Friday, 13 May 2011

Chicken & Porcini Risotto with Lemon Thyme

It’s Wednesday today and we have the day off. And I find myself lying in a swimsuit by a pool in the hot May sun of Nice. Nice.

Cheeky Chappy, Birthday Boy Will
George and I wandered over to the on-shore crew accommodation which Nat, Niki, Will, Matty and Tom are currently living in before we leave for Corsica on Monday. Also it’s Will’s Birthday today. Happy Birthday Will! 

So they live here in ‘digs’ and the rest of us live on the boat which, as you’ll know if you read some of my earlier blogs, has its ups and its downs. Never leaving work is one of those downs, so on a day off it’s important to try to get away from the boat and treat yourself to a new perspective on life. Some breathing space; a different experience, a change is as good as a holiday and all that.

And as different experiences go, this will do nicely thank you. It’s a beautiful pool and it’s quiet and although I’m not sure I have enough sun lotion on, I think I’ll lie here and write this blog and if I get burnt, I’ll blame you, ok?

Smoking Halyards Can Seriously Damage Your Health

Talking of burns, I got a goody on my arm and a few on my fingers. They say smoking is bad for you and I can tell you it hurts too. I’m actually talking about ‘smoking’ halyards. It’s a non-technical term for letting a halyard go quickly but in a controlled manner if a sail needs to be dropped instantly. And my position on the boat when we’re racing means that I get to ‘smoke’ a lot of halyards. (Hence the sailing gloves) This particular halyard was the spinnaker halyard and although I have done it plenty of times, for some reason or other I took too many turns off the cleat and was effectively holding around 2 tons of sail in my hands. I let it go, but managed to control the drop enough that no one noticed anything untoward until I squeaked pathetically to George that I had to go down below to shove my ‘smoking’ hands into the ice maker. It was a great drop and I’m in no position to give up smoking quite yet but I think I’ll be slowing it down a little.

Just as exciting, the night before the smoking halyard incident I made a risotto. It had to be a risotto. All the ingredients were there for a goody of a risotto; a bag of dried porcini mushrooms, a pot of fragrant, zesty lemon-thyme, home-made chicken stock and some plump little chicken breasts. If I’d been really clever I would have gone to get some of the wet garlic that’s been kicking around in the markets at the mo. Wet garlic is so exciting and so delicious, I’ll try to get hold of some whilst it’s in season and get a recipe for you. But as I just had the normal, dried bulbs a fair amount of that went in instead.

The risotto fed 6 of us and I managed to get away with only putting in 2 chicken breasts but coupled with the ‘meatiness’ of the mushrooms, it was a perfect combination and great for the budget. I can’t ‘big-up’ homemade stock for any risotto enough but as I’ve said before a cube or two will do if you haven’t any fresh.

Love and affection is also heavily required for a risotto. Set the time aside to make it. Stick on some of your favourite tunes and pour yourself something special into your favourite glass and dedicate yourself to your risotto. Love your risotto.

So here it is, chicken and Porcini risotto with lemon-thyme. Serve with a good rocket salad and I reckon my brother-in-law (Bill for short), would probably be the best person to ask being a real sommelier, but I do think red, white or rose would suit this one. Ch-ching!

For Chicken and Porcini risotto you will need;
2 small onions, finely chopped
1 tsp sugar (Feeling a bit Mary Poppins every time I write that)
2 chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 ½  pints chicken stock
Bag of dried porcini mushrooms or any funky dried forest mushroom that you like
1 pint hot water
Box of risotto rice
2 tbsp lemon-thyme, chopped and smashed a little
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp crème fraiche
1 cup of grated parmesan cheese
1 glass of dry white wine for the risotto and as the bottle is open…

  • Begin by putting your dried mushrooms into a ceramic dish and pour in about one pint of hot water. This rehydrates the mushrooms and the water will take on a marvellous dark brown colour and mushroom flavour which you will add to your stock.  Soak the mushrooms for about 15 minutes then skim them out gently. Some sediment may have sunk to the bottom so when you add the mushroom liquor to the stock, make sure this gets left behind.

  • Meanwhile, put the chicken stock into a pan and bring to a gentle simmer. This is an important rule when making risotto, to have hot stock.

  • Gently sauté the onion in a heavy bottomed, deep pan with some sunflower oil and a small knob of butter. After a few minutes add the sugar. Season with some salt. Then once the onion has started to soften, add the chicken breasts.

  • Sauté the chicken for a few minutes and then when all the pink has gone, turn up the heat to get a good sizzle and add the drained mushrooms. Then add the rice and half of the lemon-thyme. It will want to stick to the pan so you need to keep it on the move. It gets fun now.

  • When the rice has had a good fry and is starting to look opaque now is the time to throw in a glass of dry white wine. It will have a good sizzle and splutter but keep it stirring, this is all good stuff.
  • Having now added the mushroom liquor to the hot stock, you can start adding the stock to the risotto. Do this one ladleful at a time, stirring constantly until all the liquid has been absorbed, then add another and keep this up until all your stock has gone or your rice gets to it’s al dente stage. 

  • Now no one likes a stodgy risotto so when you think the rice is almost perfect, I always add a good few ladles of stock to loosen it all up. Then turn off the heat, add the crème fraiche, parmesan, lemon zest and juice and the rest of the lemon-thyme. Taste and season till it is perfect, then bung on the lid and let it rest whilst you spruce up a little salad and muster your hungry.

If you make a few risottos you’ll start to get your own little ‘risotto tricks’ to get that perfect consistency and flavour. I always use up all my stock, so I either make way too much or have a boiled kettle ready to top up if I run out. I love adding lemon zest and juice and sometimes a final splosh of wine at the end of cooking can turn an average risotto into a great one.

Tomorrow I will begin to make a few delivery meals for the trip to Corsica. To be honest it’s only a 36 hour trip and I’m hoping we’ll catch some fish. So what goes in the freezer can stay there for a busy regatta if we do. I’ve stocked my cupboards with sushi-making ingredients in optimistic hope.

So now, if you’ll forgive me I will probably need to turn over and roast the other side of me. And then a nice little dip in the pool I think.

I don’t think I can help myself but I so have the best job in the world. Life at 33 degrees is turning out okay for now.

Thanks a lot for reading. See you next time.