Superior Risotto Recipe
Spring has shown up in a hurry this year. With it, normal seasonal traditions are coming in early as well. The nettles are already up and the ramps are almost ready to be picked. The kids and I were out hiking and found a painted turtle nest that had already hatched. We usually don’t see that until the end of May or early June.
Another joy of spring will be here before we know it. The yearly Smelt run. Every year Smelt run up the rivers on Minnesota’s North shore to spawn. For those that don’t know rainbow smelt are an invasive species to the great lakes and at their peak could be netted by the thousands. There were so many smelt in the 50s and 60s that at one point they held professional wrestling matches in rings filled with smelt.
The Idea for the Recipe
I was watching one of those “best of” shows and they were highlighting the foods of Venice, Italy. One of the dishes that caught my eye was Risotto di go. A risotto made with stock made from the black goby. This is a small, 7-inch ocean fish that is very plentiful but doesn’t have many uses. The risotto looked amazing and it got me thinking if there was something here in Minnesota that I could use.
I initially thought of using some kind of panfish to make a stock. After all, they are quite plentiful and would be a good way to use all the tiny sunnies my kid’s catch. I went out to my freezers to see if there were any panfish I could use and found something even more interesting. I still had a big bag of smelt.
The smelt in my freezer was from last year so I figured they would be perfect for making stock. There were two pounds of smelt in the bag and I figured that would be plenty to make the stock. While I was in the freezer I also found a lake trout fillet that I had caught up on Lake Superior. Any time I can use multiple ingredients from the same area I do. The idea of a Lake Superior Risotto seemed like a perfect fit.
Risotto is a dish that is so simple that you can make it in the backcountry over a jet boil stove. But it is also a refined dish that can be served at dinner parties. With this dish, I highlight some of the best ingredients Lake Superior has to offer.
Risotto is one of my go-to dishes, it is a great way to use up all the stock that I make with all the game I bring home. Making risotto with game stock adds a new depth of flavor that you just can’t find with chicken stock.
Superior Risotto Recipe
8 cups smelt stock (recipe below)
1 ½ cups Arborio rice
1 cup diced white onion
¾ cup white wine
4 tablespoons butter
1 clove minced garlic
2 cups smoked Lake Trout (recipe below)
Bring the stock up to a gentle simmer just to keep warm.
In a large sauté pan heat the 3 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat and cook the onion and garlic until soft, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in the rice and mix the rice with the butter and onions cooking for another 3-4 minutes. Add the white wine and stir until almost all the wine is absorbed but don’t let the rice dry out.
Start ladling the stock in 1 cup at a time and stir making sure to add the stock as it is absorbed. Continue adding stock until the rice is the texture you like. It should have a little bite to it and not be mushy. Your risotto should be loose and not sticky. Stir in one cup of the smoked lake trout and reserve the remaining 1 cup for garnishing the bowls of risotto. Then, top with chives and enjoy.
2 pounds cleaned smelt
1 large onion, thinly sliced
A lemon cut in half
1 large leek, white and pale-green parts only, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley
1 sprig thyme
10 whole peppercorns
1 gallon water
Rinse the smelt in cold water. Place smelt in a large stockpot; add remaining ingredients and cold water. Bring almost to a boil over high heat (do not let it come to a boil). Reduce heat to low and cook at a light simmer, skimming any foam that rises to surface for 1 hour. Strain stock through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth and discard solids.
How to Make Smoked Lake Trout
This is enough cure mixture for four good sized fillets
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup maple sugar
1 tablespoon dried sumac
1 tablespoon crushed juniper berries
Mix together the salt cure and rub it into the fillets and let stand in the fridge for 4-5 hours. Then rinse off all the cure mixture and let the fillets sit in front of a fan for about an hour until the fillets are tacky to the touch. After that smoke the fillets over whatever wood you prefer, I like apple. Smoke at 175 degrees for 4-5 hours. Now you have Smoked Lake Trout