Shrimp pizza night

February 26, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Robert is guest blogging again. Sunday, February 24.

Yes, it’s snowing again, for the third weekend in a row. It is February in Maine, after all. No worries. We are well stocked and ready to ride out the storm.

I wanted to share a little pink gold with you. As I previously mentioned, Maine shrimp season started in late January, and I was determined not to miss the boat. First up were the trawlers, in which a fishing net is used behind a boat to capture the shrimp. A few weeks later, the trappers’ season opened. Here, the little devils are caught in traps (similar in appearance to lobster traps, but with much smaller holes, obviously). Locals tell us the trapped version are of a higher quality than trawled shrimp. At this point, I can’t really tell the difference.

At the end of the day, I bought 10 pounds of trawled shrimp from a fish market in Bath when the trawl season started. Then I bought the mother-load, 28 pounds, of trapped shrimp from one of our neighbors during the weekend of the blizzard a couple of weeks ago. Over the last few weeks I had to do a lot of cleaning and freezing to make sure this pink gold will last us for awhile.

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While I haven’t used a lot to date (although I see a shrimp dip on the agenda for later this afternoon), we did have good luck with a couple Maine shrimp dinners earlier in the month. The first one was a Thai Tom Kha Gai soup. (Sorry, no pictures of this dish.) There are plenty of recipes on line for this soup, most with chicken. I subbed out chicken for shrimp. We were able to find the other obscure (in Maine at least) ingredients at a terrific new Asian market in Portland, Veranda Asian Market. A key ingredient in the soup is galangal, a member of the ginger family. Also important are lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves. As I usually do with soups, I used a fair amount of homemade stock (made from the shrimp shells). The flavorful stock allowed me to cut back the amount of coconut milk in the recipe. I do love coconut milk, but man, that stuff is full of fat!! This soup is a winner, and when combined with jasmine rice, it’s a wonderful winter meal.

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The other dish in which Maine shrimp were the heroes (as my man Ming Tsai would say) was a white pizza. I made a nice herbed oil sauce (with basil, parsley, garlic, red pepper flakes, and olive oil), and then added mozzarella cheese, sautéed shrimps, spinach, and onions. (See the before shot directly above, and the after at the top of the post.) We like our pizzas nice and thin so they stay crisp on the bottom. I think white shrimp pizza is my all-time fave, and with 30-plus pounds of shrimp in our chest freezer, I see this recipe on my weekly list for a few months to come.

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Happy National Pie Day America!

January 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

Well, how did your National Pie Day celebration go? I’m sure all of you reading this post celebrated this important holiday on Wednesday, January 23rd. I know what you’re thinking. What will the American Pie Council think of next? To persuade unwitting Americans to eat more pie, they’re on the morning shows telling us that pie extends life expectancy and improves performance in the bedroom. They’re on Capitol Hill pushing for another pie tax rollback. Everywhere we look, there they are.

So I’ll apologize at the start for supporting their pie-centric (pie-ist?) agenda. But I’ve drunk the kool-aid my friends. So I decided to honor this day and display my red-blooded American bona fides.

I know you might be expecting me to write about the apple or cherry pie I baked, maybe even a huckleberry pie. (Editor’s note: Hello?! Blueberry Pie? We’re in Maine already.) But since I am a savory kind of guy (editor’s note: swarthy is more like it), I decided to go with a savory pie, a fish pie to be exact. I have limited to non-existent baking skills, so I didn’t think a sweet pie would be a good choice for me.

The fish pie was pretty simple and not fancy at all. I took my inspiration from the British chef Jamie Oliver and made a traditional English-style fish pie. I happened to have about a pound of local pollock in the fridge and thought it would serve well as the basis for a pie.

The ingredients list is fairly basic and can certainly be altered. I sauteed some onions, celery, carrots, and a hot pepper in olive oil along with a little garlic. Meanwhile, I boiled a couple of russet potatoes to mash for the topping. After the veg was tender, I placed it in the bottom of a 9″ cake pan along with chopped parsley and bite-sized pieces of the pollock.

When the potatoes were tender, I drained and mashed them using my ricer and added a little milk and butter. I spread the mash over the top and popped the pan into a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, I shredded some cheddar cheese over the top of the potatoes and cooked the pie for another 10 minutes. At that point the topping had browned some and the cheese was bubbling.

Before we ate, we said the Pledge of Allegiance given that it was National Pie Day. We then switched into pie-eating mode and there was no holding us back. It was a great mix of fish, mashed taters, and veg.

I hope your National Pie Day went as well as ours did. I look forward to reading your comments describing your festivities. One last note, Maine shrimp season started yesterday. It is a very exciting time of year. I will post soon about that. I see a white pizza covered in Maine shrimp coming out of my oven in the very near future.

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Never fresher scallops

January 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Well, it’s still winter here in Five Islands. Thankfully, the last couple of weeks have been pretty easy on us, until today. It was just 10° when I took the dogs for a walk this morning. But because the sun was out, it felt more like 12°, so not too bad. The December snow had almost completely melted before the first January snow came this week. I enjoyed the respite, and right now the streets are clear, making walking and driving no problem.

While I like to complain about the winter, I am actually thrilled that this time of year brings us a new bounty from the sea. Next week, the short Maine shrimp season begins, and I am really looking forward to that. As I mentioned during the “week” of seven fishes, scallop season is under way. (And if you want to say it like the Mainers do, it rhymes with trollop.) Last night I finally scored my first batch of the freshest scallops you can imagine. Literally, I got them right off the boat!

I’ve never had scallops this fresh before. I asked the fisherman to give them to me in the shell because I am a big fan of scallop roe, and it’s almost impossible to find in US seafood markets. A few years back the fish market at Black Salt in DC did come through for me with scallops in the shell on a special order, so they get a star in my book.

It was an entirely different experience getting the scallops so fresh and intact. These scallops were very much alive and not terribly interested in being the main attraction in our dinner. They opened their shells wide and then snapped them shut in self-defense. I can now say I have been bitten by a scallop. Thankfully since they do not have teeth, no injuries were recorded. Amy was freaked out a bit by the way they were moving on the counter and snapping their shells. It was pretty wild.

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A fair amount of work goes into cleaning fresh scallops. You must open the shell, remove the membrane, cut off the stomach and “catch” muscle, and then clean the adductor muscle and any roe, which are the parts you eat. But it’s worth it. And since I call the “picker’s prerogative” whenever I cook, clean, and pick lobsters, I also get to call the “shucker’s prerogative” in scallop prep. It was great snacking on scallop sashimi right out of the shell.

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In addition to the scallops, the fishermen brought me a bag of scallop guts. I know, this sounds weird. But when I told them I was interested in scallops with roe in the shell, they figured I might want some of the extra roe that they normally just toss overboard along with a lot of guts attached. Very thoughtful of them. So I cleaned up the extras and ended up with a nice batch of about 30 scallop roe sacks. I’m a big eater, but this was too much for me, so I’m passing them along to a local chef who will put them to good use. I’ll be very curious to hear how he incorporates fresh scallop roe into his menu this weekend.

Amy and I were content with the roe that came with our scallops in the shell and a few extra for good measure. Given that we had such an abundance, I wanted to do a raw preparation as well as a cooked one. When you’ve got scallops this fresh, you have to eat some of them raw. I had a daikon radish and a good English-style cucumber. My mandolin came in handy here. No, I didn’t bust out any crazy rhythms. I am talking about my mandolin slicer. This is a great kitchen tool that makes very thin slices and matchsticks of firm vegetables. I topped the cucumber slices and radish matchsticks with a soy-lime-ginger sauce and then thinly sliced (with a sharp knife, not the mandolin) my scallops. Oishi.

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For the main course, I sautéed cremini mushrooms, leeks, and garlic, and then added a bit of butter and half and half to make a sauce. I sautéed the scallops and roe in butter for a few minutes on each side.
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I then served them with some black rice and the mushroom-leek combo. (Editor’s note: I’m leaving out the picture of the final dish because my food photography skills are so awful, they just didn’t do it justice.)

In restaurant-speak, the flavor profile of the roe is hard to define. It is definitely a different taste than the scallop itself. There is more bite to the roe than the scallop. And I think the taste is more subtle, but definitely a shot of the ocean. If you can, try it for yourself.

That’s all for now. Next up, Maine shrimp season.

Spaghettini con camarones y tomates

January 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Happy New Year friends. 2013 has arrived in Five Islands with frigid temperatures. When I checked on-line this morning, after the dog walk, the Portland Press Herald said it was 1°. But thankfully it was sunny out so it really only felt like 5°. Dios mio!

I’m not sure I’m cut out for this kind of weather. To me, it’s not the bitter temperatures; it’s the icy roads. I predict at least a few falls for me this year. Also, the sand on the roads inevitably gets caught in the pads of our dogs’ paws (which leads to a very sad 3-legged dance in the middle of the road, sometimes more than one dog at a time), and the snow cover on the ground which most folks say will last for the next 2-3 months. Excuse me? My experiences in southeastern Virginia and Silver Spring did not prepare me for this. Given it’s only January 3rd, I think it’s going to be a long winter for the dogs and me (and for that matter, Amy too). (Editor’s note: Robert does not speak for me. I am shopping for snow shoes and planning to embrace the winter wonderland that is our new home.)

Oh well, pour me another cocktail.

Anyway, while it’s cold outside I like to enjoy the warmth emanating from my kitchen. We’ve almost completed the Week of Seven Fishes. Since I had yet to prepare a proper pasta dish as part of the Feast, I knew one was due. And this pasta is really simple and can be prepared quite easily on just about any night of the week.

The ingredients are basic: dry pasta, tomato sauce, cream or milk, a little parsley, and shrimp. I know I am a broken record, but concerning the shrimp, please buy domestic. The imported are problematic on multiple levels, workers’ rights and the environment at the top of the list. You can get good US shrimp in the frozen section, no problem. It’s a little too early for Maine shrimp, so I had to settle for Gulf shrimp. But they’re pretty tasty too.

While I think this dish is better with a homemade sauce, it could also be done with a good store-bought sauce. And don’t think you can’t buy a store-bought sauce and improve on it at home. Maybe add some herbs, a little garlic powder, and in this case, we want it to be creamy, so add in some cream, half & half, or even milk (not skim milk though). We also want to give it a taste of the sea. That is where the all-important shrimp stock plays a role.

Warm your sauce, cook your pasta a little al dente, combine your ingredients, and you’re ready to go. And if you’re anything like me, a bib comes in handy. Although many of my shirts already have a nice splattered tomato sauce design on them.

Spaghettini with Shrimp and Creamy Tomato Sauce
Inspired by: Capellini with Shrimp and Creamy Tomato Sauce, Gourmet Magazine
Serves 2

About 2 cups of prepared tomato sauce (if you make homemade, start with a good can of San Marzano tomatoes. They are worth it. That is unless you have fresh tomatoes!)
½ cup cream, half & half, or milk
½ pound of shell on medium-size shrimp
About 1 cup of shrimp stock (instructions below)
1-2 T olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
Parsley, some chopped and some left whole
Cayenne (optional)
Peppers corns (optional)
8 oz. of spaghettini or other pasta you enjoy
Salt and pepper, to taste

Thaw shrimp if necessary and then shell them. Take shells and add them to a medium pot. Cover them with water. Add a smashed garlic clove, pinch of salt, and a few stems of parsley. If you have some whole pepper corns in the cabinet, toss in a few. For a little spice, put in a pinch of cayenne. Bring to boil over medium heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Strain the liquid (preferably using a cheese cloth) into a measuring cup. Reserve.

While stock is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Rinse the pot used for the stock and add pasta sauce. Place over medium heat and stir in about 2/3 cup of shrimp stock. Simmer for at least 15 minutes to work in the flavors of the stock. Add dairy and incorporate into the sauce and keep on a simmer until it’s needed.

Add olive oil to a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Once hot, add shrimp and a little salt and pepper and sauté for about 2-3 minutes per side. Look for a nice color and firmness. Poke the shrimp and if they feel firm, take them out of the pan. Reserve.  Shrimp can be cut in half long ways to make them a bit easier to eat in the pasta.  Shrimp can be kept warm in a 200° oven.

Once there’s a rolling boil on the water, toss in the pasta. I would recommend undercooking the pasta slightly since it will continue to cook when sauce is added. Drain the pasta and quickly add it back into the pot. Don’t let all the water drain out of it. You want it to be wet. Put the pot back on medium-low heat and add in the sauce. Go easy. Don’t submerge the pasta. The goal is an even mix so both the pasta and the sauce can shine.

Take a pair of tongs and plate the pasta in serving bowls. Top with shrimp, parsley, and a drizzle of olive oil.

Eat.

Brandade with a smoky twist from the Ducktrap

December 31, 2012 § 2 Comments

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So, the on-line prediction for Saturday night snow was about an inch. When we awoke, it looked more like six inches on the ground here in Five Islands. (Editor’s note: I’m not sure where Robert got that 1 inch prediction, but it led to a rather exciting road trip on Saturday afternoon. And I believe we got more like 8-10 inches overnight.) Well it is Maine. Break out the snow shovel, and the pain meds. Part of the shoveling included clearing a backyard path for the dogs. Their stumpy legs don’t give them a whole lot of room for “taking care of business” when there is more than about 6 inches or so of snow on the ground.

Thankfully, while I will most likely be shoveling a lot more often here than I did in Silver Spring, the yard is much smaller. So there was plenty of time left in the day to prepare dish number five in the Week of Seven Fishes. Another item we picked up on our Friday night sojourn in Portland was smoked trout. There’s a great company here in Maine called Ducktrap River, that smokes all kinds of seafood. Some of their products were available in the DC area (smoked salmon, smoked mussels), but there are a lot more options up here, smoked trout for example.

So I used it to prepare a brandade for our lunch. Traditionally, the Feast of Seven Fishes includes a salt cod brandade. But all of the salt cod available here (and around DC) is Atlantic cod, which is severely overfished. Given this, I thought a more responsible, but still very tasty, choice would be smoked trout. And I must say it turned out well. But unlike many recipes that call for a 2:1 potato to fish ratio, I used a 1.5:1 ratio to allow the fish to shine. I like this method. I have used cod in brandade before with the 2:1 ratio and it was simply too potato-y.

The recipe makes 2 cups, which would easily make four or more appetizer-sized portions served with bread and/or crackers.

All right, only two more dishes left. But given we have New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in front of us, we won’t do dish six until Wednesday. Tonight we’ll be dining at Bar Lola in Portland. And for New Year’s Day, Amy (being a southern girl) insists on serving a big pot of black eyed peas with a nice ham hock and some kale on the side, all for a prosperous new year.

I feel a pasta dish in our future for Wednesday. Until then, we wish you a Happy New Year.

Smoked Trout Brandade
Inspired by: Smoked Trout Brandade, Food and Wine

Makes 2 cups

3-4 T olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/3 cup half and half (can substitute cream or milk here)
12 oz. yellow potatoes, peeled and cut in half
8 oz. smoked trout, flaked and skinned
1 T chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan, cover the potatoes with water and cook until tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain, cool, and put through a ricer.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat 2 T olive oil over medium low heat in a skillet (or the same saucepan where you cooked the potatoes). Add garlic and cook for a minute or two. Stir in the flaked trout. Gently stir in riced potatoes. Stir in the milk/cream. Add parsley and salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the brandade in a shallow baking dish. Bake for about 15 minutes or until heated through. Brown the top under the broiler if desired. Drizzle with remaining oil.

Eat.

Don’t miss the day boat

December 30, 2012 § 2 Comments

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After my day of rest, we had two fishes on Feast day number four. However, I am only counting one as officially part of the “Week of Seven Fishes.” (Editor’s note: Why Robert will only count one of the evening’s two “fishes” is a mystery to me, but the chef gets to make the rules of the Feast.)

We drove down to the big city on Friday afternoon and stopped in at the stellar Harbor Fish Market where we picked up oysters and scallops. We got six Beau Soleil oysters from New Brunswick and six Winterpoints from just around the corner in West Bath. The Beau Soleils were small, delicate, and mildly briny. The Winterpoints are big and briny. I prefer the Winterpoints since they are meatier and have a bigger flavor. But both were tasty in their own way. I served them with lemon wedges, Tabasco sauce, and two types of mignonette (one made from red wine vinegar and one of champagne vinegar). We love us some oysters.

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The star of the night were the local “day boat” scallops. The Maine scallop season began earlier this month. When fresh scallops are available, they don’t even need to be cooked. A touch of salt and a squeeze of lemon, and pop it in your mouth. Heaven.

But for the Feast, I did a little more preparation, serving them seared on a bed of pea puree. This one was a winner on all fronts, and we give the dish a hearty recommendation. But try to get fresh day boat scallops if you can. Also, please avoid “wet” scallops, which are treated with chemical preservatives.

Dish number five up next.

Seared Scallops with Pea Purée
Serves 4 as an appetizer, 2 as a main course

1 finely chopped shallot
3 T olive oil
1 clove minced garlic
16 oz. bag frozen peas (if they’re in season, and you have fresh, use them. Use 2 cups shelled peas)
1 1/4 cup chicken stock or water (use only 1 cup to start)
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 slices of bacon (save some of the rendered fat)
¼ lemon
10-12 “dry” sea scallops (preferably from Gulf of Maine)
About 1 T unsalted butter
Mint leaves (optional)

Thaw frozen peas. Cook bacon, drain, chop, and reserve. Save a tablespoon of fat for cooking the scallops.

Heat 1 T olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic and cook for about 3 minutes until shallots are soft. Add peas, 1 cup stock, salt, and pepper. Bring to simmer over medium heat. For frozen peas, simmer for 3-4 minutes, a little longer for fresh. If you want to add mint, toss a few leaves in at the end.

Transfer contents to a blender and puree until smooth. Add a bit more stock if you want a thinner puree. Return to saucepan and keep warm on back burner.

Pat scallops dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat butter (and less than 1 T bacon fat if you like) in a saute pan over medium heat. When pan is hot, add scallops. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Be careful not to overcook. You really want them just seared on each side and nearly raw in the center. Spoon the fat/butter mixture over the scallops as they cook.

Spread the puree on your plates and arrange your scallops on top (squeeze lemon over scallops). Crumble bacon over the top and drizzle a little olive oil.

Eat. Enjoy.

Lobster Mushroom Risotto

December 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

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We are in the middle of a winter wonderland here in Five Islands. Although we didn’t get too much snow, perhaps 4 inches, it makes our little village look quite picturesque (more than usual, if that’s possible). But the sun is out now and the roads have been plowed, so we are in good shape. We lost power for about 2 hours last night. But as I mentioned yesterday, our generator was gassed up and ready to go. It was our first time using it, and it came through for us. Nothing was going to get in the way of day 3 of the Week of Seven Fishes.

The main Maine crustacean was on display last night, lobster. Day three was all about Lobster and Mushroom Risotto. On Wednesday, Amy and I walked the dogs to the wharf before the storm hit and picked up two 1.5 pound soft-shell lobsters. Thank goodness our friend Libby was at the wharf and ready to sell me some lobsters before the big storm hit. I didn’t want to be unprepared for our Thursday evening feast. After warming up back at home, I thanked the lobsters before steaming them. I let them cool, picked the meat, and then reserved the shells for a key ingredient in my dish, lobster stock.

I picked up some dehydrated chanterelle mushrooms at the Cheese Iron in South Portland (worth the drive for the fabulous cheeses and salumi, by the way), so I thought combining these with lobster would be the way to go. And hey, I was right. The stock is so key here. I made a nice rich lobster stock, and then also reserved the water I used to re-hydrate the mushrooms. This is a great way to get the most out of your ingredients.

If you have made risotto before, you won’t have any problems here. And if you haven’t, just follow the directions and you will be fine. If you don’t want to make stock at home, find a nice fish stock at the store. Get the 32 oz. container. This dish would also work well with shrimp. If you take this route, make sure you buy good shrimp (again, not the cheap imported stuff from Asia) with the shell on. You can use the shells for a great stock. I would buy one pound of shrimp.

I am a huge risotto fan, and I thought the combination of lobster and mushrooms finished with a little cream and butter (say it like Homer: mmmm, butter) was molto buono. This dish was inspired by an Abruzzesse recipe. If you try it, I bet you will be pleased. Make sure you keep it nice and creamy. No dry risotto!

Today is a day of rest for the Feast. I know God works six days straight, but hey, three days straight is my limit. I also don’t have any more fresh fish in the fridge for dish number four. But not to worry, we are headed to Portland tonight. We will pick up whatever looks fresh at the market and be ready for the next dish tomorrow. So stay tuned.

Lobster Mushroom Risotto

(Inspired by Risotto Colle Vongole e Funghi from Food and Memories of Abruzzo by Anna Teresa Callen)
Serves 4

1 cup chopped onion
1 oz. of dehydrated mushrooms (I used chanterelles, but others will do)
1¼ cup arborio rice
1 sliced garlic clove
1-2 1.5 pound lobsters (I had soft-shells, so there was less meat in them than hard shells, but I also did not add all of the meat to the dish. If you want more lobster in the dish, by all means add all the meat!)
1 cup or so of mushroom stock (you’ll get this when rehydrating your mushrooms)
4-5 cups of lobster stock
¼ cup of half and half/heavy cream mixture (optional)
½ tablespoon of butter (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Steam the lobsters. You want them a little under cooked since they will finish cooking in the risotto. For my two 1.5 pound soft-shell lobsters, I steamed them about 8 minutes. If you go longer than this, just don’t add them to your risotto until the very end, when you are only looking for them to be warmed up.

Once done and cooled, pick the meat and reserve the shells for stock. When cleaning the inside of the lobster carcass, rip off the lungs and rinse it off a bit.

I am not particular about making stock. I often use whatever is available. I fill a large pot with water so it covers my shells by a few inches. I then bring it to a simmer and add a big pinch of salt, a garlic clove, celery rib, carrot, leftover onions/leeks, bay leaf, maybe a little fennel, a few pepper corns, and some parsley. I let this simmer anywhere from 60-90 minutes. After straining out the shells and other solids (use a cheese cloth if you have one), I often reduce the stock another 30 minutes or so. It is now set for use with your risotto. You can leave this on a back burner to keep it warm.

To rehydrate your mushrooms, add them to a bowl or measuring cup and cover with hot water. Let steep for 30 minutes and strain them using a cheese cloth. Reserve the liquid. Note: this was a lot of mushrooms for this recipe for four. If you like them, keep this amount. But you could easily get away with rehydrating a ½ ounce or ¾ ounce.

Add oil to a heavy saucepan. Once hot, add your onions and cook 5-7 minutes. Add your garlic and rehydrated mushrooms.  Cook for about a minute and then add your rice and stir to coat it with the oil. I let the rice cook in the oil for about 2 minutes before I start adding my stock.

Add your stock one cup at a time. Since I did not combine my lobster and mushroom stock, I probably had a combination of 80% lobster and 20% mushroom stock for each cup I added to the risotto. Stir the rice and stock to allow the liquid to be absorbed before adding more stock, but this does not have to be constant. Keep the burner at a medium-low setting and just keep your eye on it. You can leave it for a minute or so and nothing bad with happen as long as the burner is not too high!

Keep adding your lobster/mushroom stock as it’s absorbed for 20 minutes or so. You’ll want to add about 5 cups of it in total. Taste your rice to make sure it’s cooked through but still has a little bite to it. You want it a little al dente. When you have incorporated enough stock to reach the right doneness, add the cream and/or half & half and a bit of butter. Stir to incorporate. You want to reach a creamy, slightly soupy consistency. Add the lobster meat and stir gently. I kept some large pieces (tail cut in half and whole knuckles) for presentation on the plate. No cheese is needed here.

Now plate and eat.

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