This is a dish I’ve had in the back of my mind for years now. I’d read that you could treat some starches other than arborio rice just like you would a risotto–farro, barley, even brunoised (finely diced) potatoes. Alex and I were staying at a hotel in Cancun called Live Aqua, where Michelle Bernstein has a restaurant and featured a savory steel cut oat risotto. I tried it for the first time and loved it. It was rich and cheesy, perfectly paired with melt in your mouth osso bucco and bright pickled fennel.
Last month I went to Empire State South while in Atlanta on a business trip, and Hugh Acheson’s rendition of steel cut oat risotto was truly something special. The umami-rich mushrooms contrasted with bright green basil oil, and an acidic element added depth and tied the whole thing together. This is my attempt to recreate that magic.
- 1 container of mushrooms–baby bellas, shiitakes, or something fancier if you have access to them
- 1 clamshell of dried porcini mushrooms–about 1/3 of a cup
- 3/4 a cup of steel cut oats
- 1/2 a cup of white wine
- Granulated garlic
- 1/2 a cup of fresh grated good parmiggiano, plus more for garnishing
- A palmful of chopped tarragon
- Tarragon, balsamic, or red wine vinegar
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Chives for garnish
- Start by boiling 3 cups of water, then add the dried porcinis. This will steep and produce a very dark, umami-rich liquid. This will be the flavor base of the dish. Trust.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Rinse the mushrooms really well in a colander, toss with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil, then roast on a sheet pan for about 35-40 minutes, tossing halfway through and checking to make sure the mushrooms don’t dry up too much. The mushrooms should release a lot of their liquid and concentrate in flavor. They’ll taste awesome. Remove and let cool slightly. We’ll use these to top the risotto at the end, so if you want to do this a day in advance, that’s totally cool. I run a very laissez-faire kitchen up in here.
- While your mushrooms are roasting, do your prep work–chop your herbs, grate your parmiggiano, measure out your wine, get all of your ingredients out where you can easily access them. Once the cooking process starts, you won’t be able to leave your station for too long. Nuke the porcini mushroom liquid for 2 minutes so it’ll be warm and ready to go.
- To start the risotto, get a large flat-bottomed pan (a sauté pan or frying pan that’s a couple inches deep will work well). Drizzle in some olive oil, and heat over medium. Once warm, pour in the steel cut oats and let them toast. Stir the oats constantly and don’t let them burn–this step is over once you can smell their nuttiness, about 30 seconds later. Pour in the white wine and give it a good stir, then turn the heat down to medium low. Add a couple big pinches of salt and a generous pinch of granulated garlic. Stir with a wooden spoon every 15 seconds or so, and let the oats absorb the liquid.
- For the next 25 minutes or so, this is your job: splash in 1/4-1/2 a cup of porcini broth into the oats, and stir and stir until the oats absorb much of the liquid. Once the liquid mostly dries up, add some more. Your oats should always be veiled under a thin layer of liquid, and you should stir it constantly to make sure everything cooks evenly, doesn’t burn, and that the excess starches get creamy and delicious. It’s a labor of love, but you’ll be so glad you put in the hustle.
- Once all the broth is used up, taste the oats. They should be hearty and toothsome, but not unpleasantly hard. Add warm water and continue cooking if it needs more time. If not, cut the heat and stir in the parmiggiano, tarragon, and a splash of the vinegar. Taste, then add more salt if needed.
- To serve, spoon into a wide bowl. Top with the roasted mushrooms, the chives, fresh grated parmiggiano, and a drizzle of good olive oil. Try not to wolf it down too quickly.
Remix The Dish: You can use this same method with chicken, beef, or veggie broth if mushrooms aren’t your thing and still get a crazy delicious meal. Chicken broth topped with roasted asparagus and bright green basil oil with be a super sexy spring dish. Next time, I’m going to double this recipe and eat the leftovers for breakfast with a 7 minute egg.