A while back I was introduced to a delicious recipe from the Ad Hoc at Home cookbook – a tomato ragu served with chicken stock-poached asparagus. But the real secret to the sauce was its base, and a process for cooking that I have since adopted to basically every recipe I can: rendering bacon.
Rendering is a process by which you extract the fatty deliciousness from (in most cases in my kitchen) bacon while keeping the fleshier parts of the meat tender and extremely flavorful (as it is essentially cooking in a reduced broth of its own fat!). The fat is sucked out into the tiniest amount of water, and the cook takes about 20-30 minutes before the white parts of the meat are gone, the pink parts are only starting to look a touch red, and the fatty water is ready to be used as a base in whatever sauce you wish to bacon up.
I adapted this method to a mushroom risotto, using “fresh” golden oyster mushrooms “from” my local farmer’s market. (Note: Emmett’s Dad has since informed me that there’s reason to believe the Mushroom Lady is actually purchasing her mushrooms from, let’s say Food Lion, then unsealing them and repackaging them for her booth. Then again, he once got into a fight with the vendor over the price of
Chantrelles Morels which he then refused to pay for [subsequently asking someone else to go up and pay for them in his stead]. So his word and theory may not be entirely objective)
If you’ve not made a risotto, it is about the practice, the process and the present. This is not a dish you can step away from and come back later – you will ruin everything, including Christmas. But for those of a fetishist mind, there is an art, or a natural metamorphosis which occurs as you turn the simple rice into something so much more. A watched pot never boils, but an unwatched risotto quickly turns into a burned and mealy rice paste. So open some wine, bring along a friend, and just relax as you create.
- 4 cups Chicken Stock
- 4 slices of thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2 -inch wide pieces
- 1/4 cup of room temperature water
- 1/2 lb mushrooms (I used oyster, cremini would serve well, button would work fine, chantrelles would be expensive but delicious, and any wild mushrooms you trust would serve well really), chopped
- 1/2 stick of butter
- 1 small vidalia onion, chopped
- 8 ounces of Arborio Rice
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 2 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley
- Zest of one lemon
- 1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan
- The Rendering: In a 12-inch saute pan, plop the chopped raw bacon down and add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Simmer on a low heat for 20-30 minutes, until the fat has mostly disappeared from the bacon and the pink parts begin to get dark pink. At no point should the water simmer. This is a slow cook. Add more water as necessary. In the end, use a slotted spoon to place the bacon aside, saving the fatty drippy goodness for …
- Saute the Mushrooms: In the same pan, turn the heat up to medium-high and add a tablespoon of butter to the fat. Yes, you’re adding butter to the bacon renderings – man up! Once the butter has melted and coated the bottom of the pan, toss in the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms have reduced by half, about 7-9 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Heat the Chicken Stock: Meanwhile, in a separate pot, get your chicken stock to an almost-simmer. Do not boil the chicken stock, just get it almost to a simmer and then turn it down to maintain this approximate temperature.
- Onions-n-Butter: In a 3-quart pot, over medium-high heat, add half of the remaining butter. Once melted, add the onions and cook until they begin to become translucent. Add the rice and stir continuously for about 1 minute. Add the white white wine and enjoy the steamy sizzle! Take a sip of your own wine – you’ve earned it. Or you’re about to …
- Now to Make a Risotto: Don’t go anywhere. Stay in front of that pot and get ready to stir-stir-stir! The process is simple but needs to be continuous. Add a ladle-full of the chicken stock to the rice and onion mixture. Stir until the stock is entirely absorbed by the rice. Add another ladle-full of the stock. Stir again until the stock is completely absorbed. Add another ladle-full of stock. Etc. Etc. Etc. The final result of this step should be a moist rice mixture with just a tiny al dente bite to it. Resist the temptation to rush this step, or risk ending up with ricey soup. Allow the chicken stock to be full absorbed each time before adding the next ladle of stock. In all, the last time I made the dish I used about 3 1/2 cups of the stock and the process took about 20 minutes. There is a certain amount of knowing what to look for in this step – I advise tasting a grain of rice every batch to check on the process. Once you reach that point of perfection, turn off the heat and move the pot off of the burner.
- Bacon Part 2 – The Crispening: I consider this step optional. However, the bacon and mushrooms may have cooled off a bit by now, so I tossed them back into the saute pan over high heat and let them brown just a bit. You could just leave them as they are and add them in the next step, but I like that double-fried goodness.
- The Finishing: Add the parsley, lemon zest, remaining butter and parmesan to the risotto, stirring to evenly distribute. Finally, add in the mushrooms and bacon, and stir to evenly distribute.