Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Risotto Innovation

Last weekend we had dinner at Jane's house, and she made one of her specialties: Mom's Gooey Chicken. What this entails, essentially, is a chicken broken down into its eight pieces (for those who have never seen a chicken: two wings, breasts, thighs, and legs), and baked at 350 atop a generous layer of peppers, onions, and a somewhat secret recipe of seasoning and sauces. I know Worcestershire sauce plays a key role, but the rest is a bit of a mystery. At any rate, as the chicken cooks, it renders its fat and juices into the peppers, onions, and sauce, thickening like only natural animal fat can. Once everything cooks together, a few key stirs and what you have beneath (and all over) the chicken is a viscous, luscious, hearty sauce with a flavor all its own. It is called Mom's Gooey Chicken for a reason, and that reason is: it is very, very gooey. And holy moly, it is DELICIOUS.

Anyway, this is admittedly not a revolutionary way to cook chicken and it's not why I'm writing... though now that I'm here, I'm glad that Mom's Gooey Chicken is getting lauded, whatever the circumstances, because it's freaking scrumptious. No, what was new and neat and turned into gastronomic gold is what we did with the scraps.

After we polished off the chicken, we took a metal spatula and scraped all that amazing incredible goodness off the bottom of the roasting pan. I mean, seriously, we got in there and scooped up every last bit. What we ended up with was a ziplock bag of... goo. And if we're being honest, it wasn't much to look at. You know what pan scrapings look like, they're dark and sludgy and a little chunky; and I realize at this point I'm not doing a very good job of foreshadowing anything delicious, but bear with me...

I had assumed we'd end up using it for a sauce, maybe adding some booze to thin it or some flour to thicken it. We talked about making a tart out of it, or maybe just tossing some root vegetables in with a little water and making a hearty soup. Our (almost) final decision was to toss it with some pasta, something, ideally, like a rigatoni or a farfalle, whose shape and texture would best absorb and hold its ooey-gooey goodness. And then Julia took it one step further; what kind of pasta would do the absolute most absorbing? The answer was the pasta that is not a pasta at all: risotto.

We toasted the Arborio in a heavy pot for a few minutes, then added the goo and let it reduce a bit as the little grains of rice began to drink up the flavor-rich moisture. From then, we cooked it in typical risotto style; the water we used to hydrate and cook the rice had nothing more than a pinch of salt, a drizzle of oilve oil, and a parmesan rind. We stirred in some frozen peas, finished with some grated Reggiano, and dinner was served.

The flavor was even more concentrated than it had been on the chicken. At this point, the goo had been cooked down so long that it was simply bursting with hearty goodness. It was earthy, sweet, a little tangy, and had that juicy, sticky mouthfeel imparted from the chicken fat. Just so much flavor in every bite, it made me smile all the way to the last spoonful. Gotta love our new house favorite: Mom's Gooey Risotto.

*In retrospect, the one tiny thing I would have done differently is to have actually deglazed the pan, most likely with some white wine (though almost any wine would work). Also, this dish could be replicated (or improved upon) by using the scrapings from any roast dish. Ideally, you want some type of roast beast, as opposed to just a bunch of veggies, because the fat and gelatin from the meat or poultry is what will get into the goo to get it thick and velvety. However, if you must omit the meat, you could use a generous chunk of butter to help achieve the ideal texture and flavor (hell, throw the butter in even if there's meat!). Just roast your food as you normally would, and then once you pull out the main event, throw the roasting pan on a burner at high heat, wait for everything to start bubbling, then add your wine or booze (about a half a cup) to facilitate scraping the goodness off the pan. Sample booze generously.

1 comment:

  1. Delicious idea Johnny. Just wondering, do you think I could substitute butterbean puree for the risotto if I don't have any on hand? Thanks ;)