Sunday, August 19, 2012

Schooled: The Great Risotto Fritter Fiasco

It started out innocently enough. At 8pm, I took the leftover risotto from the fridge and was already envisioning my next blog entry—a clever little essay on wasting not and wanting not, which I would end by quoting the Barefoot Contessa: “How easy was that?”

Not wanting to get my hands dirty, I decided to use two spoons to shape the risotto into quenelles, which are not only cute, but also sound awfully fancy. I tried different variations involving breadcrumbs, egg and grated Parmesan. After some experimentation, I decided to forego the bread, which didn’t seem to contribute much to the taste or texture. 

First batch. I dipped my quenelles into the egg and then the cheese before frying them in butter and olive oil over medium heat.  They turned out just okay, warm and creamy inside but lacking the crisp, brown cheesy crust I craved.

Second batch. Leave them in the pan a little longer, I thought, and give the crust time to develop. Results were marginally better with a few flecks of crisped Parmesan, but I wanted crust, damn it, and I was determined to get it. 

Third time’s the charm, I told myself. I took the plunge and used my hands to form the risotto into patties so as to maximize the surface area for crusting. I then put another batch in the pan and waited patiently for the crust to form as I crooned over and over, “Come on, little cheesy crusts, come to Mama.” But the clock continued to tick and still, no crust seemed forthcoming. 

Perhaps I needed to turn up the heat. I went from medium to medium-high and waited. And waited. And then waited some more. And still, those rebellious little fritters refused to comply.  Determined to show them who was boss, I turned the heat all the way up.  Finally, after what seemed like forever, I saw crust.  Smiling with satisfaction, I took my spatula and tried to flip the patties over. 

To my horror, the long-awaited crust stuck to the pan and the patties began to disintegrate, committing hara-kiri before my eyes. “Noooooooo!” I yelled, switching to a fish spatula, to a wooden spoon, to a crowbar if I had one, anything to scrape the now-smoking cheese remains off my pan.

Depositing the grainy remains of my fritters onto a plate, I stared grimly at the rest of the risotto as it gloated silently in its Tupperware container. Fine. You don’t want to form a beautiful little cheesy crust for Mama, FINE.  I stirred egg into the rest of my risotto and poured the mixture into the pan, figuring I would settle for crispy little flecks of cheese. Screw you, risotto. Screw you, cheesy crust. Screw you, perfectly browned patties. You think you’ve won, have you? There’s more than one way to skin a risotto fritter, I thought smugly.

As I sautéed the traitor grains, they began to morph yet again, first, into what looked like Kimpura’s Japanese fried rice and then finally, into a misbegotten mess that looked suspiciously like cassava cake. Oh, dear sweet Jesus. I have died and gone to risotto hell.

I sat down wearily, balefully staring at the glop as I resentfully ate my earlier creations. It was 11:00 p.m. and I was full from crappy fritters but far, so very, very, VERY far from satisfied. 

I turned my oven on, shaped the risotto into patties and liberally sprinkled them with what was left of my cheese.  As I waited for the oven to finish preheating, I wearily surveyed the war zone that was my kitchen and with a defeated sigh, began scrubbing the pile of dirty dishes and burned pans.

Finally, it was time to put those damn fritters in the oven and wait for the cheese to achieve some semblance of doneness. At midnight, the cheese, while not exactly crusty, had at least a bit of a light tan.  Close enough. 

But it was late, and I was close to choking on both my earlier fritters and my failure. So, I dumped the patties into a plastic container, shoved them into the fridge and wearily fell into bed.

And that night, as I slept, visions of perfectly browned risotto fritters danced around in my head, doing back flips and drop kicks, and taunting me as they chanted, “Who’s your mama NOW?”

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