Written by William Dobson
Although I do like rice I often find that, unless you’re eating something like a biryani, it can be an unnecessary accompaniment to a meal and can detract from the main focal point of the dish. It’s sometimes quite bland, filling and difficult to cook. I’ll often substitute in couscous, which couldn’t be simpler to make and is also more versatile, especially when cooking Middle Eastern style stews. It can be brightened up with some deliciously sweet roasted peppers, a gently softened red onion, herbs, pine nuts etc. However, more often than not, if I’m making or eating a curry, I’ll just have it with some chapattis, naan bread or paratha as an alternative to a knife and fork.
Having said that, I’ve always been a huge fan of risotto. I love the unctuous, creamy texture, the slight crunch of the al dente rice and the huge depth of flavour that this way of cooking rice provides and it works brilliantly with any number of different flavour combinations, including spices.
This is one of my favourite ‘fusion’ dishes; a word which, in my opinion, wrongly seems to have attracted a certain stigma. It actually developed out of a series of accidents. I first tried cooking an Indian-style risotto when I only had carnaroli rice and my trusty supply of spices left in the store cupboard and thought that I might as well put them together. I enjoyed it so much I decided to cook it again, this time with some seared tuna steaks that I had marinated in smoked paprika, cumin and onion purée. However, I didn’t have enough carnaroli, so I added some basmati rice which gave a wonderful fragrance to the risotto and a slightly crunchier texture. The final evolution was when the fishmonger had run out of tuna steaks, so I substituted in sea bass, which worked even better. The two components complemented rather than competed with each other.
The delicate flavour of the fish is beautifully enhanced by the risotto, without overpowering it. It’s got such an interesting taste; a wonderful creaminess with a bit of heat from the ginger and the chilli powder, the subtle and complex combination of spices and, every now and then, a burst of flavour and fragrance from the cloves, surely the most nostalgic and evocative of spices. Every time I smell it I’m transported to Christmas Eve; a honey roasted ham cooked with cloves and served with my mum’s parsley sauce. As with the butter chicken, kasoori methi gives a lovely fragrant and smokey finish!
- 75g risotto rice
- 75g basmati rice
- 25 g butter
- 1 medium onion
- 2 tbsp ginger, crushed into a paste
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 900ml stock
- Good glug of white wine
- 6 cloves
- 10 green cardamom pods
- 6 black peppercorns
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp garam masala
- Good pinch turmeric for colour
- Pinch of hot chilli powder
- 1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes with the juice strained
- Sprinkling of kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
- Salt to taste
- 2 sea bass fillets (about 150g each), marinated in olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper for about half an hour
- Good knob of butter
Melt the butter on a gentle heat and then add the whole spices. Add the onions and soften, then add ginger, garlic and ground spices and cook for another few minutes.
Meanwhile, bring the stock to a gentle simmer. When the garlic smell has started to mellow, add the rice, turn the heat up quite high and stir, coating the grains in the butter, spices and onions. Continue to cook for a good two or three minutes, stirring to make sure that it doesn't catch on the bottom of the pan. Then, add the wine, continuing to stir until all the liquid has almost evaporated. Then, add the stock, a ladle at a time; again, stirring continuously. Each ladle should be added after most of the liquid has been either absorbed or evaporated, although at no point should the risotto be dry. Just before all the stock is finished or the rice is cooked (it should be al dente. In my experience these two events generally occur concurrently), add the chopped tomatoes. The finally stirring process should be really vigorous as this will create the most unctuous texture.
When the risotto is finished, melt some more butter into a hot frying pan and, when it starts to foam, add the sea bass fillets, skin side down. After about three minutes, flip them over and cook for another two minutes or so. Especially if the sea bass is fresh, you'd rather it undercooked than over. Plat up the risotto onto plates, sprinkle over a small handful of the kasoori methi, and place the sea bass on top.