Comfort food is a need that transcends the seasons. For chef Doug Stephen of the Merchant’s Workshop on Commercial Drive, a mushroom risotto offers comfort, seasonal variation, and a touch of class above a bowl of pesto-pasta.
The Merchant’s Workshop is all about locally sourced, high-quality ingredients served at the peak of their season. Chef Stephen takes his suppliers seriously, and uses the risotto to celebrate what local foragers have to offer at different times of the year.
“The benefit of working with a forager is that they bring you the very best of nature’s bounty.” Says Stephen. “The downside is that you never know exactly what they’ll bring you, you just know they’ll bring you mushrooms.” A mushroom risotto, for chef Stephen, is the perfect way to showcase the changing availability of mushrooms without reworking his whole menu.
This dish starts with a mushroom tea, and can be finished, if you so choose, with a thyme oil.
For the Mushroom Tea – Makes ~8L
– 100g dehydrated shiitake mushrooms (Stephen dehydrates his in house but you can find them at any decent grocers)
– 6 Sprigs of Thyme
– 10L of Water
For the Risotto
– 300g Carnaroli or Arborio Rice (If you want to splurge, Acquerello Carnaroli rice is ideal)
– One medium white onion, finely diced
– One cup of dry white wine
– 100g Taleggio Cheese
– A generous handful of your favourite mushrooms
For the Thyme Oil
– 250ml Canola Oil
– 1/8 Cup fresh thyme leaves
As chef Stephen says, Risotto is a whole lot simpler to make than people think. There isn’t a real technical trick to it aside from watching closely and stirring a lot.
If you want to make the Thyme Oil you’ll need to start a day early, but it’s not 100% necessary
Thyme Oil Recipe
1. Blend together the oil and thyme leaves.
2. refrigerate for at least 24 hours to infuse
3. Strain and store in a cool place
Mushroom Tea Recipe
1. Bring the water with thyme sprigs and dried shiitakes to a boil for five minutes.
2. Remove from heat and let steep for a further thirty minutes.
1. In a pan over medium-high heat with a tiny bit of canola oil, or butter if you don’t want to go vegan, sweat your onion for about five minutes, stirring regularly
2. Add in your rice and stir continuously for 3 minutes, the goal here is to lightly toast the rice without adding any colour
3. Pour in your white wine and stir rapidly until absorbed by the rice
4. Lower heat to medium and begin steadily adding mushroom tea, one cup at a time
5. Keep stirring and steadily adding the mushroom tea as it gets incorporated, you don’t need to use all the mushroom tea, you’re just working the rice until the grains begin to break down, the ideal risotto rice should be slightly toothsome without any crunch, taste often to keep track of how the rice is cooking
a. If you’re making the risotto ahead of time, remove the rice from the pan while it still has a little crunch and spread it out on a baking sheet to stop it cooking
6. Cook the rice to almost the perfect texture before folding in the taleggio cheese with the rind removed, the soft and intensely aromatic cheese will make the risotto gorgeously creamy and rich, season with salt to taste
7. In a separate pan, saute your chosen mushrooms until cooked to your liking, season with salt
a. Asparagus can also be a great addition at this stage
8. Serve the risotto topped with your sauteed mushrooms and thyme oil (if you’ve made it)
Serves 6-8, cook time ~25-35 mins
The magic of this dish, aside from the fact that it’s the ideal of creamy fancy comfort food, is that it’s a backbone for all kinds of ingredients. Add in any kind of seasonal mushroom, or a veggie you’re really into right now, chuck in garlic, or go extra herbaceous with more fresh thyme leaves. Be as creative as you like!