This risotto is the essence of the seaside, and can be made with any number of shellfish. I use Manila clams (which you can get small), mussels, and either tiny bay shrimp or the boreal pink shrimp that live off both coasts of Canada. You also could use bay scallops, crayfish, bits of crab or lobster, limpets, periwinkles, or really any other shellfish you feel like using.
The keys to this risotto are a perfectly fresh broth, great seafood and the proper rice. I follow the Italian example and use Vialone Nano risotto rice with this recipe. It is the traditional rice to use with a seafood risotto, and it is spectacular: tiny, stubby grains that seem to have twice as much creamy starch as a typical Carnaroli risotto rice. Must you buy Vialone Nano? No, but the dish won't be as good. What you must do is use a short-grained rice—long grained rice will not work here. Trust me.
The only persnickety part of this recipe is picking out the meat from all those tiny clams. But the end result is worth it, as the risotto would be the devil to eat if you had shells in there.
Serves 4 as a side dish or appetizer course
• 1 heaping cup Vialone Nano risotto rice, or other short-grain rice • 1 cup white wine
• 2 pounds small Manila clams • ½ pound mussels
• ¼ pound tiny bay or pink shrimp • 1 finely chopped shallot
• 2 finely chopped garlic cloves • 1 to 2 tablespoons butter
• 2 chopped carrots • 2 chopped celery stalks
• ½ onion, finely chopped • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
• 1 teaspoon coriander seeds • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
• 2 bay leaves
Make the broth. In a large stockpot, pour in eight cups of water, the onion, carrot, celery, thyme, coriander, fennel, and bay leaves and bring to a boil.
Add the mussels and cover the pot. Wait three minutes, then add the clams—if they are small. If the clams are about the same size as the mussels, add them at the same time. But you really want tiny clams here.
Boil this hard for three minutes. Turn off the heat but do not uncover. Wait three more minutes. Uncover and pour through a colander into another large pot—this liquid is your cooking broth.
Let the contents of the colander cool while you pour the broth through a fine-meshed sieve into another pot. Put that pot on the stove on low heat. Do not let it simmer. You want it to just steam.
Meanwhile, pick out all the meat from the mussels and clams and put in a bowl. Add the shrimp to the bowl and set aside.
Get a pot for the risotto and put half the butter in. Turn the heat to medium-high.
When the butter stops frothing add the shallot and saute for two minutes. Add the garlic and saute for another minute. Add the rice and stir to combine. Let this cook, stirring constantly, for one minute.
Pour in the white wine and stir. Stir almost constantly until the wine is almost absorbed. You never want the rice to stick on the bottom, and you want the rice to be moving—this is what makes a proper risotto.
When the wine is nearly gone, add about a cup of the broth and repeat the process. You will need about five cups of broth total before the rice gets to the proper consistency, which is al dente but totally surrounded in creamy sauce. Constantly moving the risotto makes the rice slough off starch, which emulsifies the broth and makes a lovely sauce.
When you get to the last cup of broth, toss in the seafood and the remaining butter.
Serve in bowls with spoons. This is supposed to be a loose risotto. As for a wine, I recommend a Vermentino, Sancerre, or Chenin Blanc—or for a change, some dry sherry.
To read about how a tough day of shellfishing led Hank to prepare this recipe, click here.