Risotto always feels like a treat. That's a bald statement, I know, but I really think it's true. There is something luxurious about the dish even in its simplest forms. From the buttery, cheesy, saffron-infused simplicity of a Milanese risotto to a more lavish version with, say, lobster or truffle somewhere in the mix, the creamy waves of a risotto as it is ladled into a bowl are a promise of generous and sustaining things to come. At Easter it will be a treat whatever the weather brings us at what can be a fickle time of the year, as spring tries to get a grip, whether it brings some unexpected Mediterranean sun or a cold snap just as we started airing the shorts and tees to be patio ready. Whatever the weather, Easter is the promise of new beginnings and with this dish we can luxuriate in an old favourite, and raise a suitable glass to the future.
This version is not very Italian, with smoky fish, I grant you, but it is comfort food par excellence – hot, silky, satisfying and simply delicious. At this special time of the year many of us will want to open a worthy bottle and a risotto makes a fine partner to something special, its creamy butteriness embracing wines that cut or cosset. This smoky bowlful shoots 'blancs' all right, particularly those whites with their own generosity, like a good chardonnay and pinot gris.
When we made it recently chez Farrow, our greed took over as soon as the smell of the risotto filled the kitchen and insinuated itself into the living room, drawing my missus in like a Bisto Kid on a waft of smokiness. A bottle of something delicious and two Cheshire cat grins later it was all over bar the washing up.
Smoked Haddock Risotto (serves 4)
- 50g butter
- 240-250g smoked haddock, skinned (or other smoked fish like cod or pollock)
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 handfuls of risotto rice
- 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 100ml dry white wine
- 500ml fish, chicken or vegetable stock, kept hot over a low heat
- 75g frozen peas or petit pois
- 1 tbsp finely chopped chives (or parsley)
- 50g Parmesan cheese, grated
- Lemon wedges to serve
1. Put the stock into a saucepan over a low heat and lower the smoked fish and the bay leaf into it and poach very gently for five minutes or so. Remove the fish but keep the stock hot but not boiling.
2. Put a decently sized saucepan over a moderate heat on the hob, add half the butter and once it is just starting to sizzle add the chopped onions. Lower the heat and cook the onions for five minutes or so until they are starting to soften but not colour.
3. Raise the heat under the pan to moderate and add the risotto rice and stir, cooking the rice in the hot butter for three or four minutes, ensuring that the grains are coated.
4. Add the dry white wine and continue stirring until the wine is absorbed by the rice.
5. Add a ladleful of the hot stock (without the bay leaf) and stir the rice regularly but gently until the ladleful has been largely absorbed. Repeat the process with the stock each time the rice has absorbed the liquid until you have used half the stock. Keep stirring and a watchful eye – it takes a little while and your attention, but it's worth it!
6. When you have used ¾ of the stock add the frozen peas and bring them up to heat. Flake the gently poached haddock, checking for bones as you do so, and gently stir into the rice.
7. Continue the process with the ladlesful of stock until the rice is nearly cooked and al dente.
8. After most of the stock has been used you should have a silky creamy, undulating sea of rice, peas and fish, wet but not soupy. This can be about 20-25 minutes but may take longer depending on the rice. You are done when the rice is tender but with just a little resistance to the tooth (ie. al dente), at which point add the Parmesan and the remaining butter for a bit of gloss and stir.
9. Add half of the chives and gently stir again. Check the seasoning. You shouldn't need salt thanks to the cheese, haddock and butter but add some if you like. If you want the risotto a little looser add a little more stock before serving.
10. Serve in warmed bowls with the remaining chives scattered over, and more Parmesan if you like, plus some lemon wedges.
The smoky fish and creamy, buttery and cheesy rice immediately suggest a wine with a little creaminess or generosity, or just a little oak, that also feature moreish freshness too. As risotto is Italian, it would be remiss not to suggest some wines from the country, starting at its top in Alto Adige with Hofstätter's creamy Villa Barthenau Vigna S Michele Pinot Bianco 2018. Pieropan's flagship wine Soave La Rocca 2018 would be a fine match as would the Barberani's top-class Orvieto Luige e Giovanna Orvieto Classico Superiore 2017.
White Burgundy or lively new world chardonnays also come to mind. Consider the rich, round Domaine Mallory et Benjamin Talmard, Mâcon-Villages 2019, the barrel fermented and concentrated but poised Château de Beauregard, Saint-Véran En Faux 2018, the fresh appley but lightly oaked Society's Exhibition New Zealand Chardonnay 2019 or cool climate Aussie Bleasdale Adelaide Hills Chardonnay 2018. Other lovely options are the oaky, nutty The Society's White Rioja 2018, or the textured, generous The Society's Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch 2020.
Finally, I love a pinot gris with risotto and it works very well with the haddock and creaminess here without needing oak. Alsace versions are perfect, like the ripe but light on its feet Pinot Gris 'Les Prélats' Domaine Ginglinger 2018, or the treat that is the creamy but fresh Pinot Gris, Domaine Albert Boxler 2017. Finally, a little left field but with considering is the Heathen IPA, Northern Monk Brew Co, Leeds, recommended as an accompaniment for smoked haddock in an article on this website a little while ago. If you fancy a red look for something light, fruity and low in tannins.
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