Jamie’s Seafood Risotto

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The final leg of this long journey by steamship will take us across the Arabian Sea. Let’s bid farewell to the Middle East with a very special ingredient that is also found in Indian cooking: saffron. The bulb is said to have first made its way to England in the pocket of a son of Essex who found it in Tripoli. The flower adapted nicely and grew very well in the fields around our pilgrim’s home — so much so that the area became known as Saffron Walden (‘walde’ being the Anglo-Saxon for ‘field’). When I asked Jamie Oliver for his favourite saffron-based recipe, he shouted, ‘Lord of Loftus, it is the seafood risotto I made for you on the steps of Villa Petrolo, don’t you remember?’ I do…

Ingredients

  • 1.1 litres/2 pints organic fish stock
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • A knob of butter
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • ½ a head of celery, finely chopped
  • ½ a bulb of fennel, finely chopped, herby tops reserved
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • A pinch of crumbled dried chilli
  • A pinch of saffron strands
  • 400g/14oz risotto rice
  • 2 wine glasses of dry white vermouth or dry white wine
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1.5kg/lb cleaned and prepared mixed seafood

To Finish the Risotto

  • 70g butter
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Leaves from a Small bunch of fresh parsley, chopped

Method

Red mullet, monkfish, bream, John Dory, cod, mussels, clams, prawns and squid would all be suitable for this recipe. Put a shallow pan on a medium heat and fill three quarters of the way up with boiling water. Poach the fish, excluding any squid, prawns or shellfish, for 3—5 minutes, or until cooked through. Leave to cool a little while you get on with the risotto.

Heat the fish stock in a large pan. Put the olive oil and butter into a separate pan, add the onion, garlic, celery, fennel, fennel seeds, chilli and saffron and cook slowly for 15 minutes without colouring. Add the rice and turn up the heat. Stir for a minute, then add the vermouth or wine.

Now add a ladleful of the hot stock and a pinch of salt. Turn down to a simmer and keep adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring and letting each one be absorbed before adding the next. After about 15 minutes the rice should be soft but still have a slight bite. Flake the fish into the risotto and add any squid, prawns or shellfish — after 3 or 4 minutes the shellfish will have opened (discard any that remain closed). Remove the pan from the heat.

Add the butter, and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and squeeze over the lemon juice. Serve sprinkled with the parsley and the reserved fennel tops.

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