An Italian classic is transformed and infused with joie de vivre in this savory and aromatic red curry seafood risotto. Does that sound a bit too-too? Well trust me on this one–it’s divine. The flavors of the curry paste mingle with the natural liquor released from steaming the mussels. This broth then infuses the entire dish without overwhelming the sweet nuttiness of the rice. Finish with a shot of lime, a few pats of butter, and a handful of fresh herbs and prepare to become obsessed.
From simple risi e bisi (risotto with peas) to vibrantly hued and saffron-scented risotto milanese, there are endless variations of this beloved rice dish. The creamy-yet-toothsome texture is a wonderful blank canvas for playful combinations of spices and herbs. In this recipe, you’ll steam your mussels in a simple red curry broth. Red curry, made from aromatics like lemongrass, galangal, and lime leaf, is savory and incredibly lively. The perfect base for a rustic and satisfying bowl of creamy risotto! For a spicier version, try a green curry paste, or opt for a milder massaman curry. No matter what type you choose, make sure that you like the way it tastes without any doctoring. A high quality, intensely aromatic spice paste is the key to an equally aromatic broth!
Risotto is simple, which means good ingredients make a big impact.
Arborio vs Carnaroli Risotto Rice
There are several varieties that are commonly used for risotto (such as Arborio, which is very easy to find in grocery stores), but Carnaroli is prized for its ability to achieve the perfect, creamy risotto texture without the individual grains blowing out and becoming mushy/pasty. Like pasta, the grains should be just a touch al dente— no longer crunchy in the center, but just soft enough that each grain is creamy with a dense and almost fudge-like center
This seafood risotto recipe calls for shrimp, scallops, and mussels. I like shrimp in general, and the decadent sweetness of scallops is gorgeous in this recipe. Mussels can easily be swapped for clams, just make sure to purge your clams before using, as they tend to be grittier than mussels.
You don't have to stand over a stove for hours, waiting for the rice to slowly absorb the broth.
Contrary to popular belief, risotto doesn’t rely on constant gentle stirring and slowly adding stock little by little. Creamy risotto comes from hydrating the surface starches on the rice and bringing them to a low boil. Boiling the starches activates their thickening power. If you stir vigorously and keep your pot bubbling, you can get creamy risotto much faster and with less work than most recipes claim. You’ll see that the approximate cook time on the recipe is just 40 minutes. And that includes steaming the mussels and searing the shrimp and scallions!
J. Kenji López-Alt also did some risotto testing over at Serious Eats. His conclusion was that you don’t really need to stir at all, provided your pot is wide enough. A wider, shallower layer of rice means the grains will cook more evenly. If you don’t need to worry about the top layer cooking at a different rate than the bottom layer, then you don’t need to redistribute the grains as much. While I like this approach a lot, I don’t think it’s practical to assume that most people have the right shaped pan with a lid. But if you have a pan and a lid that look up to the task, give his method a try!
Risotto "al ondo"
This seafood risotto recipe as-written will give you the coveted “al ondo” texture: creamy and silky, with each tender grain of rice still retaining a gentle tooth. It should slowly spread when ladled onto the plate, rather than stand tall in a lump. However, while you want it to be distinctly “saucy,” it shouldn’t be “soupy.” If you prefer a thicker risotto, simply simmer longer to tighten it up. Similarly, if you prefer an extra-soft rice texture, just add more broth in step 4 and continue cooking until the rice is to your liking.
Expert Tips and Tricks
- Aromatic Spice Pastes: You can use whatever spice paste you like. Any kind of curry paste, or try other genres of aromatic pastes like a pesto or classic Puerto Rican sofrito!
- Cilantro: If you're not a fan of cilantro, try parsley or chives.
- The size and shape of your pan will make a huge difference in how quickly and evenly your rice cooks. A wider pan or pot will let the broth evaporate faster. You’ll essentially be losing more moisture to the air instead of allowing it to get soaked up by the rice. This is an easy thing to accommodate: just add more liquid as indicated in Step 4, until you are happy with your rice texture. You might end up using all 4 cups of curry broth, and that’s okay! If you are using a taller, narrower pot, you won’t have to worry as much about excess evaporation. With a narrower pot you’ll probably end up with leftover broth, and that’s okay too!
Why this Recipe Works
- Creamy risotto comes from hydrating the surface starches on the rice and bringing them to a low boil. Boiling the starches activates their thickening power. If you stir vigorously and keep your pot bubbling, you can get creamy risotto much faster and with less work than most recipes claim.
- Aromatic spice pastes create a broth that is rich with flavor. That flavor infuses into the grains of rice as they cook, resulting and a deeply aromatic dish!
This recipe can easily be doubled, just make sure your pot is large enough to accommodate twice as much cooked rice! For reference, the recipe as-written will yield about 1 quart of cooked risotto before the shellfish is folded back in.
I usually grab frozen shrimp and scallops. The stuff you buy un-frozen from the fish counter is usually previously frozen anyway, and buying them still frozen means they had less time to be exposed to improper temperatures. Just be sure to check the ingredients list: any additives are usually for retaining moisture, which makes for watery flavor.
If you prefer to have a thicker texture instead of the classic "al ondo" texture, just cook your risotto a bit longer, or let it rest for a few minutes before serving.
Recipe: Seafood Risotto with Red Curry and Fresh Herbs
- 4 cups water
- ¼ cup red curry paste
- 1 pound mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
- 2 tablespoons unrefined coconut oil
- 8 ounces shrimp, peeled and de-veined, Look for 21/25
- 6 to 8 ounces bay scallops, quartered if large
- 1 cup carnaroli or arborio rice
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice, plus wedges to serve
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced
- ⅓ cup lightly packed cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
- Step 1Combine the water and laksa paste in a medium pot or large saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Add the mussels, cover, and cook just until the mussels begin to open, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, stirring once and quickly re-covering, until the mussels have fully opened, another 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the mussels to a bowl. Remove the meat from about half the mussels and discard the empty shells, as well as any mussels that did not open.Return the pot of laksa broth to medium-low heat, cover, and keep warm.
- Step 2In a medium pot or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat until nearly smoking. Add the shrimp and cook without disturbing until well-browned on the bottom, 3 to 5 minutes. Give the shrimp a quick stir, cooking until pink all over, then transfer to a plate. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pot. When shimmering, add the scallops in a single layer. Cook without disturbing until well-browned on one side, 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer to the plate with the shrimp.
- Step 3With the pan still over medium-high, add the rice. Cook, stirring constantly, until the rice has begun to turn translucent around the edges, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of the hot stock and bring to a rapid simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often and vigorously, until the grains of rice are noticeably more tender, but still have a very firm core, 8 to 10 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed while cooking, in order to maintain an active simmer.
- Step 4Add ½ cup more hot stock and continue to cook and stir briskly until the rice is almost perfectly al dente, but still looks slightly soupy, another 3 to 5 minutes. If at this point your risotto is already thick and sticky, but the grains of rice are still crunchy, add more hot broth a quarter cup at a time and continue cooking and stirring until almost perfectly al dente.Note: At this point it is better to err on the side of too firm, since the grains will continue to cook in the next steps and with carryover cooking once you start plating.
- Step 5When your rice grains are just shy of your ideal tenderness, fold in the mussels, shrimp, scallops, and any accumulated liquid. Continue cooking briefly, just to rewarm the shellfish, then remove from heat. Stir in the butter and lime juice. Taste and add salt as needed, then stir in the scallions and cilantro. Serve immediately.
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