‘The first thing I ever cooked for a boy…’
‘Cooking is not your forte’. That’s what he said to me after three mouthfuls of my bacon and mushroom risotto. It was the first thing I ever cooked for a boy. There he was, sat opposite me at my mother’s big kitchen diner table, spooning rice into his mouth and smiling. He told me my risotto was too salty. The first thing I ever cooked for a boy. I wasn’t devastated but I most certainly was a little deflated. I chose a risotto because all it required was stirring. That’s all it took. Some stirring. Yet there he was before me, laughing at me and my risotto. The first thing I ever cooked for a boy.
I cooked for this boy at a time when buttering toast seemed like the most adventurous of recipe methods. A cook I was not, indeed, but I never thought my culinary endeavours would lead to such mockery. I thought I was being fairly exotic by cooking him an Italian dish. Surely it’s just stirring, I thought. He told me he couldn’t finish it. The first thing I ever cooked for a boy. I didn’t take into account the flavour complexities of adding salty stock, salty bacon and actual salty salt into the pan. Slowly but surely, I stirred to my doom.
My mother was on a holiday. He came to my house for ‘dinner and a film’ (which to those who weren’t born in my generation, was our version of ‘Netflix and chill’). He walked in and dragged half of the garden mud into the house with him. I had to put the rug in the washing machine – a machine I had no idea how to use. Neither here nor there, but I’m scene setting for you. Suffice to say the atmosphere was awkward and off kilter already. Luckily I had a risotto to avoid the situation, but there I was, adding more and more salty ingredients without ever wondering how these ingredients were effecting my dish.
He sat at my mother’s dining room table and we spoke about some kind of nonsense while he poured some warm white wine he had in his bag. Wine he had picked up in the garage on the way, I have no doubt. It was gross but we were young, so I didn’t really care. I continued stirring. I forgot to do what every person should do when they are cooking and that is – TASTE. YOUR. FOOD. If you taste your food whilst you are cooking, it gives you time to rectify any problems in time and allow flavours to mellow. But I was young and thought I knew better.
I poured in more salt.
Eventually I was able to do what I called a ‘Moses Tide’ in the risotto which means dragging the back of a wooden spoon through the rice and separating it. Once the rice starts to slowly fall back together, slowly but efficiently, you know it’s done. I was proud. I spooned the risotto into bowls and then commenced to grating on lashings of parmesan cheese. The saltiest of all cheeses. I placed the bowl before him, sat opposite him and watched him eat the masterpiece I had made in an effort to impress him.
‘It’s too salty. I can’t finish it’, he said.
‘Cooking is not your forte’, he said. He didn’t want to finish my risotto. The first thing I ever cooked a boy.
I held back disappointment and forced down my own bowl. I lied and told him mine was fine and maybe he had a bad batch. A ‘bad batch’ of the same pan of risotto? Sure, Mikey. Well done. But nonetheless, I took it in my stride, finished the date and obviously never saw him again. I took two valuable lessons from that date. The first being to always find nicer ways to tell someone their food is inedible and the second being to always taste your food as you cook it.
So this here recipe is my recovery. Here is a recipe that not only encourages but almost warrants you to continually taste it to make sure you have got your seasoning balance right and that the dish is catering for your particular taste. I look back at that little bacon and mushroom risotto from that date and realise how far I have come. This recipe was designed for my own particular taste using all of my favourite strong, niche flavours and ingredients. I eat it defiantly and independently and happily knowing that my seasoning is balanced and my salting is appropriate.
It’s a Curried Crab Risotto. You may think that this is a very particular taste and indeed it is. Because the first boy I ever cooked for once told me that cooking wasn’t my forte and now food, and the writing of it, is so important in my life that I wanted to write a recipe that was written solely just for my palette and my taste and in the form of a meal that once brought me so much shame.
In a pestle and mortar (or food processor!) mash down a small pinch of cumin, dried coriander as well as some coriander seeds and leave to one side. In a large pan, heat a little olive oil and throw in some roughly chopped mushrooms. Sweat them down until they have reduced before sprinkling in some all spice. Continue to cook until the mushrooms are coated before removing them to a bowl and covering the bowl with foil so that they continue to sweat.
Add a little more oil to the pan and add a roughly chopped onion. Salt a little here to release water from the onion before adding a small pinch of the ground coriander spices. Now add a generous pinch of chili powder and continue to cook until the onion has lost its raw colour. Add the mushrooms and their cooking juices from the bowl back into the pan.
Sprinkle in a cup of risotto rice and mix everything to combine. Add another small pinch of the coriander spices. Pour in a small cup of white wine and stir. Once the rice has soaked up all the wine add the last of your coriander spices and stir. Now fix yourself a large jug of fish or vegetable stock (ideally a litre) and pour in gradually. You want to add half a cup to a cup at a time and continue stirring. Only add more stock once the last cup of stock has been absorbed.
Once you have used all of your stock your risotto should be sticky and starchy, with the capability to do a ‘Moses Tide’ (see intro for what this is). Once you can Moses Tide, throw in a handful of cooked crab and a small shot glass of sour cream (just for that final hit of creaminess) and dot generously with some parsley or coriander for finish.
And there you have it. A risotto that has the ability to be enjoyed by all, but was put together for the sole purpose of self-enjoyment. The first thing I ever cooked a boy was awful. But just like life, it’s not about how you boast on your triumphs, it’s how you learn from your lows and this recipe is my peace offering to the boy who once made me so embarrassed about my cooking skills.
It’s also a small salute to the bacon and mushroom risotto from that fateful date. The boy may not have been around too long but the risotto method stayed for life. And for that, I am ever grateful. Cooking may not have been my forte at the time, but looking on the bright side was. I may not have won over the boy, but I definitely learnt how to cook a risotto that day. And for that, I will always be thankful for silver linings.