Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tonight's Menu - Saffron Risotto with Sea Urchin

It all started because Baby brought home a cunning container of sea urchin with saffron spread from O & Co. one day. As he was soon to have a birthday, I decided to start a pre-celebration incorporating the unique, subtly briny, caramel colored paste into a pasta dish using Todd English's sea urchin sauce as a road map. He even tosses in lobster! Choosing not to venture outside and not having lobster on hand I went a simpler route. I looked to the cupboard and found a packet of Knorr risotto with saffron looking back at me--if you cannot find this prepackaged, just toss in a few crumbled saffron threads yourself. Risotto is not as difficult to make as you might imagine and these packets make it even easier when following the ready-made directions on the back. Simmer this arborio rice in the appropriate amount of water required to cook and do look after it but once the rice is al dente (or tender according to your preference) it is ready to be served.

I needed to use a cucumber that was lurking in the fridge and as I love the crunchy cucumber summer salad addressed below, I thought that would be a good starter; incorporating ingredients such as ginger, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil that are used in seaweed salads seemed an ideal preface to the sea urchin risotto. The idea of such exotica led me to concoct an old world Bamboo Cocktail first created in Japan to get the party underway--and we continued on to celebrate Baby's birthday for an entire week!

Bamboo Cocktail
Adapted from Saveur magazine
Makes 1
"This elegant drink was created in the 1890s by Louis Eppinger, the manager of the Grand Hotel in Yokohama, Japan, to slake the thirst of visiting dignitaries. Two kinds of bitters, orange and Angostura, add an aromatic dimension to the sherry."
1 1⁄2 oz. dry amontillado sherry
1 1⁄2 oz. Noilly Prat dry vermouth
2 dashes orange bitters
1 dash Angostura bitters
Twist of lemon
1. In a mixing glass, combine sherry, vermouth, bitters, and cracked ice. Stir ingredients for 20–30 seconds until well chilled and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add a twist of lemon and serve.

Smashed Cucumbers with Ginger
Adapted from Saveur magazine
Serves 4
4 kirby cucumbers
Kosher salt
1 1" piece fresh ginger, peeled
1 tbsp. sugar
1 1⁄2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

Cut cucumbers into irregular chunks about 2" long and 1⁄4" thick. Transfer cucumber slices to a medium bowl, sprinkle with 2 tsp. of kosher salt, mix, and set aside at room temperature to extract excess liquid and let them soften, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, julienne ginger; transfer to a medium bowl and set aside. Drain and gently squeeze cucumbers to extract more liquid, then pat dry with a towel. Add cucumbers to the bowl of ginger along with sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, and garlic. Toss to combine and season with kosher salt, to taste. Let rest at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to come together.

Sea Urchin Sauce
Recipe Courtesy of Todd English; translated into English by me
2 tablespoons shallots, minced (about 2)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon (pinch) crushed hot pepper flakes
1 teaspoon of dry oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup of sweet vermouth (a perky white wine is preferable)
1/2 cup chicken stock
4 ounces sea urchin (12 to 18 whole urchins)
1/2 cup butter, cut into chunks
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/2 pound shucked and cooked lobster meat

In a 9-inch saute pan over medium-high heat sweat shallots, garlic, hot pepper and oregano in the olive oil. About 2 minutes, until limp. Add vermouth and chicken stock, reduce this by half. Add sea urchin, cooking for 30 seconds. Whisk in butter, chunk at a time, breaking up urchins as you mix. Add parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Add lobster at the last minute. Toss in sauce, and the pour over spaghetti. Toss with spaghetti.

I used this recipe, making adjustments here and there for what was already in the house. So: Make risotto, add saffron if need be--follow sauce recipe, adding in two or three TBS of the surprisingly sweet sea urchin spread in the sauce instead of actual sea urchins listed. At end, add sauce to risotto a few minutes before risotto is done and let it all get acquainted, throw in an extra pinch of pepper flakes and 1 TB of spread and blend just before serving for a really good balance of flavors.

Scoops of Sharon's Mango Sorbet followed for dessert.

Thanks to for the image!

Soundtrack: Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um; Frances Faye, The Capitol Years; Lennie Tristano Collection, disc three

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