Kurume Tonkotsu Ramen 久留米ラーメン

久留米ラーメン

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Whenever I meet up with an old friend that I haven’t seen in a long time, we never catch up on each other’s lives over a cup of expresso in a dimly lit chic cafe, instead I’d much rather reminiscence the good old days over a piping hot bowl of ramen with a pint of beer. In my books, nothing beats sinking my teeth into a melt-in-your-mouth thinly sliced piece of chashu, slurping up the hot noodles from the lip smacking fatty soup, before washing it down with a swing of beer. This of course, follows with the mandatory noodle top up to go with the remaining broth! This system of having a second helping of noodles is known as Kaedama (替玉). My personal favourite ramen is Tonkatsu ramen, with it’s creamy pale white broth. While some people may find it a little too heavy compared to Shio ramen (salt based) or Shoyu ramen (soy sauce based), a well made Tonkatsu broth, contrary to the general conception, is not extremely fatty, but broth that balances collagen, gelatin and fat.

The recipe that follows is my take on Kurume Tonkatsu Ramen which originates from Fukuoka, a Prefecture on the Kyushu island of Japan, which is known to be the original Tonkatsu Ramen and thus the most authentic.  Fukuoka is definately known as the capital of Tonkatsu Ramen in the world and here, it comes in three distinct styles, Nagahama, Kurume and Hakata. Kurume style tonkatsu is boiled longer than the other two styles and the resulting broth is so rich that it doesn’t require the addition of fat at the end. Historically, Kurume style ramen is also different as the previous day’s excess stock is added to the next day, in the same way traiditonal unagi shop’s sauce pot is never emptied.

This recipe is definitely for the love of labour as I have tried to make it as close to the original as possible. The characteristic creamy colour of the Tonkatsu broth comes from an emulsion of rendered fat, collagen and gelatin, whereby the gelatin acts as a surfactant that emulsifies the fat. This is made by vigorously boiling down pork bones for a long period of time. In addition to this, the main ingredient that sets apart the original Kurume Tonkatsu Ramen from other Tonkatsu Ramens found around the world is their use of entire pig skulls in the broth. This is because by boiling down pig skulls, the the brains and eyes are rendered down and dissolve into the broth, giving the broth a uniquely delicate sweetness to it as well as an umami boost (similar to the addition of prawn heads to shellfish stock).

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Before I go into the details of making the broth. We first must talk about what makes a bowl of ramen. A bowl of ramen has 4 primary components, the noodles, the tare, the broth and the toppings. All 4 of these components play an important role in making up an authentic bowl of ramen but in my opinion, the broth is by far the most important as it serves as the base flavour on which the chef is able to layer other flavours onto, like a painter on a sheet of canvas. While the broth may be the most important, let me first elaborate about the tare of a ramen, which in my opinion is the hardly ever discussed, yet alone mentioned, even when it is one of the primary components. The tare is the base seasoning added to the broth to add saltiness and complexity to the dish. It usually consists of a concentrated salty liquid that is added to the broth at around a 1:10 ratio of tare to broth. Tare can be made from concentrated dashi, soy sauce, and salt. In the case of Shio ramen, the tare used is dry and in the very best restaurants is made from several different kinds of salts to give a complex flavour compared to using plain salt.

The noodles used in Japanese ramen also originates from China and similarly, they have an alkaline element added to it. This gives them their unique taste but more importantly a different mouth feel. For example, most industrial ramen makers use kansui, or lye water, to give the noodle’s its bounce. This is in contrast to french pâtisserie, which ocassionally uses Ascorbic acid to increase the bounciness of their pastry. Ramen noodles in Japan are usually made without egg, with their yellow color comming from the kansui as well. Kurume ramen noodles are traditionally eaten with a hard centre, similiar to ‘al dente’ in Italian cooking. Because of this, a bowl of ramen should be eaten as soon as its served, in order to prevent the noodles from becoming soggy. Kurume ramen is traditionally paired with thin, straight noodles compared to the instant ramen noodles which are curly. In my opinion, the pairing of straight noodles with Kurume ramen works well as the straight noodles stick together and the soup clings more onto them.

For the topping, the classic toppings are pork chashu, marinated eggs, naruto (fish cake), bamboo shoots, chopped green onions, sesame seeds, mayu (black garlic oil), black woodear fungus, and a sheet of seaweed.

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For this broth, I use purely pig’s trotters, skulls and water (filtered if possible). The reasoning behind this is to obtain the purest flavour of pork. The secret to making an amazing tasting Kurume Tonkatsu Ramen is the use of pig skulls in the recipe, whereby the brains and eyes melt into the broth, giving a subtle sweetness to the broth, similar to tomalley in crabs. From my experience, any addition of aromatic vegetables such as onions, garlic or ginger overpowers the soup, making it more similar to Chinese soups. For the same reason, I have also chosen not to add any chicken bones to prevent the underlying taste of chicken being added to the broth. Other than tasty, food should also be aesthetically pleasing. Tonkatsu ramen would not be Tonkatsu ramen without being an extremely pale cream colour. As mentioned above, this pale white colour is an emulsification of collagen and fat that is extracted from the bones by using a vigorous boil. This technique is very different from classic french stock which have to be as clear as possible and therefore never raised above a gentle simmer. In contrast to this, a Tonkatsu broth can not be made by simmering the pork bones as you would not get an opaque white soup due to the lack of emulsification. The vigorous boiling of the bones is akin to the vigorous whisking required to make a successful hollandaise sauce, creating a fine suspension of hydrophobic particles in water. As with most stocks and stews, extracting flavour requires a long period of boiling. This process is even longer when making this broth as the collagen in the bones requires a long period of boiling before it renders into the soup. From my experience, 20 hours is optimal, with any longer being a waste of time and any shorter causing the broth to be slightly too watery. This is especially so for Hakata Tonkatsu broth which requires a Brix scale of 10.1 or above. The Brix scale is a measurement of the sugar content of an aqueous solution, which can be measured with a Brix refractometer. Of course this is used only by the most meticulous ramen enthusiast.

Another problem typically faced when making the broth is the broth taking on a brownish tinge which gets darker over time. This occurs as the broth slowly oxidize over time. The component of the broth that is liable to oxidise is blood, and therefore as much blood as possible needs to be removed before the initial boil. Two methods are available to use to do this, the first being soaking the bones for 24 hours prior to cooking and the second one is the blanch the bones in hot water before washing the bones carefully in cold water. Since we are using pig skulls, I recommend using both technique as the skulls are full of dirt and grit (unless you are buying commercially prepared pig skulls). In fact, rather than mere blanching the pigs skulls after soaking, I recommend boiling them for up to an hour to make sure they are thoroughly cleaned. Any longer than one hour and the brain starts to melt and flow out of the skull, something that we want to prevent as we want as much of the brains to go into our broth.

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Kurume Tonkotsu Ramen 久留米ラーメン

  • Broth
    • Pork Skulls with brains in tact (preferably with the eyes too)
    • Pigs Trotters
    • Water (filtered if possible)
  • Tare
    • Katsuobushi- Dried Bonito Flakes (鰹節)
    • Kombu (dried kelp)
    • Water
    • Niboshi (Dried Sardines)
    • Mirin
    • Sake
    • Pork Lard
    • Fine Sea Salt
  1. To start the broth we must first drain all the blood from the skulls and trotters. Soak the skulls and trotters in water overnight before boiling them for half an hour.
  2. Discard the water and wash the skulls and trotters to remove all the blood which should now be brown and clumped together.
  3. Place skulls and trotters in a large stock pot, cover with water and place the lid on before bringing to a rolling boil for 20 hours.
  4. Remember to constantly refill the water if your lid is not tight-fitting and please do not leave the stove on overnight. It is not nessesary to leave the pot on a rolling boil for all the 20 hours, but the more hours the better. It is still alright to start with a rolling boil while you are able to monitor the pot every hour and to lower the pot to a simmer when you need to leave for longer periods of time.
  5. Around the 10 hour mark, it is useful to try and break open the skulls to extract the brain if the bones are soft enough. You might want to also remove the skulls from the pot and break them open a cleaver before putting them back in the pot.
  6. After 20 hours, the broth is done. Strain the stock and discard the trotters, skulls, and any remaining bone fragments. The broth can be frozen for up to 3 months.38657297742_1c36a0470a_k
  7. To make the Tare, we start with a dashi base. Dashi is basically the Japanese version of stock and is either made from Kombu which makes a type of vegetable stock, or Katsuobushi which makes a type of fish stock. Dashi is unique because it has extremely high levels of glutamate which is the compound which gives us the umami sensation. This is because when Katsuobushi is made by smoking fresh skipjack tuna fillets, the glutamate in the fish concentrates. Dried Kombu and Katsuobushi are two of the food with have the highest naturally occurring glutamate, which combined together, form an umami bomb.
  8. To start, soak the Kombu at room temperature water overnight to let it infuse slowly into the water. Do not wash the Kombu before soaking as you will wash off some of the Mannit, which is the white powder found on dried Kombu. Mannit contains a lot of glutamate which we do not want to lose.
  9. Separately, render the down the pork lard into liquid form before frying the Niboshi in it. Reserve pork lard and separate the Niboshi. The pork lard can be used as an additional topping to the ramen.
  10. Place the Kombu and the soaking liquid in a saucepan and heat until the mixture reaches 80°C (176°F). If you heat the Kombu above this temperature, the Kombu will start to release bitter compounds which will ruin the dashi. After years of making dashi, The Japanese have determined 80°C is the most optimal temperature for making dashi as it causes the most flavour extraction in the quickest time without the extration of bitter compounds.
  11. When it has reached 80°C, immediately take it off the heat and add in the Katsuoboshi and fried Niboshi and let it infuse for around 15 minutes.
  12. After that, strain the dashi to remove the solids and add in Mirin to taste. Now add in a dash of Sake and bring it back to a boil to reduce it down until concentrated.
  13. After reducing, the dashi (now tare) should be very concentrated in a ocean-like taste but not extremely salty.
  14. The final step now is to increase the salt level with sea salt, adding quite a bit of sea salt to the tare until it is almost unbearably salty. The reason why we add so much salt to the tare is because the broth has no seasoning in it and thus we want to use the tare as seasoning. However we want the fish taste from the tare to just be a complementary background taste and not full forward. In order to do so, we need an extremely salty tare that when diluted in small amounts, is enough to season the broth and add provide subtle fish notes.

 

To make a bowl of ramen, mix the tare to broth in a 1:10 ratio, before adding the toppings (such as Chashu) and noodles. Serve immediately.

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Iberico Pork Japanese Style Chashu チャーシュー

チャーシュー

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Before even opening the door to the kitchen, the glorious smell of melting pork fat coupled with the sweet and salty smell of simmering soy sauce is enough to make anyone salivate. This is a recipe for Japanese chashu made from Iberian pork, which is a Japanese adaptation to a barbecued pork dish that originated from China known as Char Siu. It is usually served as an accompaniment to ramen, and when done well, has the ability to take a simple bowl of ramen to a completely different level.

Traditional Chinese Char Siu cooked by barbecuing pork that has been previously marinated in hoisin sauce, honey and Chinese five spice powder. Red colouring is also sometimes added to the dish to give is a vibrant red finish that is visually appealing. In contrast to this, Japanese chashu is actually braised in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar and sake for long periods of times, to give a more tender mouth feels and less bold flavour profile. Japanese chashu can be marinated beforehand or not, with minimal effect on flavour.26487169099_588083d29b_k.jpg

Iberico Pork Japanese Style Chashu チャーシュー

  • Pork Belly
    • Iberico Pork Belly (Bellota grade)
    • Salt
    • Green Onions (Negi)
  • Braising Liquid
    • Tamari Soy Sauce
    • Ginger
    • Garlic
    • Sugar
    • Sake
    • Water
  1. First, preheat the oven to around 160 degrees celcius.
  2. After that, we need to prepare the pork belly by trimming off the excess fat as well as removing the hair from the pork skin. This step is usually already done when you buy the pork belly but if not, you can use a blowtorch to burn off the remaining hair on the skin. This is done by waving the blowtorch back and forth, just enough to burn off the hair without cooking the skin.
  3. Next, season the underside of the belly generously with salt and pepper before rolling it up into a log and tying together with string. I personally prefer not to score the skin of the belly as we will be braising it compared to roasting it.
  4. In order to maximise the flavour of the belly, heat up some oil in the pot which you are going to use to braise the belly. Make sure this pot is oven safe. Dry the skin outside of the log using paper towels before searing the log all around in the hot all. Remember to also brown both ends of the log where the meat is exposed. Once seared, remove the pork belly log from the pot and set aside for the time being.

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    Violet garlic on display at the Marché d’Aligre, Paris
  5. To start the braise, cover the pot with its lid and place it inside the preheated oven.
  6. Leave the braise for around 3 hours, occasionally flipping the log so that the log spends equal amounts of time submerged inside the braising liquid.
  7. If the water level runs too low, add in more water to prevent it from burning.
  8. The chashu is done when a knife can slide through the meat with minimal resistance.
  9. If the sauce has not been reduced to your desired thickness, place the pot over the stove stop and heat without the lid to reduce the sauce until it evaporates to form quite a thick glaze. Be careful at near the end of the cooking time as this is when the chashu has a higher chance of burning.

To serve, cut thin slices of the chashu, about a few millimetres thick, and serve with rice or ramen. The tricky part of this recipe is how much water to add to the pot. The amount of water you add to the pot is actually dependent on how water/steam tight the lid for your pot is. If the lid of your put is an extremely tight fit, less water is needed as the amount of water loss from the pot during the 3 hour braising duration in the oven will be fairly minimal. If you were to add a lot of water in this scenario, you would get a very diluted sauce. If your pot’s lid is not tight-fitting or it allows a lot of water to evaporate, add more water in order to prevent the sugar in the sauce from burning after all the water has evaporated. In a perfect scenario, you would want the amount of water (and thus sauce) remaining in the pot to be just right- where the sugars in the sauce have just caramelised and the sauce to have a consistency of a dark shiny glaze.

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University Parks, Oxford

Another way to cook this dish is actually on a stove/fire. In this case, the more traditional method here utilises an Otoshibuta, which is a Japanese drop-lid made using wood that replaces the original lid of the pot. An Otoshibuta does not fit as snugly on the pot as a typical lid. In fact, it normally has a smaller diameter than the pot, thus allowing it to sit directly on the food in the pot. The reason for using an Otoshibuta is to slow down evaporation without completely stopping it. This is perfect for this dish as you would want the chashu to simmer while also simultaneously reducing the sauce. As it is also in direct contact with the food, it prevents rigorous boiling which may break up more delicate food. To cook chashu on the stove top, instead of tying up the pork belly into a log, simply use the whole piece as it is after searing, add in the liquid and then braise. Remember to still flip the belly occasionally and be extra careful of burning. If you do not have an Otoshibuta, you can always use the original lid for the pot or use a makeshift Otoshibuta using aluminium foil or baking paper shaped into a circle with holes punctured into it. The original point of tying the pork belly into a log shape is not only for aesthetic purposes, but also to make it easier to cut, as well as preventing too much loss of moisture from the meat, as the surface area of the meat is greatly reduced.

Now lets talk about Ibérico pork and what makes it so special. Ibérico pork comes from specially bred pigs knowns as Pata Negra that are raised in the Extremadura region in south-west Spain. These pigs get their name from their black hooves. In comparison to normal everyday pork, their taste is not only superior, but even the composition of their fat is better for our health. Their meat is also extremely well marbled, while also being able to retain a delicate flavour without being overpowered by fat. The secret behind their amazing taste lies in how they are raised. During the autumn, throughout a duration known as the Montanera, the pigs are allowed to roam freely in a agroforestry system known as a Dehesa, which is an area of land that is planted with a variety of trees such as oak and cork trees. Here the finest Pate Negra pigs eat exclusively the acorns produced by the oak trees in the Dehesa. A Dehesa is extremely valuable to the farmer as it not only produces the acorns eaten by the pigs, but also serves as a source of wild mushrooms, cork for wine bottles and oak for barrels. To ensure that every pig gets enough food, a swine herder guides the pigs around the field, using a stick to knock acorns off the oak trees.

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Covered Market, Oxford

These acorns consumed by the pigs are rich in oleic acid, a type of unsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil. In an almost perfect example of the phrase ‘you are what you eat’, oleic acid can make up more than half of all fat found in Ibérian pigs that feed on these acorns. This not only makes Ibérico pork substantially healthier to eat, but most gives them a unique taste, making them dubbed as ‘olives with legs’ by the locals. In order to receive the protected designation of origin certification, or Denominación de Origen, the pigs not only have to been allowed to roam freely in the Dehesas, but must also have been on a diet that consist of varying amounts of acorns depending on the classification. The most prestigious classification is that of Ibérico de Bellota, whereby the pigs are fed exclusively on acorns, with the next classification being Ibérico de Cebo, where the pigs feed on a mix of acorns and feed approved by the Denominación de Origen. Of course if you can’t find Ibérico pork belly, this dish works perfectly fine with normal pork but in my opinion, nothing can beat the flavour of the real original Ibérian pig that has been allowed to roam free in the spanish Dehesas.

Tajarin with Fresh Porcini Mushrooms and Wild Calamint

Tajarin with Fresh Porcini Mushrooms and Wild Calamint

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Wild Calamint in Florence

The Porcini mushrooms, as it is known in Italy, is more commonly known as cèpes in the French culinary world, and the Penny Bun in America (it is never called Penny Buns in the UK). It’s scientific name is the Boletus edulis, and it is part of the Basidiomycete group of fungus, the fungi group with contains the majority of edible mushrooms. As the name implies, ‘edilus’ in latin simply means that it is edible. In italian, the word Porcini can roughly be translated to “baby piglets”. Like all members of the Basidiomycete group, the fungus lives underground by growing mycelium. Mycelium are long white strains that grow outwards in search of nutrient in the soil. Along the way, the hyphae (branches of Mycelium) secrete enzymes to digest the nutrients in the soil, before absorbing it back in. The actually Porcini mushroom that sticks out of the ground, is actually the fruiting body of the fungus, with its sole purpose being to spread its spores. Armed with this information, when harvesting Porcini mushrooms, hold the stem of the mushroom as close to ground level as possible before twisting gently to break the hyphae. Do not pull the mushroom as this will damage the underground mycelium, while cutting the mushroom with a knife will cause the remaining part of the mushroom to rot, thus also harming the mycelium.

Another important fact to keep in mind is that Porcini mushrooms form symbiotic relationships with trees. This means that they share nutrients with some species of trees in exchange for other nutrients which they might be unable to find themselves. Because of this, Porcini mushrooms are usually found at the base of certain species of trees such as chestnut and pine trees. When harvesting porcini mushrooms and choosing porcini mushrooms at a market, be sure to check the underside of the mushroom. Similar to button mushrooms, you do not want to choose those that have an opened cup, where their gills are already visible. You would prefer to choose those which are still closed, where their gills are not visible on the underside of the mushroom. If the underside of the mushroom has becoming a spongy yellowish brown, the mushrooms are already overripe and should not be picked/chosen.

 

36529176633_b8ef9e97c7_k.jpgAnother key point to remember when gathering porcini mushrooms from the wild is that they should have a prominent white reticulum (veins) on their stem. If they instead have a pinkish reticulum, they are most probably the closely related Bitter Bolete, which while harmless, are extremely bitter and will ruin an entire dish. Along with this, remember that any Porcini mushrooms that have a red underside or a blue-ish thinge should not be taken as they are most likely poisonous.

Like all other mushrooms, it is preferable to clean them with a mushroom brush or a damn cloth. Never soak or wash them in water as they are water permeable and will soak up water very quickly, diluting the flavour and causing your mushrooms to go soggy. If the mushrooms are extremely dirty, it is still acceptable to quickly rinse the mushroom in cold water. To prepare fresh Porcini mushrooms, I usually scrape any grit and dirt from the mushroom before slicing them length wise. If the mushroom are fairly large and old, I sometimes also peel them to remove their tough outer coating.

 

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Violet Garlic on display at the Marche Aligre in Paris

Tajarin is a type of egg pasta that is traditional in the Piedmont region of Italy. It is similar to tagliatelle but thinner (~3mm). Both tagliatelle and tajarin are made from the same recipe which contains semolina flour, salt and eggs. However, they not only differ in place of origin, they also differ in uses. Tajarin, with its thinner width, is better suited for light sauces and delicate flavours such has white sauces and mushroom sauces. Conversely, tagliatelle with its high surface area, is more suited to heavy meat sauces such as a ragu. This being said, tajarin can also be found to be served with meat sauces in Piedmont. 

This dish consists of sautéed Porcini mushrooms in garlic and butter, served with fresh Tajarin and a sauce of Nepitella and reduced Porcini stock.

 

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Tajarin with Fresh Porcini Mushrooms and Wild Calamint

  • Fresh Porcini Mushrooms (sliced length wise)
  • Olive Oil
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Nepitella (Wild Calamint)
  • Mushroom stock
    • Dried Porcini Mushrooms
    • Vegetable Stock
  • Fresh tajarin
  1. First, fry the garlic in olive oil until golden brown before adding in the fresh Porcini mushroom and sweat until soft but still with a meaty texture. Add salt to taste before setting aside.
  2. To make the mushroom stock, reconstitute the dried Porcini mushrooms in hot vegetable stock for around 15 minutes.
  3. Next, in the same pan used to fry the Porcini mushrooms, add in mushroom stock to deglaze the pan, before adding on fresh Nepitella.
  4. Reduce the stock until thickened to desired consistency. To cook the fresh tajarin, prepare a shallow pan with boiling water, olive oil and salt.
  5. Once boiling, add in the tajarin and cook until soft but still al dente.
  6. Drain the tajarin and mix the tajarin into the sauce, before adding the porcini mushrooms back in the pan and mix everything together.
  7. Finish with more Nepitella. Fresh tajarin (or pasta in general) does not take long to cook, only a minute  or so.
  8. If using dried tajarin, the cooking time will be considerably longer. To help thicken the sauce, pasta water can be added to the sauce when reducing, as the starch in the pasta water will help thicken the sauce.
  9. As usual, salt is added to pasta water to help season the pasta. Mushroom stock can also be added to the pasta water to give the pasta notes of mushrooms.

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This dish is not a traditional Italian dish as it consist of a mix of Piedmont and Tuscan influrence. The use of Nepitella is widespread in the Tuscan region and is the classic accompaniment for Porcini mushrooms. In contrast to this, the use of Tajarin comes from the Piedmont region, and is rarely found in Tuscany. To me the thin texture of tajarin works better with this sauce, thus explaining my choice in blending the two styles.

Nepitella, also known as wild calamint, is an aromatic herb which is common is Tuscany. It is rarely used in most of the english speaking world, but is a common ingredient in autumn and winter dishes, especially in Florence. In my opinion, Nepitella characterises Italian cooking extremely well, as it’s taste is not only fresh and sharp, but has the flavour combination of oregano, mint and basil, three of the most common herbs found in italian cooking. This of course is just a description, and the flavour of nepitella itself is unique and somewhat on the floral side. A little nepitella goes a long way and should be adding to dishes with care.

 

Langoustine and Lobster Oil Risotto

Risotto à l’huile de homard et au langoustine

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This dish consists of a langoustine stock based risotto, seasoned with langoustine oil, tomato puree and parsley, before being finished with lobster oil and thickened with Parmesan cheese. It is accompanied by an assortment of seafood, with garlic fried langoustines and white wine steamed clams.

Langoustines (Nephrops norvegicus), also known as Norway lobsters or Dublin Bay prawns, are one of those ingredients with humble beginnings, but then rose to fame and now can be found on the menu’s of the world’s most luxurious restaurants. Langoustines can be described as a crustacean that sits somewhere between a prawn and a lobster. It’s meat is more tender and sweeter than a lobster, while being more refined and cleaner in taste than a prawn’s, thus giving you the best of both worlds. In my opinion however, a langoustine’s, major downside is that it had a rather low meat to shell ratio compared to prawns and lobsters, with the meat considerably harder to remove. Because of this, whilst I do not like to eat langoustines outright, I like to use their high meat to shell ratio to my advantage, making a langoustine stock that is not unlike prawn stock, but is sweeter and does not have the musky flavour of prawn stocks. The heads of langoustines are also particularly important, as they contain the hepatopancreas, which is the delicious yellow gooey stuff that is rich and full of umami and taste like runny egg yolks. The hepatopancreas in langoustines serves as the both the liver and pancreas, and is the equivalent of tomalley in crabs. I find that adding langoustine heads to a stock releases the hepatopancreas into the stock, thus making it cloudy. To prevent this, I separate the heads from the rest of the shells and fry them up in oil before crushing them to produce langoustine oil.

In my opinion, the core of a good risotto is the stock that you use to make it. The stock you use in a risotto serves as a canvas that you as the chef layer flavours unto. Because of this, it is important that you use a well-flavoured and refined stock, that has no bitterness or impurities in it. This being said, like a piece of canvas, the whole point of it is to turn it into a work of art, and therefore, the stock you use for a risotto shouldn’t be too forward in strong flavours, but be light and fresh while still capturing the essence of the ingredient you use as the base of the stock. As an analogy, imagine trying to paint a picture on a black piece of canvas. No matter what you paint on it, nothing is able to show though the black colour. The same applies for the stock you use in a risotto. If for example you use a brown stock for risotto (one which the bones and vegetables used to make it is first caramelised), any further subtle flavours you add to your risotto later on will be overpowered, while the taste of the brown stock will just concentrate as it evaporates and gets absorbed by the risotto rice.

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When choosing fresh langoustines, looks for langoustines that are firm when squeezed, without damaged legs, claws or antennae. Furthermore, they should smell fresh, like the sea, while also having bright shiny black eyes. The rice I use in this risotto recipe is Carnaroli rice, the most traditionally used risotto which comes from the village of Carnaroli in the Po Valley, Italy. This rice has a high starch content that is released when stirred, giving a creamy character to the risotto. If a high enough quality Carnaroli rice is used, it is possible to add in all the stock for the risotto at one, while bringing the pot up to a boil, as the agitating from the boiling water is enough to cause the rice to release its starches.

For this recipe, I use a special pot for cooking a the risotto- an extra thick copper Windsor Pot from E Dehillerin in Paris.  E Dehillerin is a cookware shop in Paris and is somewhat of a pilgrimage site for chefs all around the world. They stock their own line of copperware, both lined with stainless steel or tin, in varying copper thicknesses, all made specially for them by Mauviel in the Villedieu-les-Poêles Village in Normandy, France. The prices they sell their copper pots for are the cheapest and highest quality you can find, even cheaper than what you can find on the internet. A Windsor Pot, also known as an “splayed sauteuse evasee”, is a pot with a unique shape, whereby its base is of a smaller circumference than the top of the pot. Because of this difference in surface area, the heat applied to the pot is concentrated at the bottom of the pot, while the large surface area at the top encourages evaporation. This then makes this pot ideal for evaporating sauces, and in this case, evaporating the stock used to make the risotto. Of course this is not necessary to make this recipe and in all honestly, while copper cookware does have its advantages, they never have been, or will be a necessity in cooking and should be viewed as a luxury.

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While living in Paris, I visited E Dehillerin so often that the owner of the shop (the man in the picture), asked if I wanted to work there.

Langoustine and Lobster Oil Risotto

  • Seafood
    • Whole Langoustines
    • Clams
    • White Wine
  • Stock
    • Langoustine Shells
    • Fumet (fish stock)
      • Fish Bones (Cleaned)
      • Bay leaves
      • Fennels
      • White Wine
      • Black Peppercorns
      • Carrots
      • Onions
      • Lemon
    • Salt
  • Lobster Oil
  • Shallots
  • Langoustine Oil
    • Parsley
    • Garlic
    • Langoustine Heads
    • Any neutral cooking oil (not olive oil)
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Parsley
  • White Wine
  • Tomato Puree
  1. To start of, begin by making the fumet (fish stock) for this recipe. Begin by cleaning the fish bones by either soaked them in cold water for a few hours or quickly blanching them in water.
  2. After that, finely chop the fennel, carrots and onions into small cubes (mirepoix), before adding them to a clean pot with the fish bones, herbs and lemon juice. Add in a dash of white wine before covering with cold water.
  3. Bring to a simmer from cold water before simmering for 20 minutes at the maximum. The stock should smell fresh of the sea and not have any bitter aftertaste.
  4. Once the fish stock has been made, pass it though a chinois strainer lined with cheesecloth to remove the bones, vegetables and any impurities. Next, to make the langoustine stock, add in the langoustine shells into the fish stock and simmer for another 30 minutes, never bringing the pot up to a boil. Add salt to season the stock to taste. Remember that the stock will reduce down in the risotto and the salt will concentrate.20792143554_c585b33cac_o
  5. To prepare the langoustine oil, fry the langoustine heads in any neutral cooking oil with some garlic and parsley, squeezing the heads to extract the flavour.
  6. Once done, strain the oil to remove the heads before returning the oil to the windsor pot.
  7. Add in finely minced shallots to the windsor pot to sweat before adding in the risotto rice and fry the risotto rice until fragrant of langoustines. Be careful not to brown the shallots.
  8. After that, add in a dash of white wine to deglaze the pan before adding in the langoustine stock ladle by ladle, stirring constantly as the stock is absorbed by the rice and flavours concentrate as the stock evaporates.
  9. In the meantime, prepare the seafood by discard any clams that are damaged or already open before adding white wine into a saucepan along with the clams and langoustines and steam until the clams open and the langoustines change to a bright orange and pinkish colour.
  10. The second the clams open is the moment when the clams are done just right. Any longer and the clams take on a chewy texture. Discard any clams that did not open.
  11. When the risotto is almost cooked, add in the parmesan cheese in three separate stages, stirring it in carefully to make sure the parmesan cheese melts into the risotto.
  12. Stir in a small amount of tomato puree to add some umami before finishing the risotto with fresh chopped parsley and lobster oil.
  13. Once done, stir in the langoustines and clams from before. The wine left over from steaming the langoustines and clams can be either added to the stock or discarded. If the clams were not clean to begin with, I would recommend discarding the wine.
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Lobster Oil, Huile de Homard

The point of not bringing the stock at any point above a simmer is to prevent vigorous agitation of the stock which causes bitter flavours in be released and the stock to become cloudy. In this recipe I make a fish stock and then only a langoustine stock because boiling the fish stock longer than 20 minutes would cause the fish stock to develop off flavours while losing its freshness. The point of finely dicing the vegetables before adding to the stock is to increase the surface area of the vegetables, allowing them to contribute their aromas to the stock, thus the vegetables and herbs being called aromatics. Again in this recipe, I do not call for salt except when making the stock as the saltiness of the dish will come from both the seafood as well as the parmesan cheese. A non aromatic oil is used to fry the langoustine heads as the sweetness of langoustine heads is easily overpowered by the taste of an aromatic oil such as olive oil. When preparing the shallots, the finer the shallots are chopped the better, with the best risotto having shallots so fine that they technically almost melt into the risotto. The white wine is added to the risotto before the stock to allow the wine to evaporate, adding acidity to the dish, which balances the sweetness of the seafood.

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Final dish paired with Sauterne

I personally would pair this dish with a sweet wine such as a Sauterne or Barsac from Bordeaux or a sweet wine from the Loire Valley such as a Coteaux de Layon. I would not pair this dish with a red wine. Alternatively, a Chenin Blanc from South Africa would also pair well, along with most high acidity white wines such as a Riesling. I feel that the high acidity in a white wine would be able to cut though the richness of the risotto. The pairing of this risotto with a sweet wine might seem somewhat unconventional, but I personally enjoy the taste of fresh seafood, particularly that of the langoustines, which have an underlying sweet complex flavour, with the rich honey and velvety taste of a sweet semillon with underlying notes of peaches and pears. If one does not like sweet wines or aromatic whites, I would then recommend a Melon de Bourgogne from Muscadet which has a vague savouriness that is reminiscent of oysters that pairs well with dish. Alternatively, if one if willing to splurge, a good Chablis would of course go well with this dish, as it is a classical pairing.

Lapin à la Moutarde

Rabbit with a Mustard Cream Sauce

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This dish is a classic provincial French dish that consists of a rabbit leg and loin served with a vibrant mustard cream sauce. The rabbit can be done two ways, the first using a sous vide machine and the second by simply pan frying it and finishing it in an oven. As the main component of the dish is the delicate taste of rabbit combined with a fresh mustard sauce, it is important to use an excellent mustard when making the sauce, preferably one from Dijon. Furthermore, the mustard should be added to the cream base just before serving as to preserve the volatile compounds in mustard that gives it its classic spicy bite. A fine balance needs to be achieved between the amount of mustard in the sauce and the creaminess of the sauce to ensure the acidity and spiciness of the mustard is able to cut through the cream without being overpowering.

In terms of choosing a rabbit, a trade-off needs to be made between using wild rabbit or farmed rabbit for this dish. Farmed rabbit is easier to obtain and larger in size, but it is considerably less complex in flavour and can sometimes be so lacking in flavour that it can “taste like chicken”. On the upside, farmed rabbit is more tender and is available all year round. Conversely, wild rabbit, also known as lapin de garenne, has very low natural fats and can tend to be on the tough and chewy side if not cooked properly. The flavour of wild rabbit is more gamey but is still light enough to be considered a white meat. Because of this, I prefer to sous vide wild rabbit for long periods of time, which not only preserves the tenderness of the meat by trapping moisture inside it, but also slowly breaks down the meat proteins.

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Rabbit stock in the making

Rabbit with a Mustard Cream Sauce:

  • 1 Whole Rabbit which will yield 4 Legs, Loin, Innards and Bones
  • Rabbit Stock:
    • Dried Bay Leaves
    • Fresh Thyme
    • Salt
    • Whole black and red peppercorns
    • Rabbit Bones
  • Sauce:
    • Cream
    • A small amount of Dijon mustard
    • White Wine
    • Garlic
    • Butter
    • Shallots
    • Rabbit Stock
  • Oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  1. To start off, we need to breakdown the rabbit into its individual components. Reach into the cavity of the rabbit and pull out the liver and 2 kidneys which are usually left behind by the butcher when you buy rabbit. Reserve on one side.
  2. Remove the hind legs and front arms of the rabbit by first cutting around the base of the joints connecting the legs and arms to the body, following the muscle all the way round. Use one hand to hold the body and another to hold the arm/leg.
  3. Bend the joint against its natural movement direction to break the joint, allowing a clean removal.
  4. Once complete, cut through the meat between the second and third rib of the rabbit on both sides before snapping the backbone in half to break the body in two. Reserve the ribcage for the rabbit stock.
  5. The remaining half of the rabbit is called the saddle, and it includes the rabbit loin, which can be removed from the bone by gently running a knife along one side of the backbone against the meat, and working downwards in long continuous slices, allowing the bones to guide you as you separate the meat from the bone.
  6. Repeat with the other side of the backbone.
  7. After removing the loins, reserve the bones for stock. Roll the loin up lengthwise before clingwrapping and refrigerating.

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    Autumn in University Parks, Oxford
  8. As the loin is very tender and easy to overcook, sear it on a frying pan for a few minutes before allowing it to rest. It is not necessary to finish it in the oven which would risk overcooking it. If you intend to sous vide the legs, sous vide-ing the loin as well would be a waste of time.
  9. The liver and kidneys can be poached and eaten along with the dish in the cream sauce, or just pan-fried with a little salt and eaten by itself.
  10. To make the stock, start by boiling the rabbit bones for several minutes before pouring out the water and cleaning the bones thoroughly under running water. This helps remove all the blood and dirt from the bones, saving you the trouble from constantly needing to skim the stock.
  11. Return the cleaned bones to the pot, add the fresh thyme and bay leaves to the pot, along with some whole peppercorns, before filling with water until the bones are just covered. Bring the stock up to a gentle simmer and leave for 3 hours, removing any impurities that rise to the surface.
  12. Because we intend to use the stock as a base for the sauce, it is important to keep it as clear as possible. Thus bringing the stock to a boil while the bones are still in the pot will agitate the contents, making the stock cloudy. For the same reason, we use whole peppercorns and entire sprigs of thyme to ensure that when we have finished cooking the stock, we can pass it through a fine mesh strainer to remove all the herbs and bones.
  13. Once we have strained the stock, bring it up to a boil and reduce it down to around a cup of stock.
  14. To make the sauce, start off by melting the butter in a saucepan before sweating the minced shallots and garlic in it. At this point we don’t want to brown the garlic or shallots as we want to preserve the lightness of the sauce as remember, the taste of rabbit meat is light and we want to accentuate that.
  15. Add in a splash of white wine and cook off the alcohol before pouring in the stock. When the stock has reduced to a slightly salty taste, whisk in the cream and set aside.
  16. Do not bring the cream to a boil as there is a chance of the cream curdling and the sauce becoming lumpy. The chances of this happening increases if the cream you are using is below 30% fat, or if the sauce is fairly acidic, which is this case the sauce is slightly acidic due to the addition of wine. Do not add the mustard to the sauce yet.37934954172_381da3dbe3_o
  17. To cook the rabbit loin, remove the rabbit loin from the clingwrap and season well with salt and pepper. Sear briefly all around on a cast iron pan before allowing to rest.
  18. For the rabbit legs, season well with salt and pepper before also searing in a cast iron pan. At this point, a little butter may be added to the pan with the remaining oil before inserting the pan along with the rabbit legs into the oven for around 10 minutes at 180°C.
  19. Once cooked, plate the dish by placing the rabbit loin first, followed by the rabbit leg.
  20. Whisk in the mustard into the warm reheated cream sauce before pouring over the rabbit.

To cook the rabbit leg sous vide, season the rabbit legs with salt and pepper before vacuum packing the legs and sous vide-ing for 12 hours at 75°C. I do not recommend adding oil to the bag as it dilutes the flavour of the rabbit. While seasoning the rabbit before sous vide-ing it does draw out the moisture from the rabbit, 12 hours is long enough for the moisture to be absorbed back in. There is also the option to add herbs to the sous vide bag, but I prefer the taste of the rabbit up front and forward. To finish off the rabbit legs, remove from sous vide back, pat dry with paper towels before searing on a cast iron pan with a knob of butter. Serve the same way as before.

It is understandable that rabbit can be hard to find in many countries, so a viable alternative to rabbit legs is chicken thighs- but of course it won’t taste the same.

In term of wine parings, I feel that rabbit meat is one of these dishes that is delicate enough to go with a white wine. Due to the spiciness of the mustard, along with the fat from the cream, I would recommend a dry to off dry riesling, with its floral notes and crisp acidity to cut the fat. Maybe one from the Mosel in Germany. For red wines, I would recommend a light red with not too much tannins such as Beaujolais Cru or if the you’re up for a splurge, a good red Burgundy. I would recommend against basic Beaujolais as the taste of bubblegum imparted on the wine from carbonic maceration would not match the dish. A light red with low acidity (such as a Southern Rhone Grenache) would also not pair well with the dish as the fatty feeling from the cream sauce would be overwhelming.

Irish Lamb Shank Stew

Irish Lamb Shank Stew

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England is famous around the world for its gloomy weather, with little sunshine and miserable rain. Even in spring, England can sometimes be chilly, with downpours that make you want to stay at home and snuggle under a warm blanket. On days like this, nothing beats coming home to the aromas of a good stew on the stove top wafting through the house. To pair with this, what better way to enjoy a good stew than with a freshly baked loaf of bread just out of the oven to soak up all the delicious stew?

Spring in England is the season for spring lamb. British lamb is famous around the world, on par with New Zealand lamb. Furthermore, lamb is also highly sustainable and ecologically friendly, with little water intake compared to cows. And if it sounds too good to be true, almost all lambs in England are free range and grass-fed.

Lambs are sheep that are less than one year old. After being weaned off their mother’s milk, most lambs in England spend their time on the english country side running up and down hills and pastures. Spring lamb is the most sought after lamb in England because of their sweet and tender characteristics. This is because spring-lamb were traditionally born in the late winter, so that after they finish feeding on their mom’s milk, they were able to easily switch over to the newly grown grass. Lamb is also a cheaper red meat alternative to beef as they mainly feed on grass and clover, and not need to be fed on expensive feed.

I for one, absolutely adore stew cuts. While tough, they are packed with flavour and if cooked slowly for a couple of hours, will become extremely tender and juicy. Lamb shanks are one of those cuts. The shank of a lamb is the meat and bone from below the knee. Lamb shanks are usually cooked whole, with the usual serving size being one shank per person. This lamb shank recipe is fairly simple, with a paprika, oregano and garlic base to it.

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Irish Lamb Stew

  • Ground Paprika
  • Dried Oregano
  • Salt
  • Minced garlic or garlic powder
  • Red Wine
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Red Onions
  • Lamb Shanks
  • Olive Oil
  1. First, combine the minced garlic, oregano, salt and paprika with some olive oil to make a paste. Using your hands, rub the paste onto the lamb shanks, making sure they are well coated.
  2. Leave the lamb shanks in a container to marinade overnight.
  3. The next day, scrap off the excess marinade into a bowl before searing the lamb shanks in a pot.
  4. When searing the lamb shanks, make sure to get all sides of the shanks well coloured. Remember, no colour means no flavour. You don’t have to cook the lamb shanks through, just browned all around.
  5. After that, remove the lamb shanks from the pot and pour in a dash of red wine just to deglaze the pot, not more than a cup. Once deglazed, pour in the rest of the marinade and replace the lamb shanks.
  6. Cut the vegetables up into smaller pieces and place the vegetables in between the lamb shanks.
  7. Pour in enough water to cover the lamb shanks and stew for 3 hours (covered) until the meat is falling off the bone. After this, remove the cover and reduce the stew to your desired thickness.
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View of the Wrekin, Shropshire, England

Deglazing the pot is the act of adding liquid (usually wine) to a pot that was used to cook vegetables or meat in order to scrap off the bits and pieces that have stuck to the pot. This step is important as this residual food contains the most flavour, and is prone to burn if not scraped off. I prefer to place the vegetables in between the lamb shanks and the pot instead of placing the vegetables below and the lamb shanks on top. This allows us to use less water to cover the lamb shanks, meaning that the final stew will be more concentrated, and less time will be needed to reduce the stew. From my experience, 3 hours is about the minimum that you can stew this dish for, any less and the lamb shanks will still be chewy. Many people say that the longer you let a stew cook for the better it gets. I actually disagree with this. If this dish is let to cook longer than 4 hours, all the fat in the lamb shank is melted off, and what remains is just the lamb meat which will not be cushioned by fat when eaten, giving it a rather stringy texture. This being said, as with all stews and soups, they taste better the day after and this stew is no exception. In fact, if left to cool in the fridge and reheated the day after, this presents the opportunity to skim off the lamb fat that would have gelled together in the cold. In order to speed up the cooking process, it’s completely possible to cook this dish in a pressure cooker, which can reduce the cooking time from 3 hours to 30 minutes, thus saving time and energy. However, the stew will probably still need to be reduced down to your desired thickness before serving. While it is possible to thicken the stew with flour or corn starch, I prefer not to as it doesn’t increase the flavour concentration of the stew. If you however decided to use this method, remember to whisk the corn starch or flour with hot water first before pouring into your stew to get rid of lumps which risk sinking to the bottom of the pot and burning, thus ruining your stew.

Morel Mushroom and Parmesan Risotto

Risotto ai funghi morel con scaglie di parmigiano

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Ask any mushroom lover what their favourite season is and they’ll tell you autumn. Autumn brings with it all the tastes of earthy and umami rich mushrooms. From Porcini mushrooms all the way to the extremely sought after white truffles of Alba. These truffles, also known as trifola d’Alba Madonna, are sometimes called white gold due to the price that accompanies them. This post however, is not about Chanterelles or Puff Balls, it’s about Morels. The sight of a morel’s pine cone-shaped head poking out of the forest detritus can bring joy even to the most seasoned mushroom foragers and it is a sure sign that spring has come.

Morel mushrooms are not only unique in the fact that they are in season during spring, they also possess a unique shape and taste. Like any other mushrooms, morel mushrooms are prone to rotting and have a short lifespan. Because of this, morel mushrooms are sometimes dried or preserved in oil. Some chefs even prize dried morels even more than fresh ones as they claim that dried morels have a more concentrated flavour. In a way I actually agree with them, dried mushrooms in general have so many more uses. For example, they can be reconstituted into mushroom stock or added to soup as an umami booster and even after that, you still can eat the mushroom itself!

Morels have a very uniquely earthy and soy sauce-like taste, with the best examples being so concentrated that it’s as if they have chocolate undertones accompanied by the scent of a damp forest floor. Putting your nose into a basket of dried morels makes you feel as though you’re back in the forest. Fresh morels also have a firm sponge-like texture, with their unique pine cone shape and lattice structure. Outside of the wild, they are impossible to cultivate, making their supply limited geographically to where they grow naturally. All these traits combine to give them an eye-watering price, with the largest and most prized morels costing as much as black truffles.33136451132_07afe43c62_k.jpg

If you aren’t able to go mushroom hunting, fresh morels are occasionally sold in high- end farmer’s markets, though at a very high price. Dried morels are also available from stores online, but are so expensive that they’re almost not worth buying. Because of this, if given the chance to buy dried morels at a reasonable price, I highly recommend stocking up on them. Because of their irregular shape, morel mushrooms are very hard to clean. Luckily enough, morel mushrooms in general do not require much cleaning. occasionally though, it is possible to see a white substance filling a pore of the morel mushroom, indicating that a worm is probably residing underneath. Fresh morel mushrooms should be firm and dry to the touch. If you find someone trying to sell you morels which are soft and damp at a cheaper price, walk away. If you’re going to pay so much for morels, you shouldn’t lower your standard and end up being disappointed in their taste due to the condition which the mushrooms are in.

When cleaning fresh morels, never ever soak or wash them in water. Most of the compounds which give morels their unique taste are water soluble, which explains why reconstituting dried morels make such fantastic stock. This however, has its downside. Due to their hydrophilic nature, even briefly soaking the mushrooms in water causes them to lose their flavour. They also easily absorb water, making them hard to sauté after washing as they release the water they absorbed when heated.

Morel Mushroom and Parmesan Risotto

  • Dried Morel Mushrooms (to make Vegetable Stock)
  • Grated Parmasan Cheese or Pecorino Romano
  • Vegetable Stock
  • Shallots
  • Risotto Rice (Carnoli or Arborio Rice, I use Arborio in this recipe)
  • Unsalted Butter + Olive Oil
  • White wine
  • Fresh Parsley
  • Fresh Morel Mushrooms (Optional)
  1. First, to make the morel stock, reconstitute the dried morel Mushrooms in hot vegetable stock for around 5 minutes, until the vegetable stock is fragrant and dark brown in colour.
  2. Reserve the rehydrated mushrooms to add into the risotto later.
  3. Mince the shallots as finely and evenly as possible, as evenly cut pieces will cook uniformly, preventing bits of the shallots browning faster than others.
  4. To start the risotto, melt the butter in some olive oil and before sweating the shallots.
  5. Once fragrant, add in the Arborio Rice and toss in the oil for around a minute until well coated.
  6. Pour in a dash of white wine to deglaze the pan before adding in ladle by ladle of morel stock, stirring in the vegetable stock one ladle at a time, before allowing it to cook the rice. The point of stirring the stock constantly is to allow the friction between the rice grains to release their starch, causing the risotto to take on its classic creamy character.
  7. The risotto is done when the rice grains are translucent and you can see a white centre inside each individual rice grain. This means the rice is al dente, and still has a bite to it.
  8. Just before the risotto is done, pour in the fresh morel mushrooms and finely chopped parsley, before adding in the parmesan cheese in 3 separate stages and mixing till melted.

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As the trait of a good quality risotto is one that is creamy but still with a bite to it, the rice we use needs to have a high starch content like Arborio and Carnoli rice, which are the two classic risotto rices. If you really are unable to find these types of rices, sushi rice is also a possible substitution. Carnoli rice is the more traditionally used rice for risotto, and it originates from the village of Carnoli in the Po Valley. It is generally thought to be the best rice for risotto, and thus usually has a higher price than Arborio rice. This being said, the taste and texture of Arborio rice is comparable to it. When learning how to make a good risotto, I feel that the technique used to cook the risotto to perfection, not undercooked or overcooked, is more important than the type of rice you buy. Therefore I recommend learning the basics of making a risotto before investing in expensive risotto rice.

Some people might feel that just adding the fresh morel mushrooms directly to the risotto to cook wasteful of such a fine ingredient, and I myself personally prefer cutting the morels length wise, before frying with some butter, shallots and parsley, before pouring over the risotto at the end. I also like to add my parsley midway through the cooking process, as I find adding the parsley at the end slightly overpowering. The white wine in this dish serves to add acidity to the risotto, which helps balance out the thick creamy texture from the rice and cheese. If using homemade vegetable stock/morel stock for this recipe that you did not preseason, the amount of cheese that you add to this recipe is very important as that will act as the main source of salt in this dish. If the dish becomes too cheesy before it tastes salty enough, you can always add a pinch of salt to the dish.

Other ways of making risotto creamy includes adding cream/milk to the risotto. Other than being considered sacrilegious by many chefs, there is also the risk of adding too much cream to the risotto, which raises the fat content so high that the risotto starts to stick, ruining its delicate texture. A well made risotto itself must be served hot, if the risotto cools before serving, the starch in the sauce will start to gel, creating a coat on top of the risotto.