The most curious things in life come in three notable forms, I believe. One of them would be the origin of cliches, another the nature of stereotypes, and yet another perhaps, just perhaps, and you would have to bear with me without so much as an eye roll I hope, is the atrocity that fusion food is. So...atrocity it was in my mind's eye, and so I concluded until no more than two years ago to be exact. My distasteful experiences with fusion in the past--the kinds that were harmful to my knowledge of food since I had never met a dish I didn't like prior--begged to be settled by a revolutionary fusion dish. A dish that would enlighten my senses and help me embrace all forthcoming gustatory experiences. Little did I know that a single visit to Marugame Monzo in LA's Little Tokyo would change all that immediately.
Somehow and some way, some person in a distant land but maybe not so distant at all--since I could take a wild guess that he or she was from the revolutionary culinary scene of the West Coast--took a high risk in the culinary world. That somebody was a visionary. He envisioned the euphoria one would experience at the first taste of Italian and Japanese cuisine hybrid. And although the two have no business in being together, a hot, mouthwatering house made udon swimming in creamy sea urchin or a rich, buttery mentaiko sauce, reminiscent of the best alfredo you could ever try (mentaiko actually originating from Korea so that's an extra fusion factor), can change all close mindedness. This kind of dish is absolutely consuming and something every palate deserves to encounter.
After having tried all of those at Marugame, I haven't been able to go more than a week without day dreaming about it at least once. One of these days I'll pay my overdue visit, that's for sure, but I am also pretty satisfied with this uni risotto dish I made last week. It is creamy just the way it is thanks to the inclusion of arborio rice, and to make matters more irresistible, the naturally creamy consistency of uni makes it seem as if an entire stick of butter went into the pot. But, knowing that I'm not the only who dreads cooking rice via the stove top method, I referred to the brilliant Laura of A Beautiful Plate who, without ever holding her breath, generously shares her culinary knowledge with her readers. She eagerly spews out the most practical kitchen tips that easily take a dish from acceptable to satisfactory. She is, without a doubt, the one to partially thank for inspiring this post.
According to Laura, and as I myself was able to conclude following this successful uni risotto recipe, adding white wine to the rice as the base will prevent it from sticking and burning, therefore making it a flexible dish since stirring is virtually not required. I would suggest stirring two times and three at the most. It is this simple ingredient that adds flavor and ease to your labor--believe it or not. Also to be noted, you can use fresh uni from your local vendor but for this recipe I opted for the seasoned variety, found at the Mitsuwa chain grocery which, if you live in Southern California, can make for a fun drive to Torrance, Costa Mesa, Los Angeles, and even a few other select locations in the U.S.
Creamy No-Stir Uni and Shrimp Risotto
Makes 3-4 main course servings || With help from Laura
Time: approximately 50 minutes
Equipment: large pot with wide surface (preferred), chopping knife, wooden spoon
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 tsp salt plus sprinkle of black pepper
1 pound deveined shrimp with shell (I used frozen)
1 1/4 cups arborio rice
1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms (optional but recommended)
1 vegetable or chicken bouillon
1/2 cup white wine
5 cups water
6 saffron threads (optional but highly recommended)
juice of 1 lemon
2.3 ounces Uni (or about 6 pieces)
1/3 cup shredded parmigiano, plus more for garnish
In a large pot, preferably one with a large surface as height of the pot doesn't matter so much, melt butter on medium heat. Cook onion, garlic, salt and pepper for about 1 minute until onion is slightly translucent/tender. Add shrimp with the shell on and cook stirring a few times, until shrimp is slightly pink or orange on both sides. About 1-1.5 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a bowl and set aside.
Now that we have the flavor base, toast and coat the rice in the base at medium heat, stirring frequently just to get it slightly translucent but not tan or burnt. About 2 minutes. Addthe bouillon followed by white wine, and when alcohol is slightly evaporated, you may add water. At this point the stirring becomes less frequent. Simmer the stock for 2 minutes or so, transfer just a tablespoon of the stock to a small bowl and throw in a pinch of saffron threads. This will create a depth of flavor. Set aside for a few minutes for the flavors to meld.
Continue to simmer the rice for about 6 minutes, throw in the small mixture of stock and saffron, juice of once lemon, and stir once one twice. Cook for approximately 6 more minutes or until rice is tender. But you may need a little bit more water if it's too thick for your liking. The highlight of risotto is its creaminess. Add Uni but reserve 3 of them if you want to use as garnish, some shredded parmigiano, and stir over medium heat until everything is melted and roughly incorporated. Serve with herbs on top and the reserved Uni if you like.
What are your thoughts on fusion food? Any good or not so palatable experiences? Or how about a place you swear by?