Brewed Pancetta #2 – Balancing Smokey Risotto, Propeller’s Double IPA… and a Baby!

IMG_1909So I started writing this entry a while ago.  I’m not sure why I dropped it, but for some reason it remained half finished for over four months. I began writing it just before we starting our moving preparations, so that could be why I didn’t have a chance to get back to it. Well, I’d like to assure you all that I don’t only cook with what I have left lying around in my fridge and freezer. However, given my living situation at the time, and the fact that we needed to get rid of all the food  in the house; not to mention that I was alone with my son and couldn’t go anywhere – this was another “on the fly” cooking endeavor. And I might add, by the looks of the picture to your left, I think I did a pretty damn good job.

So yes,  alone at home with an attention seeking and fussy 5 month old, let’s make risotto! That makes sense!  Oh, and all the while taking notes and snapping photos. Sigh, at the time it actually did make sense. You see,  I make risotto very often, so I kind of have it down pat, but still, as usual I underestimate the difficult balancing act that is cooking and caring for a baby. However, with some efficient juggling, and a couple of hair pulling scenarios, I was able to pull it off (P.S. That’s him to your right, several months ago).

So what did I have lying around the kitchen?  More Pancetta for one! I also had a good amount of Araborio rice (Short grain rice for making risotto), some garlic, onions, and a garden with fresh chives and tarragon – it was not snowing then. Also, a couple of months earlier, I made a home made veggie stock that I froze for just such an occasion.  As long as you have rice, stock, onion, garlic, butter and Parmesan, you can make a decent risotto, everything else just compliments it. I usually use white wine as well,  but I didn’t have any, oh well…

This was going to be a rich and heavy meal; last time I wanted to counter balance the heaviness with an amber lager, but this time I’m going full throttle with Propeller’s Double IPA – 8.2% ABV. I was hoping that it would compliment the meal nicely, given the beer’s intensely fruity and bitter flavor profile, which should go well with a velvety, butter filled, and meaty risotto.  But I did still need to make it first,  and Emery (my son) yelling at me as I was making this decision.

Okay, so the trick to making a risotto is  having everything nicely prepped before hand, if you do that, then the meal only takes about 20-25 minutes to complete from start to finish.  Risotto generally starts with garlic and onions, but considering I’m using pancetta, I need to start cooking that first. Once that started to look a bit crispy, I tossed in the onions, waited until they started to get translucent, then threw in my garlic. I Also added in some tarragon at this point in order to infuse the flavors a bit.  Once that was looking good, I was time for the rice. You always want to toss in the rice dry, stirring constantly, allowing the kernels to slightly toast in the skillet for a couple of minutes.  After that It’s time for the wine, which is my favorite part. When you start pouring it in, it starts sizzling immediately and steams up, releasing all these aromas from the ingredients mixed with the wine – it is quite a beautifully aromatic moment. Too bad I didn’t have any. Oh well.

At this point, after you add the wine, the complicated part is over, and now comes the more monotonous work, which still kind of fun.  Basically, you need to add broth, about half a cup at a time, letting the rice absorb the broth, and at the same time the rice releases starches which makes the risotto nice and creamy. This is also a good time to have my beer!

IMG_1912Propeller is a craft brewery located in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was fortunate enough to visit their brew pud when visiting my brother in law a couple of years ago.  At the time, I was pretty sick with a cold and was not as into, or rather, obsessed with beer as I am now. None the less, what I had, I really enjoyed.  I was also extremely fortunate again, when said brother in law showed up for a visit a few months ago holding a giant Jack Daniels box filled with beers from Propeller and Garrison (another great Halifax brewery). It was like Christmas Morning!

IMG_1915Anyways, back to our task at hand.  I poured out this Double IPA into a snifter glass;  It was a pale amber color with orange highlights. It had very little head, except for a solid foamy ring that stuck around the whole time. You’ll generally notice that IPA’s have great head retention.  That’s not to say that they will always have a nice head, as that’s more of a result of the yeast, but rather what head they do have tends to last longer. This results from the above average hop content, which helps in binding the head, making it last longer. On the nose I’m getting a lot of hops – gee, who would have thought. Spicy pine and citrus up front, followed by a lot of fruitiness. A mix of strawberries and apples pleasantly come to light, mixed in with a caramel candy sweetness.  The taste mimics the nose quite well, beginning with lots of pine, followed by some citrus rind and general red fruitiness. The hops provide much more of an earthy quality here then the aromas let on. It is quite sweet as well, which is quickly cut down by a big, bitter ending, which stays with you for a little while. Overall it is what it should be, this is certainly a double IPA;  and a good one at that.

IMG_1910So at this point, I had been slowly adding simmering broth to the rice, one ladle at a time, every couple of minutes.  20 minutes or so passed, and when the rice is cooked, but still al dente, it’s time for the finishing touches. It should be noted that I often had to run back and forth from baby to risotto, both needed my attention, so it was a challenge, but I managed to make it happen. And most of the time he was smiling at me which always helps! I removed the rice from the heat, tossed in a tablespoon of butter, a quarter cup of parmesan and stirred, incorporating it all together.

When you make risotto, it should be runny enough that it doesn’t hold together like rice putting, but not too soupy either.  I placed the rice into a white bowl, and garnished it with some diced chives, tarragon, Parmesan, and IMG_1996black pepper.  Although sitting down and eating was quite a challenge, as my son decided at that moment that he wanted to start screaming,  I was still able to enjoy the meal/beer combo. The risotto turned out well, although quite rich. It had this silky smooth quality from the pancetta fat, and the smokey pork flavors were nicely complimented by the tarragon, which has this subtle, anise & cinnamon flavor. When paired with this beer, again the tarragon and pancetta were the stars – the smokey, bacon like flavor really brought out the sweet fruitiness of the IPA. I also liked the tarragon and hop combo, it produced a really interesting marriage of flavors.  And of course, I love eating with IPA’s as the overt bitterness cuts everything nicely. This worked particularly well given the richness of this dish; after each sip, I was refreshed and wanting more!

An article by Noah Forrest