Creamy risotto perfumed with fresh herbs, slow-simmered in wine, elevated with briny Gulf shrimp from the waters off the coast of Louisiana, and finished with Louisiana pecan oil is delicious perfection in my food world. And when you learn my simple technique for Shrimp Risotto, your risotto world will open up.
Call this story Risotto 101 for no reason other than this Italian rice dish is foreign to many who grew up in South Louisiana rice culture. First things first, risotto is about as far away from traditional Cajun “rice and gravy” as the culinary world can get. I, for one, swear by Louisiana rice and you’d be hard-pressed to find any pantry in Acadiana without a 5-pound bag at the ready. Supreme brand from my friends in Crowley, Louisiana is my favorite, and their long and medium grain white rice (jasmine rice, too) are #1 in the market.
But risotto is made with starchy short-grain rice that many Cajun cooks know nothing about, and frankly speaking, could care less. There are several types of risotto rice: carnaroli is called the “caviar” of risotto rice, Arborio is the most common and Vialone Nano is the creamiest of all (and hard to find). For most home cooks, Arborio is widely available, so I decided to keep it simple for my recipe.
I always begin my Shrimp Risotto with my mise en place (everything in its place): Fat (butter and oil); aromatics (onion and celery); herbs (garlic, parsley, rosemary, and basil); and liquid (wine and fish stock). One key is that the starchiness of Arborio is essential for a creamy outcome, so NEVER rinse the rice before cooking. An essential rule is to jump-start the risotto by “toasting” the grains in butter to bring flavor to the pot.
Risotto takes time and attention. Maybe not as much as stirring a Cajun roux, but it will require your undivided attention for a half hour or so. You see, Arborio rice soaks up liquid like a sponge, and requires continual stirring and addition of simmering hot liquid, one ladle at a time. Walk away for more than five minutes, and you could scorch the rice and ruin the dish. A quick stir in three-minute intervals does the trick for me, and remember to scrape down the inside of the pot to keep the rice from sticking and drying out; just one hard-as-a-rock grain of rice can ruin the whole experience.
With a heavy pot and a flat-edged wooden spatula, time to stir up a delicious Shrimp Risotto.
- 1 pound large (21-25 count) raw shrimp, deveined with shells removed
- 1 teaspoon Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 2 tablespoon pecan oil, divided or olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
- 2 ribs celery, finely diced
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 6 cups fish stock, simmering hot or shrimp stock
- 1 large lemon
- 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves, stems removed
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Butterfly the shrimp by slicing vertically along the inside to open up the shrimp, and sprinkle with Cajun seasoning. In a saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon butter along with the shrimp. Sauté the shrimp until they begin to color, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and keep for later use.
- In a large heavy pot over medium-high heat, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and add 1 tablespoon of pecan oil. Add the onion, celery, and garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the rice and continuing stirring until the rice begins to toast, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and stir until it is absorbed, about 5 minutes, and lower the heat to a simmer.
- With a grater, remove the zest from the lemon and save for later use. Slice the lemon in half and squeeze half a lemon into the pot being careful to catch any seeds.
- Add 1 ladle of the simmering fish stock and stir until absorbed, about 5 minutes. For a total cooking time of about 30 minutes, continue stirring the rice in 5-minute intervals and adding liquid (1 ladle at a time) as needed as it soaks it up. Be sure to scrape the sides of the pot and keep any rice from sticking.
- Add the shrimp to the pot along with the lemon zest, parsley, rosemary, and fresh basil, and let cook for another 5 minutes. As the risotto becomes creamy, sample the rice to make sure it is fully cooked and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Just before serving, stir in the remaining tablespoon of pecan oil.
- Serve in shallow bowls with hot bread and wine.
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