Japanese Lemon Herb Risotto
Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat – risotto is not exactly what you’d call Japanese food. But Japan has had an interest in Italian food for a very long time, and it’s never been shy about adapting it to Japanese tastes. Westerners living in Japan introduced certain elements over the decades, but things really picked up with the flow of American GIs who arrived with truckloads of spaghetti following WWII. Nowadays you’ll find an entire category of wafu (Japanese-style) pasta dishes like mentaiko spaghetti, uni pasta, and shiso pasta.
But what about rice? Japan hasn’t traditionally messed around too much with rice, preferring to keep it quite simple. Even ‘classic’ Japanese dishes like donburi (rice bowls with toppings) were met with considerable disapproval when first introduced. But this isn’t exactly a wafu dish, but a hybrid of Italian technique and some Japanese flavours. I developed this dish to test out a few theories I had about risotto and Japanese ingredients, and I’m quite glad I did, because the end result was spectacular and just distinctive enough to raise a few (probably Italian) eyebrows.
First and foremost, this dish foregoes the fancy risotto rice varieties like Arborico or Carnaroli in favour of cheap and simple Japanese short-grain white rice. The small, plump, starchy grains turn out to work perfectly as a base for risotto as they absorb liquid beautifully, becoming sticky and creamy without losing their shape or texture. Secondly, the dish swaps out white wine for sake, which contributes a sharp but pleasingly mellow flavour to the dish.
If you’ve ever wanted to try risotto but you’ve been uncertain about the technique or uninterested in forking out the money for expensive rice, I seriously suggest you give this a shot. It’s creamy, cheesy, and rich the way you want a risotto to be, but bright and fresh with the taste of lemon and parsley. It stands beautifully on its own or as the base for another dish (like this Ginger Karashi Chicken, shown at the bottom of this post). As for the technique, it’s actually not that tough to pull off – just make sure you have everything ready to go before you start, and keep a close eye on things as you work.
Buon appetito, or itadakimasu. Either way, yum.
If you want to take this even further in a Japanese direction and you happen to have fantastic access to some fairly specific ingredients, there are two variations that you can follow.
First, you can swap out all or part of the lemon juice with yuzu juice (which you can get bottled at Japanese grocery stores). If you’re lucky enough to get actual yuzu fruit, you can also swap out the zest. Yuzu will impart a flavour that is somewhere between lemon and orange, with a very slightly bitter, almost herbal quality. Regardless of the fruit you use, thin strips of zest (as opposed to grated) are ideal for adding little punches of flavour to the dish.
Second, you can swap out the parsley for mitsuba (sometimes called Japanese trefoil). The leafy green herb is a relative of parsley, and it has a flavour somewhere between parsley and celery.
If you want to go away from the Japanese flavours altogether and bring this back into the realm of ‘pure’ Italian cooking, use white wine and make sure to watch your cook times carefully. This might sound like sacrilege, but if you can’t find (or don’t want to pay for) a good risotto rice variety, try out Japanese shortgrain rice. You might be surprised.
If you want to make this dish vegetarian, simply swap out the chicken stock for a good quality vegetable stock.
Make sure you use a good, fresh flat-leaf parsley; curly parsley often has a weaker flavour and a less pleasant texture.
No Ingredient Pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
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