delicious organic mushrooms from Stone Barns, and the mushrooms had a wonderful natural sweetness to them. I immediately (and correctly, after discussing with the waitstaff) identified this taste as the incorporation of star anise in the dish (Brad initially thought it was cinnamon). It was a great addition and one that I will surely incorporate next time I make the dish. I suggest that you do the same.

This is a dish my husband and I enjoy cooking together, even though we have different styles. I am a very experimental chef - I am not afraid to try new things, even though form time to time, they backfire. However, my food "experiments" have led me to a lot of great discoveries that I would not have learned any other way (i.e. like making tangerine salad dressing because I ran out of orange juice and needed to improvise, and actually discovering I liked it better because it was less acidic). My husband is more of a conventional cook - he likes to know what he is going to do before he does it and plan accordingly. Because this recipe was so improvised, I had to convince him that I knew what we were doing and just to do his thing with the rice and the mushrooms would work their way into the recipe.

In addition, I am a very messy chef. I am much better than I used to be, but I generally make a large mess when I cook, which Brad is usually patient and sweet enough to clean up without complaining. Brad is the opposite - he prefers to clean up as he goes along, even if it gets in the way of cooking. I have often joked that he reminds me of the "anal-retentive chef" skit from SNL, with the beloved Phil Hartman. (If you have not already noticed, I am a huge SNL fan, expecially of the old classics and also linked a great skit to my recent Iceland post).

As noted above, tonight was my birthday dinner, which, my husband and I celebrated at Blue Hill. I will complete a full review of Blue Hill tomorrow night. For tonight, my comments are mainly reserved for a discourse on food-sociology. One of the many reasons I started the blog was to explore the psychology and sociology behind cooking and eating, as this is something that fascinates me.

Since tonight was my birthday, I couldn't help but thinking about how special occaisons (holidays, both secular and religious, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries etc. . ) are always celebrated with food. The only special events we mark without food tend to be sad occasions (funerals and fast/mourning holidays). We give thanks for food at special occasions (harvest, holidays like thanksgiving and Sukkot). We pray for rain (i.e. Native American and Jewish prayers) so it will cause crops to grow so we will have enough food.

Whenever we choose to socialize with friends, it is almost always with our centered around food (dinner,drinks, holidays etc). The few occasions that are not centered around food that we do socialize for - i.e. sporting events - usually wind up involving food in the end (have you ever been to a super bowl party or baseball game where you didn't eat?). Every society that I have read about from the ancient Egyptians to the Romans to modern societies incorporates food, and plenty of it, into their religious and social rituals and practices.

The bottom line is that food is central to our celebration of special moments and to our social discourse. Humans simply cannot socialize without food. I truly believe that eating different varieties of food, and eating with others makes people happier and that food play a central role in our happiness. My birthday was a really good one this year, for a variety of reasons, but the good food certainly played a role in making that happen. I guess this is just some food for thought (pun intended). This concept of "food sociology" and why and how people eat, and the role it plays in human socialization, emotion and happiness is a topic I plan to explore in the future on this blog.

Risotto is a one of the "roundtable" ingrediants at for the month of December. For another risotto recipe, click here for Eric's Mussels Risotto.

Mushroom Risotto on Foodista


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