Most people think about their meat first when planning a meal. I, however, almost always start "noodling" (as they say in ad-agency lingo) on a side dish first.
This particular meal was inspired by - as you can probably guess from the title - Risotto. This was my second attempt at risotto, the first resulting in The Risotto Calamity of 2006. But since then, I've TiVo'd many a Barefoot Contessa, so I felt confident that I could make it without a hitch. I also had an outstanding lobster risotto at Viand, one of those downtown places that caters to the 40-plus business traveler crowd, but has an unexpectedly legit menu.
Without spoiling the ending of this post, let's just say "without a hitch" could be an overstatement.
Read on to get all the details of my Baked Salmon with Lemon-Leek Risotto and Arugula.
3 Salmon filets
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
2 c. Arborio rice (NOTE: this made an absurdly huge amount of risotto - maybe just use 1 cup if you attempt this)
1/3 stick butter
1 T. olive oil
1 medium leek
juice of 2 lemons
zest of two lemons
salt and pepper
3/4 c. parmesan cheese, grated
4 c. fresh arugula leaves
2 T. olive oil for the dressing
1 tsp. mustard
salt and pepper
1 T. sugar
2 T. white wine vinegar
squeeze of lemon juice
2 T. butter
1 T. flour
1/4 c. white wine
1/4 c. half and half
juice of one lemon
3 T. chopped fresh parsley
freshly grated parmesan (a little bit)
salt and pepper
In saucepan, heat 4 c. chicken broth (don't let it boil). Slice the leeks, then chop them into small pieces. Place them in a bowl of water to make sure they're extra clean. In a large Dutch oven or cooking pot, melt 1/3 sick butter and 2 T. olive oil (these measurements, again, are for 2 c. risotto), and saute the leeks (taken out of the water and shaken dry) until they soften and begin to turn translucent. Season them with a little salt and pepper. Add the Arborio rice, stirring it around in the butter, oil, and leeks until the grains are coated and begin to turn slightly translucent.
Add chicken broth one ladleful at a time, stirring the rice constantly over medium heat. When most of the liquid has been absorbed, add another ladleful. Continue to do this until the rice has become creamy, but the grains are still al dente. (More on this later.)
Zest two lemons, and squeeze the juice into a bowl. Stir this into the risotto a few minutes before it's done cooking.
Preheat the oven to 375. In a shallow baking dish, place the raw salmon, and season with salt, pepper, and about 1 T. olive oil, rubbing the olive oil evenly over the fish. Bake for about 15 minutes, until fish flakes with a fork.
Wash the arugula and spin or pat it dry. Place it in a large bowl. In a small mixing bowl, combine the juice of two lemons, 1 T. olive oil, salt, pepper, and 1 tsp. mustard. Whisk until combined. Just before serving, pour over arugula and toss to coat evenly.
To make the sauce, melt 1 T. butter in a large saucepan. Add 1/4 c. white wine, juice of one lemon, and 1/4 c. half and half. Cook until reduced by about half, and stir in 3-4 T. chopped fresh parsley. Add 1-2 T. grated parmesan, and stir to combine.
Place about 1/2 c. risotto on the plate and top with a piece of salmon. Spoon a few tablespoons of the sauce on top, then top with the arugula.
THE JUDGES' VERDICTS
ROSS: The salmon was really well-cooked. The other flavors complemented the salmon, but didn't over power it. And the salmon was also really warm - sometimes it seems like fish comes out not that hot. And it wasn't overcooked - it was still really tender.
TAYLOR: I thought this was awesome. I wanted to know how much cream went into the risotto. Elizabeth's answer - none - was both surprising and educational (the creaminess comes from the constant stirring stripping the starch out of the rice). I would definitely eat here again.
JESS: I loved the risotto. The tangy flavors were really great. The salmon peeled apart perfectly. I have no bad comments considering I ate all the leftovers.
MY VOTE ON MY DISH:
I give it four stars, and let me explain.
First, I can't eat salmon because I'm allergic to it, so, as a disclaimer, I can only make an educated judgement about the "risotto" and arugula. I put risotto in quotes because I'm 95% sure that I completely ruined it.
Don't get me wrong, the flavors were great - the lemon and leek were delicious. But the texture was suspect, and I think that's because I overcooked it. I actually remember the point in time when I tasted the risotto and thought to myself, "This is al dente. Maybe I should quit while I'm ahead," but then I proceeded to cook it for about 15 more minutes, until it was teetering on the edge of mush (it had the consistency of rice pudding, which, while delicious, isn't what I was going for).
I also looked up "risotto tips" online later, confirming my overcooked theory. I also learned that if you add the parmesan cheese too soon (which I think I might have), it can become oily and grainy. I didn't notice that it was oily or grainy, but either way, you're supposed to stir it in right before you serve it, off the cooking heat.
I was hyper-aware of my risotto blunder considering we were watching Top Chef. By the way, did was anyone else totally disappointed in the lack of creativity in this last challenge? I mean, you choose your favorite movie and then make a meal inspired by it - how cool is that? - and Spike chooses "Good Morning Vietnam" and makes VIETNAMESE FOOD??!! So unexpected!
It got me thinking: what would I make for that challenge? Well, my favorite movie is, of course, Clueless.
It takes place in California, so I'd probably do something in the "California Cuisine" genre - something light, with avocados - maybe halibut in parchment paper with lime and cliantro - a Mexican influence. And for dessert, well - there's a part in the movie where Cher describes what she's eaten that day: "I feel like such a heiffer. I had two mochacchinos, five M&M's...." So maybe a Mocchachino Mousse with crushed M & M topping? And as an appetizer or amuse bouche, Chef and Dionne spend a lot of time in the mall, so maybe a gourmet bite-sized twist on "mall food" - perhaps an impossibly tiny, doughy warm pretzel, with a Meyer-lemonade-vodka shot on the side?
This is what I'm talking about, people! CREATIVITY.
Ultimately, boring old Manuel was banished by Padma - can't say I'm saddened by his departure.
Thanks to my guests, and thanks for reading! Till next time...