But then, by Saturday, it had turned hot again, like, summertime hot. I scrapped my chowder idea and started planning anew. And this is when I fully realized just how many of my cookbooks are organized by season. And well, when it's 90 degrees at the end of October, much of fall's bounty just doesn't feel right, and, at the same time, the summer produce has been gone for almost a month. So, I split the difference by grabbing a recipe from the spring section of David Tanis' A Platter of Figs.
Tanis has led me astray in the past, but his heart is always in the right place, inspiring me with not just one recipe to attempt but a whole menu. This spring menu? Champagne and oysters, lobster risotto with spicy mayonnaise, and ambrosia for dessert. And damnit, if I had the budget, I would have attempted the whole thing. Sadly, I had to leave the oysters out. (This Christmas though, I'm going to buy a whole slew of oysters and serve them starting at noon. Do you hear that, family? I said there's going to be oysters this Christmas! Oysters and Les Miserables at the Arclight. TMI? NEI (not enough information)?)
Here's the thing about entertaining with risotto. If you have a kitchen that's out in the open or big enough where people can gather with you as you stir and add broth, it's actually a fine dish to serve to dinner guests. There's only one way you can really mess this up, and that's by starting to add the broth too soon and then finishing the dish before the guests even arrive, which may have been what I did. And then what happens is you end up frowning and apologizing for soggy risotto all night. Sure, it tasted great, but, by my estimation, the texture was a bit soft.
2 large onions
1 stick butter
salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1/2 teaspoon saffron, crumbled
1 bay leaf
2 garlic cloves
6 cups warm lobster broth or (for us regular people) chicken broth
3 1/2 cups cooked lobster meat, roughly chopped (I used 4 tails.)
a handful of chopped parsley
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
2 tablespoons chopped chives
fresh lemon juice from a wedge or two
spicy lobster mayonnaise (recipe follows)
In a heavy-bottomed pot, saute the onions in the butter, adding a little salt, until they are translucent, 5 minutes or so. Increase the heat and add the olive oil, rice, saffron, bay leaf, garlic, and a little more salt. Stir until the rice is sizzling and aromatic. Add 2 cups broth and bring to a boil (from this point, it will take 15 or 20 minutes to cook the rice).
Set the fire to keep the liquid at a brisk simmer. This is critical. If the flame is too low, the rice will become soggy; if is too high, the liquid will simply evaporate instead of being absorbed by the rice. You'll need to keep adjusting the heat to keep the risotto simmering correctly. Stirring occasionally, allow the broth to reduce almost completely, until little sinkholes appear on the surface. Add another cup of broth and repeat. Adjust the seasoning with each addition of liquid. Add a final cup of broth and repeat. A little more salt, or more broth, may be required. When the rice is done, it should be just al dente and a bit soupy.
Just before serving, add the cooked lobster meat and season it with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the herbs and lemon juice over the lobster, then gently mix with a wooden spoon—avoid smashing the rice. Add a little more warm broth, so the risotto is easily spoonable. Serve the risotto in a warmed shallow soup plate, and pass a bowl of the spicy lobster mayonnaise, so each person can add a small spoonful.
Spicy Lobster Mayonnaise via A Platter of Figs
Tanis practically shamed me into making this from scratch. His words: "I believe it's important to make your own mayonnaise. It is not hard to do, and no matter how many cookbooks or food magazines recommend mayonnaise from a a jar as a good substitute, I strongly, vehemently disagree.
Here's the thing, guys. It's not hard to do. Does it take extra time, and will your arm hurt from whisking? Yes. OK, here's how Tanis says to do it:
Whisk two egg yolks in a bowl. Slowly stir in olive oil, a spoonful at a time, until an emulsion forms. As the sauce thickens, continue whisking and adding oil in a slow, steady stream.
When the mayonnaise is quite thick (you'll have used about a cup of oil at this point), thin with a teaspoon of broth or water. Season with salt, pepper, and a good pinch of ground red pepper, such as hot paprika. (I used crushed chili flakes.) Whisk in another 1/2 cup olive oil. Thin again, and adjust the seasoning. Add a few drops of lemon juice or red wine vinegar, and a little more broth or water. The finished mayo should be the texture of softly whipped cream.