Risotto di scampi (Prawns)
If you love that dense savoury umami flavour you get from prawns, then I urge you to make this dish. Satisfying is an understatement.
The key ingredient is prawns, and they must be raw with their shells and heads still on to make the stock. The shells and the heads are full of the naturally occurring umami compound called glutamate and it’s the glutamate that gives this risotto its unbelievable flavour. The bright orange colour seeps out of the shells when cooked.
I buy a huge box of raw shell on prawns a couple of times a year from Billingsgate market (I divide the prawns into bags and store in the freezer) so I always have a good supply. Chinese and Thai supermarkets sell boxes of frozen raw shell on prawns – they usually have a big selection and varying prawn sizes. I’ve also noticed that some of the supermarkets have picked up on this trend and have started selling boxed frozen raw shell on prawns (approx. £8 for 600g) in Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Iceland.
The other key ingredient is the risotto rice. This is a Venetian recipe and the preferred choice of rice from the Veneto is Vialone nano. This variety of rice creates a soupy creamy consistency. It's described by the Venetians as all’onda, which means ‘wavy’, when you tilt the pan the surface of the rice should ripple like waves in the ocean!
Miraculous ingredients: Vialone nano risotto rice, raw shell on prawns, dry white wine
Risotto di scampi (Prawns)
1 carrot, peeled and cut in half
1 brown onion
1 celery stalk, cut in half
30g unsalted butter
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
600g raw shell on prawns (approx. 15 large prawns)
½ glass of dry white wine
3 tablespoons cognac
15g fresh parsley, finely chopped
1⅔ cup Vialone nano risotto rice (or Carnaroli risotto rice)
¼ teaspoon sea salt
50g freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
First prepare the stock: Remove the shells and heads from all the prawns (I like to leave the tail on, just because I think it looks pretty in the dish and you can hold the tail with your fingers and bite the prawn clean away!). Put the shelled prawns to one side and place the shells, heads, carrot, ½ the onion, celery, bay leaf and 2 litres of water in a large sauce. Simmer almost on the verge of a boil for 30 minutes, the liquid will reduce and turn a strong orange colour. Add sea salt to taste (I usually add at least one teaspoon, but you might have to add more).
Place a large frying pan with fairly deep sides on a medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the remaining ½ onion and the garlic, both finely chopped and lightly brown, about 5 minutes. Add the raw prawns and as soon as they start to change from grey to pale pink (about 3 minutes) add all the wine, parsley and cognac. Continue to cook on a medium heat until the wine and cognac have evaporated, about 6 minutes.
Add the vialone nano rice to the pan and ¼ teaspoon of salt, stir and add a ladle of the prawn shell stock (which has boiled for 30 minutes and the heat can now be reduced to a simmer). Stir the rice, prawns and stock on a low heat (it should be a simmer) until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid. Add another ladle of stock, stir again until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid. Repeat the last step until most of the stock has been used and the rice is cooked to an al dente texture (soft with a ‘bite’ in the middle of the grain, but not mushy).
When the rice is cooked, make sure that there is still a enough liquid in the pan to create a soupy consistency, add the butter, Parmigiano Reggiano, stir and serve immediately.
Preparation time 15 minutes, cooking 1 hour, 4 adult portions