Japanese Mushroom Risotto

James Norton / Heavy Table
James Norton / Heavy Table

Winter has been no joke this year. Two years ago, when winter was a joke, I was moaning about global warming and wishing with all the strength in my little heart that we’d get to enjoy a real Minnesota winter again. Now as we are double-pounded with zero-degree days and constant dustings of snow, I look back on that soft-headed wish with profound regret.

One of the season’s few redeeming moments was when the United Noodles people visited my house with a box of ingredients for their Japanese Mushroom Risotto. While I’m not normally so suggestible as to immediately begin cooking something dropped at the door, two salient facts jumped to mind: it was really, really cold out, and risotto is really, really warm. It’s hearty, it’s soothing, it’s got the sustaining bulk of a solid with the “pipe-the-heat-into-all-the-crannies” warming properties of a liquid. Perfect, in other words, for winter.

Modifications: my risotto was made with mirin instead of sake, chicken stock instead of mushroom stock, and black pepper instead of white pepper. “It’s like congee meets risotto,” said our guest taster. “It’s a nice combination of Asian flavors and risotto’s texture and cooking techniques.” And despite its vegetarian pedigree (well, that presumes you use mushroom stock, but you get my drift) it felt like a full, sustaining meal, a must amid the icefields and blizzards of our serious Minnesota winter.

Japanese Mushroom Risotto
Recipe via United Noodles Asian Supermarket

5 dried shiitake mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 tbsp unsalted butter
½ c sake
4 c mushroom stock, vegetable stock, or water
1 c short grain sushi rice
usukuchi (light soy sauce) to taste
salt and white pepper to taste
sliced green onions, flat leaf parsley, or rosemary for garnish

1. Fill a small bowl with 1 cup of hot water. Submerge the shiitake mushrooms in the water and allow them to reconstitute for about 10-15 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, reserving the liquid.

2. Remove the mushroom stems and discard. Thinly slice the caps and set aside.

3. Put the stock and reserved water from the mushrooms in a saucepan and bring to a low simmer.

4. In a large frying pan or wok, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for 2 or 3 minutes until just beginning to brown. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft, another 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until it just begins to cook, taking on a light golden color.

5. Add the sake, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and cook until it has reduced almost completely.

6. Next add 1/2-1 cup of the warm stock to the pan. Stir constantly until the rice has absorbed the liquid, then add another 1/2-1 cup. Continue until the rice has become creamy, but still has a little bite to it. The entire process should take 20 to 30 minutes. You will likely use all of the stock, but taste it for texture after two-thirds of the stock has been added.

7. Finish the risotto with the light soy sauce, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve garnished with fresh rosemary, thyme leaves, sliced green onions, or flat leaf parsley.