Before making this, I had never made a real risotto, before. I was always intimidated by it, and reading recipes did nothing to ameliorate my anxiety. The ideal creamy-but-toothsome consistency was notoriously elusive. There was a lot of butter and cream and cheese. Also, there were multiple pots and pans at work: one for the rice, one for the vegetables, and so on. For such a simple thing, it looked like so much work.
This weekend, Dave told me he wanted to eat duck. It had been a while since we’d made one, so naturally I liked the idea. Friday night he found one, and Saturday he steamed it to render away some of the subcutaneous fat, then roasted it to fully cook the meat and crisp the skin. After the meal, he stripped the remaining flesh from the bones, threw those bones in a pasta pot with a colander attachment, and filled the pot with water, onion, garlic, whole cloves, carrots, and celery. He left it on low all night, and in the morning there was duck stock.
You see where this is going, right?
Duck stock is an easy, healthy way of achieving new heights of flavour in your cooking. In general, making your own stock allows you to control things like sodium, fat, and spice, without adding hydrogenated or other artificial elements. It’s also easy: the hardest part is straining out the bones, vegetables, and other particulate matter to your desired level of clarity. But because duck is a game meat, it also possesses that depth of flavour that chicken doesn’t. It has real umami. You don’t even have to steam and roast your own duck to get it: visit your local Chinatown, buy some roast duck takeout, save the bones, and start simmering. Then thank me.
You will need:
- 1 deep non-stick skillet
- 1 cookie sheet
- 3 T butter
- 1 small onion, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced or grated
- 7 leaves fresh sage, rolled and chiffonade
- 1 package sliced mushrooms, or seven whole mushrooms sliced
- 3/4 C arborio rice
- 1 acorn squash
- (about) 7 C duck (or other homemade) stock
- 5 chestnuts, roasted, peeled, and sliced
- 1/2 C duck meat (or other left over meat)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 T grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
How to make it:
- Preheat your oven to 400F. Wash, then split an acorn squash down the middle. Scoop out the seeds, and place a little butter or olive oil in the cavity. Roast for thirty minutes on the cookie sheet, then test with a fork. When the squash yields, remove it from the heat and turn the oven off. Alternatively, buy cubed butternut squash and roast it with some olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- While your squash is roasting, begin building flavour in your pan. Heat your skillet to medium, and melt some butter inside. Add the onion, garlic, and a few of the sage leaves until the onions are turning translucent, then add the mushrooms. Allow the mushrooms to brown slightly, then de-glaze the pan with 1 C stock.
- Add the rice. Stir until rice is evenly moist, and wait until some of the stock has evaporated. Test the rice. It will still be too hard to eat. Add more stock. Keep stirring. Be gentle. You’re looking to sweat some of the starch from the grains, not beat it out of them. At this point, you can also add the chestnuts.
- When the squash is ready, wait for it to cool, then use a fork or spoon to scoop the roasted flesh into your skillet. It will be thready, and you will need to use a spatula or wooden spoon to break it down. I only used half the squash for the risotto, but you can use both. Or, you can serve the finished risotto inside the roasted halves. This would be a nice touch for entertaining.
- Finish the risotto by adding the duck meat and allowing it to cook through, then adding salt, pepper, the remaining sage leaves, and the cheese. Give it all a few minutes to set, then serve.
Obviously, you can make this dish vegan by using olive oil in place of butter, a vegetable stock (a good mushroom stock would be lovely), and omitting the meat and cheese. For that tang of cheese without animal ingredients, I’d consider nutritional yeast flakes. The technique is basically the same: roast flesh, build flavour, add stock, stir, finish.