Freelance music instructor Ian Low, 45, made about 50 plates of risotto before he felt he could turn out what he called "a decent plate".
So dedicated was he to perfecting the dish that he cooked risotto once a day over a few weeks.
The self-taught cook, who learnt to cook the Italian rice dish from watching YouTube videos and getting tips from his chef friends, says it takes practice to cook it intuitively, from ladling in water and stock to the crucial last step of mixing cold butter and parmesan cheese into the mixture.
Mr Low says: "My friends call me a risotto snob. I always feel that my recipe can be improved, especially after eating the dish at some Italian restaurants. It is the little intricacies of cooking risotto that fascinate me."
He has gone on to incorporate other flavours into the al dente grains. These include bak kut teh, yuzu and white chocolate. For the bak kut teh risotto, he cooks the rice in a peppery bak but teh broth.
Then, he serves the risotto with "dry-style" bak kut teh pork ribs, which is stir-fried with dark soya sauce, ladies' fingers and cuttlefish. He also makes dessert risotto, by stirring yuzu juice and powder into the stock and adding white chocolate sauce with blueberries and raspberries. He shares a recipe for laksa risotto here.
Over the past five years, he has been making tweaks to this recipe, such as by frying prawn heads with laksa paste to sweeten the stock. He also adds kaffir lime leaves into the stock for a zesty flavour.
On experimenting with different flavours of risotto, Mr Low says: "I like that risotto grains can absorb flavours from different stocks better than rice."
Besides risotto, his repertoire of mainly Western dishes includes braised beef cheeks with wine, grilled salmon with an Asian- inspired beurre blanc sauce and pasta with Bolognese and carbonara sauces.
He also enjoys replicating dishes he has had in restaurants, including "white-style" beehoon served with seafood from You Huak Restaurant in Sembawang. He also cooks these dishes and plates them in a fine-dining style to celebrate special occasions such as his wedding anniversary.
His wife Pauline, 46, works as a registrar at a private education institution. The couple have no children.
He says: "It is fun to replicate these dishes at home and you do not need to spend so much for a meal out. It is more meaningful to come up with a menu to mark these events."
- 6 prawns, shelled
- 1 1/2 Tbs store-bought laksa paste
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- 700ml water
- Laksa leaves from 3 sprigs
- Three kaffir lime leaves
- 50ml coconut cream
- 1/4 of a piece of tofu puff (tau pok), sliced
- 50g arborio rice
- 4 Tbs cold salted butter, divided
- 400ml hot water
- Kaffir lime leaves, shallots and black pepper to taste
1. In a pot on medium to high heat, fry prawn shells and heads, and 1 Tbs laksa paste with olive oil for one to two minutes.
2. Add the 700ml of water, laksa leaves and kaffir lime leaves and bring it to a boil. Switch to low heat and let the stock simmer for at least 30 minutes.
3. Stir coconut cream into the stock.
4. Place sliced tofu puffs and shelled prawns in a strainer and blanch them in the stock for two minutes. Set aside.
5. Strain the stock into another pot and keep it warm on the stove on low heat.
6. In a pan over medium heat, add the arborio rice and 1 Tbs of the cold salted butter. Shake the pan sideways and use a spatula to mix the butter with the risotto until the mixture foams.
7. Switch to high heat and add 300ml of laksa stock into the pan. Stir the contents with a spatula and allow the stock to be absorbed by the rice.
8. Add 100ml of hot water into the pan and stir the contents for one to two minutes till the rice has absorbed most of the water. Repeat this step three more times. The rice should become more puffy.
9. Stir 1/2 Tbs of laksa paste into the mixture.
10. Turn off the heat and add the remaining 3 Tbs of cold salted butter into the pan. Stir the contents until the butter has melted, to create a creamy texture.
11. Garnish with cooked tofu puffs and prawns, laksa leaves, shallots and black pepper to taste. Serve.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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