why it works
- Briefly simmering shrimp shells and heads with herbs produces an intensely flavored shellfish broth.
- Using a classic risotto cooking method provides better control over the final texture of the rice.
- Stirring raw shrimp into the rice just before serving prevents them from overcooking.
- Intentionally loosening the risotto with broth just before serving ensures that it will take on the correct consistency when plated.
Risotto cooking has long been a hot topic of debate around these coins. “Stirring is for suckers; it’s so tedious! “Rinse out the starch!” “Use a pressure cooker!” “Italian grandmothers are full of them!” This is Marriage story same gold. I’m not interested in causing more controversy on the best way to cook risotto, I really like to stir the rice.
One of the best things about risotto is that it’s a blank canvas for flavor; how you choose to paint it is a matter of preference. This recipe uses a more classic cooking approach than the innovative methods used in other risotto recipes on Serious Eats, and it produces a shrimp risotto bursting with deep shellfish flavor.
The easiest way to flavor rice is to cook it in an intensely aromatic broth. Often this can be accomplished by simply infusing neutral chicken or vegetable broth with assertive ingredients like dried ceps for mushroom risottoWhere saffron for risotto alla milanese. Risotto-folded bits, like pan-fried fresh mushrooms, add pops of flavor and texture to the final dish, but the broth really does the heavy lifting. For shellfish and seafood risottos, making broth from A to Z is the solution.
The rapid and the head: the keys to a great shrimp stock
The most important part of making great shrimp broth is using the right shrimp for the job: head-on shrimp. The shells and heads are rich in glutamates and nucleotides which provide tasty aromas, as well as sugars and proteins which contribute to Maillard burnishing when subjected to heat. Long story short: shells and buds taste the same. Some of these flavor compounds are non-volatile, which means they don’t dissipate during cooking, but the main compounds responsible for the flavor of shrimp are highly volatile, which means they evaporate during cooking. What does it mean to make shrimp broth? Just that it’s a very quick process. After cooking the shells and heads in olive oil (some of the flavors we’re looking for are fat-soluble, and the oil coaxes them then locks them in) with aromatics and umami-rich tomato paste, I add water and simmer the broth for just ten minutes before straining out the solids. The most intense tasting shrimp broth is the quick-cooking one.
During recipe development, I ran side-by-side tests of shrimp broth-based risotto that used only shrimp shells and a shell-and-head-based broth. The prawn broth risotto with head was the big winner – it has a much richer and deeper prawn flavor, even though I used the same weight of prawn with and without head, which means there had more shrimp meat in the shell – on the version.
We always recommend buying individually frozen shrimp rather than pre-thawed shrimp (most shrimp available for purchase are frozen as soon as they are harvested to preserve texture and flavor). This is especially important for prawns with the head on, as the heads contain enzymes that can make the prawn flesh mushy. Freezing stops this process, so it’s better to buy frozen shrimp, which allows you to control the defrosting process. Thaw the shrimp as close to when you plan to make the risotto as possible.
Stirring the Pot: Classically Cooked Risotto Isn’t a Chore
With the square broth, we can turn to cooking rice. I start by sweating the finely chopped onion in a wide-bottomed saucepan (the slanted sides of a saucepan or Daniel’s favorite pasta pan are perfect for risotto, and a 5-quart capacity is ideal, but even a 3-quart capacity will work). If you don’t have a pot like this, a Dutch oven or even a frying pan will do just fine. I then throw in the rice (I like carnaroli) and toast it until the grains smell nutty and start to look like ice cubes – translucent around the edges and opaque in the center.
I add a pinch of red pepper flakes and deglaze with white wine before adding a cup of tomato pulp and a ladle of shrimp broth. Tomato is a choice, not a requirement, for shrimp risotto. You can omit the tomato paste in the broth and the passata in the risotto if you prefer an in bianco preparation. I find that the savory, sweet and sour notes of the tomato go very well with the deep aroma of shellfish in the broth.
Now comes the fun or tedious part, depending on who you ask. I love the rhythmic process of constantly stirring and stirring the pot as the rice absorbs each addition of broth. I find it soothing, and it’s also a great excuse for some alone time in the kitchen. “Don’t talk to me right now, I’m making risotto!” is generally considered socially acceptable behavior. Take it to your advantage.
Keep adding broth, keep stirring and mixing, and in just under 15 minutes the grains of rice will have puffed up, becoming tender around the edges, with a firm raw bite in the center. Although I said earlier that I did not want to discuss the merits of the different risotto methods, I think it should be noted that in my experience I have found that the classic cooking method maintains this integrity textural rice much better than non-fried or pressure cooker risottos. The grains stay more distinctly separated when suspended in liquid, while the other methods produce rice that is lightly puffed and blends more into the broth.
I add the prawns and more broth, keeping the pan on the heat just long enough to cook the prawns, at which point the rice will have reached perfect doneness, observing the line between firm and crisp in the very center of each grain. I finish with a handful of chopped parsley, a squeeze of lemon juice and a little broth.
Timing is Everything: How to Serve Risotto
This is the point where timing is everything. You have to dress the risotto quickly, on hot plates (not bowls, if you are a purist). It’s important to keep in mind that no matter how fast you move, the risotto will tighten the time it takes to move it from the pan to the plate and then into the mouths of your guests. So you need to cover up and have the risotto at a looser consistency than you are comfortable with. The term that is still used to describe the flowing texture of risotto is all’onda, or “in the wave”. When mixing and stirring the rice in the pan, it should be loose enough to make waves and quickly fill the negative space each time you slide a spatula across the bottom of the pan. Just before plating, make it a little looser than that. Not swimming in the broth, but it should definitely be high tide in the pan.
Many risottos are finished with butter and cheese to give the rice more creaminess. The problem with dairy products is that they can dull the other flavors of the dish as well. For this recipe, I prefer to let the deep shrimp flavor of the broth shine through. This risotto is very rich as it is.