Mandarin Orange Risotto

On the off chance that you’re tired of marmalade recipes (Never fear marm-fans: there are more recipes coming down the Pike!), a fresh twist (Ha! Twist! Do you see what I did there?) on citrus: Mandarin orange-infused risotto. Oranges can be tough to cook with: they are sweet and delicious, but without the assertive tang of a lemon, the flavor can be easily lost, especially in savory cooking. However, that should not preclude us from trying: the flavor of oranges, especially the tangy, floral Satsuma Mandarins, is well worth the effort. And besides: lemon? Lemon chicken, lemon pasta, lemon risotto, lemon, lemon, lemon: if lemon were a Brady girl, it would definitely be Marcia.

Enter Jan, our sweet little Mandarin orange. A little bumpy, a little misshapen, but floral and fragrant and delicious. After searching through about a million lemon risotto recipes, I found this one, with orange & rosemary, that I used as a base. I deviated quite a bit, however, as the recipe seemed overly fussy: wrap this in plastic wrap, and put that in a ramekin, covered in plastic wrap, make five tablespoons of rosemary oil when you’ll only use one, and you “might have stock leftover.” But, the recipe did hand me one golden tip, to add the orange zest early on in the cooking: I likely would have stirred it in at the end, and I don’t think I would have achieved nearly as good an orange flavor. In order to maximize the Mandarin flavor, I added lots of zest, both slivered and grated; I added some juice to the initial stock-absorption phase; and I cut back on cheese in favor of a less creamy risotto with a more pronounced orange flavor.

And what about that orange flavor? Fantastic. The fragrance alone is enough to convince you that orange is no bit player here, but the taste is fabulous: Mandarin orange, singing with a backnote of cheese and butter, and the touch of thyme balancing everything out. All wrapped up in a warm, satisfying, nicely al dente risotto. Watch out, marmalade: risotto is the new kid on the block.

Adapted from Risotto with Orange Zest and Rosemary Oil at La Cucina Italiana

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Mandarin Orange Risotto

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 Mandarin oranges, preferably organic (I used Satsuma)
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, stems reserved
  • 2 cups vegetable stock (I used corn cob stock)
  • 2 and 1/2 cups filtered water
  • 3 tbsp butter, divided
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 and 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup grated hard cheese, such as parmesan or Sprout Creek Bogart
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

METHODS

  1. Scrub and dry the oranges well. Remove the outer, orange zest, leaving behind the white pith. I zested two of the oranges with a Microplane, and the third with a vegetable peeler: feel free to use the method you like best. Julienne any larger strips of zest into thin slivers. Place the zest in a bowl and cover with a damp towel to prevent drying out. Juice one of the oranges (about 1/4 cup); set aside the juice. Reserve the other two oranges for another use, like snacking while you chop!
  2. Add the stock and water to a small saucepan. Gather the reserved thyme stems into a bundle and tie with kitchen twine (or chop stems and fill a tea ball or cheesecloth bag) and add to the stock. Bring mixture to a gentle simmer, covered; maintain simmer over low heat.
  3. Heat 2 tbsp of butter and the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Once butter foam subsides, add the shallot and sauté , stirring, for 1 minute. Add the garlic and sauté an additional minute. Add the rice and, stirring, cook for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until the wine is nearly all absorbed, about 1 – 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of hot stock; stir frequently and cook at a brisk simmer until stock is nearly all absorbed. Add orange juice and zest, reserving some zest for garnish, and a 1/2 cup of stock and cook, stirring, until nearly all liquid has been absorbed. Continue adding stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and allowing stock to be nearly absorbed before adding more, until all stock is added and/or the rice is creamy and al dente in texture (about 1 and 1/2 – 2 minutes per addition). In total, this step should take about 20 minutes.
  4. Remove rice from heat. Stir in grated cheese, the remaining 1 tbsp of butter and the fresh thyme leaves, reserving a few for garnish. Taste and add salt, pepper, additional cheese or butter as desired. Serve immediately, garnished with fresh thyme and orange zest.

Serves 4 – 6.

OPTIONS

  1. Although chicken stock is classic for making risotto, I think it would overwhelm the delicate flavor of the Mandarins here. I recommend a light vegetable stock. The corn cob stock gave it a lovely, sweet flavor.
  2. I like the idea of infusing some olive oil with rosemary and using that to add flavor to the dish. Fresh rosemary would also be nice, although I’d cut down on the amount as it is more strongly flavored than thyme.
  3. For a creamier risotto, you can certainly add more cheese and/or butter, just be aware that it is likely to impact the orange flavor. My advice is to add a little at a time, tasting as you go.
  4. This can obviously work with other citrus: for stronger flavors, like lemon & grapefruit, you may want to cut down on the amount of zest. You can always add more at the end.
  5.  I did, originally, supreme two of the oranges, with the intention of serving the risotto topped with fresh Mandarin sections, but it really didn’t work: the two textures did not meld well, the Mandarin sections overwhelmed the flavor of the risotto, rather than enhancing it, and cold orange with hot risotto = not a winner.

STORE

Risotto is best eaten immediately. Store any leftovers refrigerated for up to 3 days and then make risotto cakes. One of these days I am going to post my recipe for risotto cakes. Honest.

SEASON

Mandarins have a short season, usually in December/January.

14 comments

  1. Wow. What an interesting risotto. I did a rather orange, in colour, risotto recently :D. I’d love to try this. I think I must invest in a new camera, everyone has such great shots of their food :D

  2. Taryn

    Just made this, thank you so much for the recipe! It was incredibly delicious, creamy, and flavorful. I’m a little disappointed that I’m full because I already want to eat the rest!

  3. WOW This sounds fantastic. I think I’ll make this as a side to a sea bass… a little drizzle of lemon for the fish, orange risotto, now… what to do for a veggie… maybe glazing some julienne carrots.

    • I don’t eat fish, so I can’t speak to what works with sea bass, but the risotto does have sweet overtones. Glazed carrots will work, if you want to maintain a similar taste profile, but I also think it can stand up to something a little peppery; some baby arugula or a chopped parsley salad, with something a bit crunchy, maybe quick-pickled apple julienne or fennel.

  4. Wow! I don’t even like risotto, but I am grateful to have another thing to try with next year’s mandarin glut (they are slowing down now, but navel oranges are still in full swing). I might like this and if I don’t I’ll make a sweet rice pudding instead: I’m going to try it your way first.

    • I’ve had some really soupy, overly cream risottos that I definitely did not like. You can also get gummy risotto, which happens if it’s cooked too slowly or the stock isn’t heated while adding. Like almost all homemade food, it’s easy enough to adpat risotto to how you want it: super rich and velvety, or nicely al dente and just barely more-than-rice. It just takes a bit of practice to figure out how you like it.

  5. Pingback: Mandarin Orange Risotto - Recipe Hearth

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