A risotto featuring creamy Arborio rice; plump, juicy shrimp; and light, bright seasonings is one of those slam-dunk dishes that every cook needs in their repertoire. Its subtle flavors are universally appealing, and it’s luxurious enough for company.
A few years ago, we came up with a revolutionary risotto-making technique: Our Almost Hands-Free Risotto calls for gently boiling Arborio in stock in a covered Dutch oven so that the agitation of the grains (rather than the cook’s spoon) sloughs the starch from the rice. Just before the rice is done, a final portion of stock is added and the risotto is stirred for just 2 to 3 minutes to maximize creaminess before the dish is finished with butter and cheese.
I started with the backbone of the dish: shrimp stock. Crustacean shells contain proteins, sugars, and flavor-boosting glutamates and nucleotides that I wanted to extract into the stock. I seared the shells in oil; added water, bay leaves, salt, and peppercorns; and simmered—but for only 5 minutes. That’s because we’ve found that some of the flavor compounds in the shells are volatile and release into the air with longer cooking times. The result was an ultrafast stock that would infuse my risotto with a taste of the sea.
Next, I sautéed finely chopped onion and fennel. The fennel’s mild anise notes were lovely, but it took a long time to lose its crunch. A smidge of baking soda raised the fennel’s pH, helping it (and the onion) break down faster. I then added the Arborio, cooked it until it turned translucent, and deglazed the pot with dry white wine before adding the stock.
Finally, I stirred in whole shrimp, but they were so big that I got a bite of shrimp in only every few forkfuls. Cutting the shrimp into pieces made for better distribution, but then they rapidly overcooked.
To solve the problem, I sprinkled the shrimp with salt before I prepared the risotto—the salt would be absorbed by the shrimp, helping keep them moist. Once the risotto was finished, I slid the pot off the burner and added the shrimp pieces, letting them cook to juicy, plump perfection in the residual heat. Parmesan, butter, chives, and lemon zest and juice enhanced the beautifully flavored, creamy rice.