Riso al salto, which means ‘tossed rice’, is basically risotto that has been pan-seared in a little oil or fat. But Antonello Esposito, who is the chef responsible for Aldo’s, explains that whereas in a risotto you’re aiming for a creamy consistency (what Italians call la cottura all’onda or ‘the wave effect’), riso al salto demands a much drier finish. Only when much of the liquid has been absorbed can the rice be formed into the cylindrical patties that this recipe calls for – but you don’t want the patties to be too dry, or they’ll fall apart when you try to place them in the pan. As always, practice makes perfect.
At Aldo’s, these rice patties are served with calamari and a delicate saffron sauce, but they lend themselves to various toppings and sauces. Why not experiment? We’d love to hear about any variations that you come up with… who knows, maybe we’ll put the one we like best on the Aldo’s menu next year!
SAFFRON PAN-SEARED RICE WITH CALAMARI
For the rice:
- 250g (9oz, 1 ¼ cup) Carnaroli or other risotto rice
- 2 medium sized calamari (squid), cleaned, mantle (body) only
- 1 tbsp clarified butter
- salt and pepper and olive oil to taste
- herbs for garnish: for example parsley, rocket, chervil
For the stock:
- 3 celery stalks
- 4 carrots
- 2 onions
- 3 liters water
For the saffron sauce:
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and well boiled
- 16 saffron threads
Before you start, it’s important to understand what you’ll be doing towards the latter stages of this recipe. In order to create four cylindrical burger-shaped patties, you’re going to spoon the rice into four stainless steel cooking rings (small cake or large muffin rings would work best – aim for a diameter of between 4 and 5 inches, 10 to 12.5cm). To do this as efficiently as possible, we suggest placing the rings on a baking sheet or tray that has been lined with aluminium foil. If you can find one where the rings fit snugly, all the better, but be aware that you will need to get the rice patties out of the tray, and out of the rings, in order to pan-sear them. We recommend putting both the lined baking tray and the rings in the fridge or freezer beforehand, as the colder the patties are, the better they will retain their shape.
A word too about the calamari or squid: only the mantle, the large conical case above the eyes and tentacles, is used in this recipe (you can always use the rest in a seafood pasta dish). Make sure the two mantles are well cleaned out.
Begin by making a risotto. There are different schools of thought as to how to start a risotto, but Antonello favors the classic Italian approach: begin by toasting the rice in a dry pan, then add the salt, then add the stock, which should be very nearly boiling. How do you know when it’s time to add the stock? “When you pick up a grain of rice”, Antonello says, “and it’s so hot it burns your fingers”. Keep on adding stock and stirring gently as you normally would when making a risotto. Around halfway through, add eight of the saffron threads. Cook for at least a minute more than you would a normal risotto, without adding more stock, stirring to help the rice dry out, and to make sure it doesn’t stick to the pan. Note that you should not use up all of the stock: you need to keep some aside for the saffron sauce.
Turn off the heat, let the rice cool down a little, and meanwhile get your cooking rings and baking tray out of the fridge or freezer. Place the cooking rings on the aluminium foil in the tray, and spoon in the cooked rice, pressing down with your hand to create a uniform layer of around 2 centimeters or ¾ of an inch (if it comes out a little more or less than this, it’s fine). Leave the rice discs in a cool place – back in the freezer for a few minutes is quickest, if you have one big and powerful enough to cope with the thermic shock.
Now turn your attention to the saffron sauce. Pour around 1 cup (250ml) of hot but not boiling stock into a blender bowl, add the saffron threads, and stir to infuse. Now add the well-boiled potatoes, roughly chopped, plus salt and pepper to taste, and blitz in the blender. You’re aiming for a pouring sauce with a creamy consistency; it may well be a little too dense at this point, depending on the size of the potatoes you used – if so, add more stock in small increments until it’s just right.
It's calamari time. Begin by cutting the mantle into thin rings (see photo). You can either leave these whole or make a single incision in each one so they spiral when cooked. If you have a sous-vide machine at home, cook them for half an hour with a drizzle of oil at 65°C (150°F). If you don’t, steaming is probably the best method, and the calamari will need less time until tender, maybe ten minutes at most (test with a knife). Dress the calamari with salt, pepper, and a little good olive oil.
Finally, heat the purified butter in a frying pan large enough to take all four patties without crowding. When nice and hot, push the rice patties carefully out of their rings directly over where you want them to land in the pan (take care as the hot butter may spit) and sear for around three minutes on each side until they form a golden crust. Take out and drain on kitchen paper.
Now assemble the dish. Pour a layer of warm saffron sauce into each plate, set the rice patty in the centre, top with the calamari, and garnish with herbs or leaves as your fancy takes you.
Photos © Roberto Salomone
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