Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My Favorite Meal

I haven't really written because my life's somehow taken an anti-climatic drop into a repetitive dryness - wake up, eat, write emails, etc.  The sort of high paced, high adrenaline lifestyle I was living came to screeching halt, and since then, it hasn't been that interesting.

But yesterday, I do have to tell you I made probably one of my favorite meals.  I get asked a lot what my favorite restaurants are and what my favorite foods are.  For the last few years though, I seem to be getting more and more disappointed in the quality of dishes I get at restaurants, especially "high-class" ones.  I find that most of these places, motivated by a need to make lots of profit, cut out on quality.

Let me give you an example of what I discovered to be one of my favorite dishes, and how a restaurant would rarely go through the trouble of making a dish like this.  One of my favorite dishes I just made is crab risotto.  Doesn't it sound simple?  This is how I made it.

First, I had to go to three supermarkets.  I called my friend to pick up a fresh dungeness crab at the Chinese supermarket.  As for myself, I went to the local one to pick up some common ingredients, but I had to go to a local Italian specialty shop for the rice.  Most risotto is made of arborio rice, but the better version is carnoli.  Carnoli has some special proportion of starch to simple sugar; therefore, it holds liquid better and at the end is creamier than any other rice out there.

To make the dish, I prepared a stock out, but instead of simply boiling the vegetables, I first sweated out the root of vegetables in olive oil: onions, garlic, celery, and carrots.  From outside, a friend said she could smell yumminess.  Next, I stir fried the crab in a wok with oil and garlic, until the crab turned red and the garlic had a nutty aroma to it.

I removed the crab from the heat and smashed the shell up with a mallet.  I removed the sweet crab flesh and set it aside.  Crack, crack, went the mallet and crab shells.  I dumped the roasted crab shells into the broth.

Next came the aciduated saffron butter.  I reduced white wine, rice vinegar, onions and butter.  After it was reduced to 25%, I strained out the onions.  I then mixed in saffron into the butter and froze it so it would re-solidify.

I cooked the risotto in olive oil, reduced with white wine and sake, and I added in all the crab stock.  Traditionally, you're supposed to fry the rice with onions and slowly add the stock.  Modern experiments show it makes no different to the taste whether you add in all the stock at once or a little at a time.  You just don't want to soak the rice soggy.  The onions, according to Chef Blumenthal, tastes better in the aciduated butter.  So, I skipped these traditional steps.  I tossed in the sweet crab meat.

Finally, to plate it up, we spooned in the cream cheese (forgot the marscapone at the shop), Parmesan, and the hardened butter.  I added the garnish of fresh basil growing outside, and ouila.  Now, that's a lot of work just for a plate of risotto.

On top, I added chicken breast cooked for an hour in a plastic pouch full of olive oil, herbs, and spices.  I tossed them in water that was 60 degrees C.  Let me tell you, I never had softer, more tender chicken breast in my life.  Its texture turned into butter and almost melted in your mouth.

In the end, the risotto took on a new life from its original plain-dried-grains.  I can't fully describe it in words, but it was rich, nutty, creamy, sweet, meaty, cheesy, and roasty.  It's a mystery how this rice could blend all these flavors together in a way that bread or common rice never could.  

My friends, who ate it with me, said, "But all the work was with it."  Smiling and satisfied.

I thought, that's easy for you to say.  You didn't do any of it.  You just reaped where someone else sowed.  =)