Risotto is one of my FAVORITE dishes of all time! During our time in Italy, I tried to order risotto as much as possible. From the classic Milanese risotto in Milan to a fantastic seafood risotto in Gatteo a Mare. Moreover, if I was not ordering risotto, I was making it! Our hosts from Brescia taught me how to make authentic risotto a few times. So after first-hand experience of learning from Italians, I am excited to share how to make this authentic seafood risotto.
When you Google seafood risotto, most recipes will show the risotto plain in color or slightly yellow. Very few seafood risotto recipes will have a deep orange or red tint to the risotto. Why? Because they are leaving out one of the most authentic ingredients – tomatoes!
Again, I spent two months in Italy and all of the seafood risottos I came across had tomato sauce. I also looked at several authentic Italian cookbooks of mine and they too always have tomato sauce. Hence why this seafood risotto recipe is 100% authentic to Italy.
I hope I make my Italian hosts, family, and Italy proud!
Enjoying Seafood Risotto in Gatteo a Mare
I still remember this day like it was yesterday. My sister, uncle, cousin, Adam, and I went for a walk along the beach in Gatteo a Mare, Italy. A small coastal town in the Emilia Romagna region, where my dad’s family still lives.
Remembring this day still brings a huge smile to my face. We came across this awesome area with a soccer field and bocce ball courts. So, we found a soccer ball and began to play as a family for hours. Of course, after playing for so long, we began to have a big appetite. Luckily, the soccer fields were next to this little beach restaurant. We ordered seafood linguine and seafood risotto. To this day, these are two of the best seafood dishes I have ever had.
Sometimes you cannot beat the simple things in life – a day on the beach with family playing bocce ball, soccer, soaking up the views of the ocean, and enjoying authentic seafood dishes. So this recipe is inspired by this amazing day on the beach.
What is Risotto?
Risotto is a beloved creamy Italian dish made with a specific type of short-grain white rice. Most types of risottos are grown in Northern Italy near Milan and Turin. Two of the most popular types of risotto are Carnaroli and Arborio – the latter being the easiest to find in grocery stores and what I typically use.
Risotto can transform from a simple recipe to almost anything you can imagine. From seafood risotto to wild mushroom, truffle and parmesan, beetroot, artichoke, and more. Your options are endless, you just have to be creative!
How to Cook Risotto Properly?
A lot of people will shy away from making risotto at home because it can be a difficult recipe. On the contrary, risotto is simple to cook if you have patience and love.
The correct cooking method of risotto starts with a foundation of oil to saute onion or shallots with garlic. Then you lightly toast the risotto for a few minutes and add white wine to the pot. Once the risotto absorbs the white wine, you will slowly add a ladle of hot broth. When the risotto absorbs all the liquid, you add another ladle of broth until the risotto is cooked to perfection.
During this time, you want to continue to stir the risotto to allow for an evenly cooking distribution. Furthermore, stirring also helps to refrain the risotto from burning on the bottom of the pot. If you bite into a risotto kernel and it is still chalky hard, then you need to continue the cooking process. The final product of risotto should be tender, but still firm to the bite. It should never be soft in the center.
Seafood Risotto Ingredients
In addition to risotto, the main ingredient of this dish is a variety of seafood. For the best results, I recommend buying fresh seafood but frozen seafood works too. Feel free to pick and choose your favorite seafood – just make sure you have a total of 24 ounces of seafood.
- Olive oil
- White onion
- Garlic cloves
- Lemon juice
- Tomato paste
- Flat-leaf parsley
- Parmesan cheese
- Arborio risotto
- Fish stock/broth or vegetable broth
- White wine
- Prawns or shrimp
- Baby scallops
- Baby squid (calamari rings)
How to Make Authentic Seafood Risotto
The first step to making this authentic seafood risotto is heating up your fish stock (or vegetable broth) in its own pot. Then you will cook the mussels separately from the risotto in a stockpot of white wine and garlic. While you wait for the mussels to steam, you can start sauteing the garlic and white onion with olive oil in a large pot, such as a Dutch oven pot. Once the mussels finish cooking (when the shell opens), keep a few mussels in the shell and shuck the rest. Set all the mussels aside.
Once the white onion is translucent add the risotto and lightly toast the kernels for 3 – 5 minutes. Deglaze the pot with white wine and lemon juice and stir occasionally until the risotto absorbs all the liquid. Then mix the tomato paste and water together and add into the risotto till it absorbs the liquid again. Slowly add a ladle of hot broth into the risotto and continuously stir until the risotto absorbs all of the broth. At this time, you will want to start a timer for 18 minutes.
It is important to not over stir, but continue to stir the risotto gently. In addition, you should only add a ladle of broth at a time once it has completely absorbed into the risotto. Do not add broth too soon.
Once 18 minutes have passed, add the shucked mussels, prawns, baby scallops, and baby squid to the risotto. Continue the process of adding broth and stirring continuously for another 7 minutes or until the risotto is cooked to perfection – tender yet firm to the bite.
Add grated parmesan cheese to the risotto to make it extra creamy and delicious. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Then garnish with chopped flat-leaf parsley and the mussels in the shell. Serve and enjoy!
Tips and Tidbits
Here are a few tips and tidbits that help me cook perfect risotto.
One of the most important elements of cooking risotto is proper equipment. I really enjoy cooking risotto in a dutch oven pot but a (high-sided) stainless steel saute pan works too. Moreover, in my days of working in a fine-dining Italian restaurant, a copper pot was the very best way to cook risotto. With that said, as long as you have a wide and deep pot that is completely level on the bottom, it will work great.
- If your pot does not have high sides, then you might have risotto overflowing.
- If your pot is not level, the risotto will not cook evenly. You will have some perfectly cooked kernels and others that are still uncooked.
The cooking time of risotto can vary but the standard time is between 25 – 30 minutes for absolute perfection. It is advised to check your risotto at 20 minutes and adjust your time accordingly.
Nine times out of ten, I find that recipes never have the correct amount of broth. At 20 minutes of cooking risotto, I tend to always run out of the broth due to evaporation. So I like to always heat up more broth than needed – even with my own recipe. If I still need more broth, hot water works perfectly fine.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium white onion, diced
- 6 garlic cloves (4 for risotto, 2 for mussels), minced
- 1 1/4 cup white wine (1/4 for risotto, 1 cup for mussels)
- 2 cups Arborio risotto
- 4 tablespoon lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons tomato paste
- 4 tablespoons water
- 6 cups fish stock or vegetable broth
- 7 ounces live mussels
- 7 ounces prawns or shrimp
- 7 ounces baby scallops
- 7 ounces baby squid (calamari rings)
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook the mussels first. In a stockpot, combine wine, garlic, and salt. Bring to a simmer on medium heat and add live mussels. Cover the stockpot and steam mussels on medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until the mussels open. Remove from heat and throw away any mussels that do not open. Set aside 12 mussels with shell and shuck the rest.
- Heat up the fish stock in its own pot on medium heat. If it comes to a boil, lower the heat.
- Warm the olive oil on medium heat in a large, tall-sided pot. Then add the white onion and garlic. Saute the onions until its translucent.
- Add risotto to the pot and toast the kernels for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally to not brown the kernels. Then deglaze the pot with the white wine and lemon juice. Once the risotto absorbs the liquids, mix together the water and tomato paste. Then add it to the risotto and stir until the risotto absorbs all the liquid again.
- Add a ladle of warm fish stock to the risotto and stir continuously. When the risotto absorbs ALL the stock, add another ladle and repeat this process for 18 minutes. Make sure you stir the risotto gently to distribute the cooking process evenly. Do not forget to continue to scrape the bottom of the pot so the risotto does not burn.
- Once 18 minutes have passed, add the shucked mussels, prawns, baby scallops, and baby squid to cook the seafood while continuing to cook the risotto. Keep adding a ladle of stock when needed for 7 more minutes or until the risotto is cooked to perfection - tender yet firm to the bite.
- Add the grated parmesan cheese and season the seafood risotto with salt and pepper to taste.
- Garnish with the chopped flat-leaf parsley and mussels in the shell. Serve and enjoy!
It is very important to continue to stir the risotto throughout the cooking process to release all the starch. The slow cooking method of adding a ladle of stock at a time while stirring is what makes the risotto extra creamy and delicious.
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