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Clam Juice Risotto

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Nobody does it like the Italians, but under my patient tutelage you'll give a most convincing performance.

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My friend Terry, a cunning linguist, read this article and told me «With a title like this you could draw the wrong sort of people to your website». But I liked the title and it really is about clam juice. So let me be clear from the outset - there is nothing here but the lowest kind of culinary pornography.

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Clam Juice Risotto
1 kg / 2lbs mussels or clams in their shells. You can use most other edible sea shells for this recipe.
1 small onion
1 garlic clove
1 thyme twig
1 bay leaf
1 dried chili
Olive oil
1 stick butter
Mascarpone (optional)
Cognac
2 cups risotto rice
1 small glass white wine
Salt, pepper

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Crush the garlic, under the blade your largest knife like a he-man or like I did using a fancy Dutch kitchen gadget.

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Meet our participants to the 'Let's flavor that mussel' show. Clockwise from the left : crushed garlic, thyme, bay leaf and a dried Serrano chili. No salt will be needed.

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Heat a little olive oil in a large pot and add the garlic. When the garlic starts to turn slightly sandy ...

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... add the mussels and the rest of the aromatic garnish.

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Keep the pot on a high heat. At first the mussels will play it like nothing happened. But soon they'll start opening up, with this heat who could blame them?

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As the mussels open up, they will release the precious mussel juice that will start to boil. If you have too many mussels and fear that the ones on top might not be hot enough to open just yet, you might add a small glass of water to increase the quantity of steam in your pot.

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Remove the mussels to a cooler spot...

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... and delicately take out the fleshy portion inside.

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Do not throw away the shells just yet...

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... but add them to a small pot of boiling water or fish stock which we'll use for the risotto. You don't really need anything but hot water with some mussel shells thrown in as the mussel juice has enough power to flavor a gallon of risotto, and then some.

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Choose the nicest looking mussels and save one per plate, with the flesh intact.

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Now for your mussel juice. You have to be careful as it is rather poisonous in its current stage, laced with brittle shell fragments and sand. Filter through the finest sieve you have or, better yet, through a clean cotton cloth.

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Finely dice your onion.

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Let's start making our risotto. Melt a generous piece of butter in a saucepan and add the onion.

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You can use any rice for this dish, as long as it is risotto rice. I use a fancy slow food 'Grumolo delle abbadesse' but that's only because it was available at COOP, my local supermarket. Please do not wash the rice, this is an insanity spred by some non-Italian cookbooks. What we need is to coat each rice grain in melted butter, and you just can't do that with wet rice. Washing rice is designed to remove the microscopic rice flour generated by rice grains rubbing each other in the bag. You want that flour as it will help make your risotto sticky.

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When the onion is soft, add the rice.

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Toss until each rice grain is fully coated in fat.

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A drop of a nondesript white wine...

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... then, as soon as the alcohol has evaporated, the mussel juice. Mix well over medium-high heat.

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Add half a cup of hot mussel water ...

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... mix it in.

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Keeping the risotto on a hot fire, continue to stir regularly until all water is absorbed.

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Add the mussel flesh halfway through cooking.

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Continue to add liquid half-cup by half-cup until the rice is just nearly cooked through. You as the chef, are now faced with a choice. You can cook your risotto al dente, keeping the grain rices with a slight bite. That is the preferred option for Italians as for myself. Otherwise just leave it a couple minutes longer until the rice becomes soft as a marshmallow. I don't recommend that since you can get all the overcooked risotto you want in any restaurant. The second choice is how much liquid you want to keep in the risotto. Some italians keep it rather wet, not so much as to see puddles of the mighty mussel juice, but still enough liquid so that your risotto can be poured onto a plate rather than needing to be spooned. Liquid risotto, al dente or not, is called all'onda (wave style). A smartass chef in a cocktail could say «I serve my risotti», notice the plural in i, «al dente and all'onda». I like my risotto dry, so I let most of the liquid evaporate before moving to the next step.

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Physically remove the risotto pot from the plate, cover and let it rest for 2-5 minutes. We need the temperature to come down a bit before we fold in the butter. Cut the butter into small dices and fold them in quickly so that the butter won't have time to bleed its fat out before it is emulsified with the remaining liquid in the risotto. How much butter is a question best asked to your physician, but as far as I am concerned there is no limit. Start with 2 tablespoons / 50 grams.

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The mascarpone I usually add to my risotti is here superfluous. I know because I tried. However, you could add a drop of Cognac for a beautiful and most effective result in a romantic context.

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Decorate with a mussel and a little thyme and serve.

Of course all of this may look like a wee bit too fattening, but hey, you know the old Italian proverb: «Un risotto al giorno tiene il medico sveglio» (A risotto a day keeps the doctor awake).


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19 Comments

We used to roast unshelled mussels on the beach because I am addicted to that stuff.
Wow! This looks so good! I want that garlic crusher! :-)
  • #3
  • Comment by zeta
Dear FX, thank you for another masterpiece. I enjoy your blog for the recipes, the photos - but especially for the great writing.
  • #4
  • Comment by Paul Mckenna
Oh yes. A cunning stunt. That is good food.
Mussels in Switzerland...Not so sure

I agree with you. A lot of "fashionable" cooking. meat almost raw and part cooked pasta is purely bad restaurant practice.
A  case of the Emperors new clothes. I go to a restauarant for good cooking not an assembly of part cooked materials.

Paul
  • #5
  • Comment by Dan
FX, I found a touch of irony in the "culinary pornography" comment, because my friends will frequently ask me why I'm looking at pictures of raw food and I tell them "food porn". Please continue to make such attractive product.
  • #6
  • Answered by fx
Fran, the garlic crusher does nothing that a wide knifeblad wouldn't, it just looks neat I reckon!
  • #7
  • Answered by fx
Zeta, thanks for visiting, I'll translate this one article into French for even better effect!
  • #8
  • Answered by fx
Paul, mussels love Switzerland where they keep fresh over the summer in the Alps.
  • #9
  • Answered by fx
Dan, I'll make the next installment extra glossy on account of you!
  • #10
  • Comment by Taylor Witt
Francois,
Fantastic recipe yet again! I used some lemon zest in the recipe to great effect and I used a Sauvignon blanc in the recipe and remy martin grand cru. What wine and cognac did you use? Im curious.

Taylor
  • #11
  • Comment by Helena
The title was supposed to be risqué? Ok maybe it is a pun that does not translate well. But I'm having a duh moment and am just not getting it.

Looks like a great dish though. I've got to hunt down some mascarpone and liberal amounts of white wine.
  • #12
  • Answered by fx
Taylor, good move! I'm glad you liked the recipe. I used some leftover sweet white wine and the Henny from 'Pass the Courvoisier' (see Asparagus Malloredus).
  • #13
  • Answered by fx
Helena, sorry about the pun being lost in translation, I changed it to Clam Juice Risotto now, according to the urban dictionary it is risqué enough. Mascarpone and white wine are not really necessary, all that the white really adds is some acidity, as for the mascarpone I should have left it out, butter is enough.
  • #14
  • Comment by Nguyen
Hello,
Thanks for this wonderful recipe, really appreciate it. I tried this dish in Florence when I was in Italy last year and I am still dreaming about it. My question is, can I use sushi rice (the short grain one) for this dish? Thanks
  • #15
  • Answered by fx
Nguyen, you need rice that will release a lot of starch, which I think the sushi rice will do, and that will still retain its shape and not go like a soup. Obviously if you can find some Italian Delicatessen or grocer or just a gourmet shop they might have Italian risotto rice, but I'm sure you can find a substitute that will work fine. Good luck!
Love the risotto.  Big fan of shell fish and risotto.  Found your site a while back for the Devil's Chicken which has served me well multiple times.  Non-food related question for you.  A lot of your photos have a dark background, which I like.  Curious, what is that (what appears to be) a black (rubber?) mat below your crushed garlic photos in this post?  Is that a cutting board perhaps?  Just curious.  Thanks.
  • #17
  • Answered by fx
Abadeeba, thanks for dropping in! The vertical dark background is a photographic dark velvety photographic background hanging from the ceiling, the table is covered with a custom professional black cutting board, but the one you see in the pictures with the padded texture below the garlic clove is one of 10 little black plastic cutting boards I bought at the local Ikea store for a dollar a pop. Great investment!
  • #18
  • Comment by daddyvettes
I saw a recipe for scallop and shrimp risotto. how can i make clam stock from clam juice? I don't live in nice enough neighborhood for the store to have it.
  • FX's answer→ Daddy, all you need is take the clam shells, empty, after the dinner, then simmer them with a few vegetables in water for about an hour. You'll have yourself a fine clam stock.


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