Seared Scallops with Citrus Risotto

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Visions of food sometimes arrive and you wave them away like an annoying fly. “Why am I craving lobster bisque right now?” you ask yourself while castrating a horse. “Get that craving out of my head!”

But what you don’t realize, person who is reading this, is that a craving is a gift, assistance from the great beyond advising you on what precisely you are crying out for in the deepest, most desperate part of your soul.

Take the experience I had yesterday. I was leaving work at Food Network (you have to call it Food Network, not “The Food Network” or you get fired) and I walked past the seafood store down there in the Chelsea Market and I had a vision of scallops on a citrus risotto. Was I craving this? Not necessarily. Did I really want scallops for dinner? Maybe, I wasn’t sure. But that vision was insistent. “You must make me,” the vision kept saying. “Scallops and citrus risotto is what you will eat.”

Finally, I caved and bought a pound of large, diver scallops which I brought back on the subway (my lucky subway neighbors!) and when I got off the train I hurried home to look up the citrus risotto from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook. I also read about it online and after reading my friend Heidi’s post on the recipe (a basic risotto recipe with grapefruit and lime segments added in) I took her conclusion to heart: “god, this would be great with oranges or lemons.”

I made a citrus risotto with lime segments, grapefruit segements and the segments and juice from a navel orange. I seared the scallops Batali-style in a non-stick skillet. And friends, believe me when I tell you, this dinner was a triumph.

I know it’s a triumph because Craig’s reaction to a pretty good meal is often a head-nod; his reaction to a triumph is: “Oh my God, this is so good. What did you put in this? I love this.”

Don’t thank me, Craig: thank my vision. What follows is how you can realize my vision at home….

1. The hardest part of this recipe is supreming the fruit. Go to the store and buy a ruby red grapefruit, 2 limes and an orange. Now I didn’t zest these before I supremed them, but I think adding the zest from the orange and lime would make the end result even more powerful. So zest them and then, using a sharp knife, peel off all the skin and pith. You do that by cutting off the top and bottom of the fruit, putting it on a cutting board and dragging the knife from the top of the orange to the bottom along the circumference–cutting off the skin and the white. You should be left with a glistening orb of citrus. Now, take a paring knife and cut in between the membranes. Just put your knife in on either side of the white line and little segments will fall out. Catch them all in a bowl along with the juice. This is a tedious task at first but then it actually gets to be quite fun. I’d buy extra fruit just so you can practice.

2. Now the thing with risotto is that it really is a million times better if you use homemade chicken stock. I had some in the freezer and if you have the chance to make some–using whatever method (just boil chicken bones for a few hours, really)–you’ll be rewarded greatly. Regardless, though, take 5 cups of stock and bring to a simmer in a pot. Get a ladle in there and prepare to ladle.

3. Melt 2 Tbs of butter in another pot. When it’s melted and the foam subsides, add half a chopped onion to it and stir around. Sprinkle with salt. Stir and stir until the onion is translucent (about 5 minutes) and then add 1 cup of Arborio rice. (That’ll serve 2 people. If you’re serving 4, add 2 cups Arborio rice.) Stir around and cook until the rice is clear, about 1 minute.

4. Now ladle in two ladlefuls of stock. It’ll hiss and steam but don’t get scared. Just stir, stir, stir and lower the heat a bit so the risotto is just simmering. Now you’ll stand there and stir for the next 20 minutes, adding more stock when the stock diminishes so the risotto always stays brothy and wet. Making risotto is just that easy.

5. While you’re stirring the risotto, that’s a good time to prep the scallops. It’s really easy, you’ll laugh. Just take the scallops out of the bag, dry them with paper towels, sprinkle them with salt and pepper and in a nonstick skillet heat olive oil until very, very hot. (Hold your hand over it and if you can’t hold it there for more than a second, it’s hot enough.) Lower 4 scallops in at a time, and once they’re in the oil don’t touch them. Let them cook that way for 4 to 5 minutes or until the bottom is golden and crusty and the scallop has cooked all the way to the top. That’s it! Your scallop is cooked. Put on a plate to rest and cook the remaining scallops.

6. Taste your risotto after 15 minutes. It should be toothsome and just cooked through. Now add all that fruit and the juice from the fruit and, if you zested, the zest. Add salt and pepper too. Stir around and around and the fruit’ll break up. Taste, taste and taste and see what it needs. If it’s anything like the one I made, it won’t need anything: it’ll be perfect!

7. Actually, Zuni says to add some mascarpone cheese here. I didn’t have mascarpone but I did have cream fraiche so I added a big sponful and stirred it through with the heat off. It makes it ultra creamy.

8. Now ladle the risotto into a bowl, add the scallops and grind some pepper over the top. You could garnish with some more fruit or some herb; parsley maybe? But that’s it. You’re done. Wasn’t that easy? And isn’t it delicious?

You can thank my vision later.

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