Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bacon and Ale Risotto with Fried Sage

I figured the title might get your attention. Yes, this is a strange one, but it was an absolute and unexpected treat. Here's the story: I bought a lovely chicken from Sanagan's Meat Locker today on my lunch hour and stored it in the fridge at work. Whenever I do this, I program a reminder in my Microsoft Outlook so that I don't leave the chicken in the fridge when I go home. Well, today I didn't program the reminder. So, inevitably, I left the chicken in the fridge at work. Because I usually buy meat on the fly (this guarantees freshness etc), I arrived home empty handed. To complicate matters further, our fridge was pretty bare in general. So, a pantry dinner was in order; a challenge that wakes up my culinary spirit.

What did I have available? Five slices of dry cured bacon in the fridge, a few dried morels, a litre of that lovely home-made chicken stock made over the weekend and a sizable bunch of fresh sage...not to mention a few 500ml tins of a fine Belgian brew. How a risotto was born from this is any one's guess, but it was so good that I would consider putting this on the menu in my future (dreamed up) restaurant. Have I broken some culinary rules with this one? Possibly. Typically a risotto is deglazed with white wine. I used beer at this point in the cooking. It added a yeasty je ne sais quoi to the final product. Also, because I used bacon, I thought a bit about pasta carbonara and decided to toss a fresh egg yolk in at the end of cooking. I was concerned that it might have been too much given the beer flavours. Fortunately, the beer was quite subtle so that in the end, this risotto was a delight. After all, we're talking about bacon and eggs and beer. What's not to like?

Bacon and Ale Risotto

200 g of arborio rice
1 litre of chicken stock (homemade preferable)
Half a white onion, chopped in fine dice
8-10 fresh sage leaves (four chopped finely and the remainder kept whole)
1 clove of garlic, minced
75 ml beer (preferably a light European ale)
5 slices of bacon
2 or 3 dried morel mushrooms
15 ml butter
1 egg yolk
15 ml Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

Bring your stock up to a simmer in an appropriate sauce pan and add the dried morels to infuse the stock. Then in a separate pan, fry off the bacon until it is crisp. Once the bacon is done, set it aside to drain a bit on some kitchen towels. Transfer one or two tablespoons of the bacon fat into clean pot and put on a medium fire. Once hot, add your onion and frizzle it in the bacon fat until translucent (five minutes or so). Then add the garlic and the chopped sage and allow another two or three minutes of frizzling. Then drop in your rice and toss amongst the bacon fat, onions and garlic. The rice will start to become translucent and will actually start to make a duller sounding 'ping' as it hits the side of the pot. It's a hard thing to describe, but after many risottos, you'll get the hang of it. Anyway, once the risotto is sufficiently toasted, pour in the beer and vigorously stir everything together. Once the beer has reduced by about-two thirds. You can start the process of adding a ladleful of stock every few minutes and stirring as per the basic risotto cooking method. This should take about 20 minutes give or take. While you're doing that, do some multi-tasking and fry up the whole sage leaves in the fat left over from the bacon - add a good pinch of salt to the sage as it fries; this will help it crisp up. Once the risotto has reached the el dente point that you like, take it off the fire. Stir in the cheese, the butter and the egg yolk, then let it stand, covered for about two minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper to your liking. Now assemble. Crumble a bit of the bacon and mix into the risotto. Pour it out into a bowl and garnish with some crispy strips of bacon and fried sage leaves. A few chopped scallion wouldn't hurt either. Consume with gusto.

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