Risotto has an intimidating reputation, but as long as you add the cooking liquid slowly and wait for the rice to absorb it, it’s fairly easy to get the texture right. I like to make mine on the loose side because by the time it makes it to the table it will have tightened up considerably. By adding the mussel cooking liquid to a light vegetable broth, you’ll infuse the rice with deep mussel flavor. Sorrel is the star herb here, offering lemony flavor without the acidity. It’s a perfect companion to seafood.
For the stock:
2 cups white wine
4 cups water
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 white onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
For the risotto:
1 white onion, chopped
1¾ cup white wine, divided
2–3 pounds mussels, scrubbed and debearded
6 cups light vegetable stock (see recipe)
2 shallots, minced
4 green garlic scapes or 1 clove garlic, minced
4 tablespoons butter
1½ cup carnaroli or arborio rice
8 large leaves of sorrel
Make the vegetable stock: In a large stockpot add the wine, water and vegetables. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and let simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes. Strain the stock into another pan, discarding the vegetables, and keep stock warm on the stove. (Alternatively, use 6 cups boxed or bottled vegetable stock.)
Prepare the mussels for the risotto: In another saucepan place the chopped onion, 1 cup wine, the mussels and 1 cup of the vegetable stock. Cover, bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes, or until the mussels begin to open. Using tongs, remove the mussels 1 by 1 as they open and reserve in a large bowl. Strain the liquid into the reserved vegetable broth, discarding the onion. Keep the new stock simmering while you start the risotto.
Melt the butter in a shallow saucepan and cook the shallot and garlic over medium-low heat until translucent; season with salt and pepper. Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat; continue stirring for a few minutes to toast the rice. Add ¾ cup wine and raise the heat to medium-high. Allow the wine to bubble and reduce until the liquid is almost gone.
Add hot stock to the rice 1 ladleful at a time, stirring frequently, allowing the rice to absorb each addition of liquid before adding more. It will take about 25 minutes to absorb all the stock; when the rice tastes cooked but is still a little firm in the middle, it is done. Season with salt to taste.
While you’re working on the risotto, remove most of the mussel meat from the shells, reserving a few in shells to garnish each serving, if you like. Add any residual liquid from the bottom of the bowl to the simmering stock. Set the mussel meat and garnish aside until the risotto is ready, keeping warm near the stove.
To finish, roughly chop 4 leaves of the sorrel and stir into the rice along with the shelled mussels. Roll the remaining 4 sorrel leaves roll into a tube and slice them into a chiffonade (see story for technique). Divide the risotto between 6 warmed, shallow bowls and garnish with reserved mussels in shells and the chiffonade of sorrel.
BEN RIGBY is a professional cook, freelance writer and anthropologist. Amateur gardening and banjos round out the days. Follow him on instagram at @rigbybenjamin