This article was originally featured in The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2006.

Seafood risotto

It's hard to believe that the years fly by so fast. I still think of the Wine Advisor's FoodLetter as our "new" publication, while in fact I've published more than 230 of these Thursday articles and will mark the FoodLetter's fifth anniversary in January.

Looking back over the archives this morning, I noticed with some interest that my first edition (Risotto Pescatore, Jan. 24, 2002), featured a brief song of praise to risotto. I declared this Italian rice specialty one of my favorite dishes, and went on to prove it by offering four more risotto dishes before the end of 2002. And then, it seems, I quit talking about it (although I certainly didn't stop making it); I haven't featured another risotto recipe since.

Let's break that dry spell today, returning to the seafood risotto featured in the original column as a demonstration of how even the dishes in our standard repertoire evolve with time. In the 2002 version, I simmered the seafood briefly in water to cook it and create a light broth. Now I start by sauteeing a combination of seafood and fish in olive oil, flash-cooking it and building a flavored oil to use as a base for the rice. This revised procedure seems to result in a risotto with stronger, fresher seafood flavors in the finished dish, and that's a good thing.

One thing, however, has not changed: What I said in January 2002 remains just as accurate today:

"You will see risotto ("ree-zoe-toe") turn up frequently in my food and wine matches. Italian cuisine is one of my (many) favorites, and this rice-based dish is a strong part of the basic repertoire around here because it's filling, can be made with almost infinite variations, and - despite its reputation as a "difficult" dish because it requires nearly constant stirring - it's quite simple to make and just about foolproof as long as you give it a reasonable amount of attention. I generally make it as a dinner-in-a-dish, containing the evening's starch, protein and vegetables all in one, needing nothing more than a salad or green vegetable to make a meal. Once you've mastered the simple procedure, you can fashion a risotto out of just about anything in the house."

This seafood risotto can be made out of just about any combination of seafood and fish that you like. I generally let a trip to the fish shop be my guide, bringing home a combination of seafood, firm and flaky fish to provide a variety of textures and compatible flavors. This time I used shrimp, sea scallops and scrod, but squid, clams and firm-fleshed fish like tilapia or bass are also good candidates.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

6 large shrimp in the shell
6 large or 12-15 small scallops
4 ounces (120g) scrod or other flaky white fish
1 quart (a scant 1 liter) clam juice or clam or vegetable broth
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon (1g) dried red-pepper flakes
2/3 cup (160g) Arborio, Carnaroli, Vialone Nano or other short-grain risotto rice
Salt to taste


1. Rinse the shrimp and, if you're using the large scallops, cut them into quarters. Cut the fish into chunks about the same size as the scallop pieces. Put the clam juice (I used reconstituted Minors brand clam "base") in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer over medium heat on a back burner.

2. Peel the garlic and chop it fine. Heat the olive oil, garlic and dried red-pepper flakes in a saucepan over medium-high heat until the garlic turns translucent and becomes aromatic but not brown. Put in the shrimp and toss-fry them briefly, just until their shells turn pink. Take out the shrimp and put them in a small bowl. Quickly saute the scallops in the same oil just until they turn opaque, removing them to a second bowl; and repeat the process with the fish, taking care not to break it up.

3. Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary, and put in the rice, stirring constantly for two or three minutes until it's "toasted," showing an opaque white on the outside of many of the grains.

4. Reduce heat to medium and stir in about 1/2 cup of the simmering clam broth, then continue cooking as in the standard risotto procedure: As each addition of broth is absorbed by the cooking rice, add a little liquid, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently, repeating the process as needed. You don't have to stir constantly, but do keep an eye on the pot to guard against sticking, and continue adding more broth as each addition is absorbed.

5. While the risotto is cooking, take advantage of breaks from stirring to shell the shrimp. When the rice is nearly done - usually after about 15 minutes of adding broth and stirring, although the exact time will vary, and taste-testing is best - pour in the accumulated juices in the bowls of seafood and fish as the last round of liquid. When the rice is just about done, stir in the shrimp, scallops and fish in that order. Don't worry if the fish flakes into shreds at this point ... it's supposed to do that, adding another texture element to the dish.

6. Under the influence of Marcella Hazan and her luxurious Emilia-Romagna cooking style, I often add butter and grated cheese at this point, and this certainly adds richness. Butter is really optional, though; and in much of Italy it's not customary to use cheese in seafood dishes. The simple, pure flavors of the seafood and fish in this risotto work best for me without butter or cheese. Take care to keep the finished dish creamy, not dry, and you'll never miss the dairy.

Normally I would choose a crisp but not lightweight Italian white with this dish - a fuller-bodied Soave or a quality Pinot Grigio from Friuli's Collio hills or Alto Adige, or maybe a full-bodied Southern Italian white. For a change of pace, though, I served this one with a bubbly Loire Chenin Blanc, the François Pinon NV Vouvray Petillant Brut featured in Monday's 30 Second Wine Advisor, and I couldn't have asked for a better match.