When I was a kid, my mom made ebi-fry, tonkatsu and korokke frequently. Every time she would serve up one of these deep-fried treats, my sister and I who were both picky eaters, would be satisfied. To this day, I love Japanese deep fried foods. I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't like the delicate crisp of panko married with potatoes or seafood.
But as vivid as the memories of the golden brown nuggets were, so were the clean-up rituals I would see my mom perform after all the frying was over. After waiting for the oil to cool down, the oil had to carefully be funneled into a bottle which would then be taken to a collection facility. It all seemed like such a big investment for one meal. It was during my childhood that I associated deep-frying with words like "wasteful," "hassle," and "not when I grow up." All through my 20s, I never attempted deep frying in my own kitchen even though, by my late 20s, I was fully aware that only with a big investment you get big rewards.
It wasn't until last week that I stepped into the deep-frying chapter of my life. The recipe that inspired me was Charlie Pizzaiolo's arancini.
Arancini at OPENharvest, Tokyo
Rice coated with panko, with a fontina surprise in the middle... this motivated me to get over my issues with deep frying. I went to the store and got a large bottle of vegetable oil and borrowed a deep frying vessel from my mom. I knew that after all was said and done, I could at least say I attempted deep-frying even if it meant blogging about it with a Phantom of the Opera face-- half melted from splatters of oil.
Fortunately, it wasn't that dramatic. And double fortunately, the arancini balls were delicious and creamy on the inside and lightly crisp on the outside. The only thing I would change is my habit of under-salting. I adapted Charlie Pizzaiolo's original recipe with sake instead of white wine and sauteed mushrooms instead of roasted kabocha.
Aranchini with Mushrooms
Serves 6 people
1 cup high quality short grain rice or risotto
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup sauteed mushrooms (shiitake, chanterelle or button), chopped
1/2 cup fontina cheese diced into small pieces
1/2 cup yellow onions
2 cups panko
5-10 sage leaves (optional)
2 tbsp butter
1 cup sake or white wine
1. Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a thick bottomed pan with straight sides
2. Add diced yellow onions and cook until cooked all the way through. Season with salt to taste.
3. Add rice and cook in the onions and butter until the slightly browned. About 5 minutes.
4. Add enough white wine to cover the rice and cook until absorbed by the rice.
5. Slowly add about half of the chicken stock while stirring.
6. Keep tasting the rice through the whole process!
7. When the rice is almost cooked through, add sauteed mushrooms.
8. Keep adding rest of the chicken stock until the rice is just cooked through. Stir constantly. The risotto should be creamy and delicious. Season to taste.
9. Pour the risotto out on a sheet tray and let it cool. When it has cooled down, form into little balls about 2 inches in diameter. Wet hands to help keep the rice from sticking.
10. Push a small piece of cheese into the middle of the ball and close up the rice around it.
11. Whisk 3 eggs into a bowl and dip the aranicini balls into the egg.
12. Toss the balls in panko until they are totally coated.
13. These balls will last for two or three days. When you are ready to eat, fry them in oil for about 3-4 minutes until they are golden brown.
14. Sprinkle them with salt and a little fried sage (optional).
These balls are pretty heavy, so 3-4 per person seems to be plenty. The sauteed mushrooms marries flawlessly with the fragrant fontina cheese, and the creaminess of Japanese short grain rice worked so well as a substitute for risotto. Years of onigiri making came in handy for pushing those pieces of fontina cheese into the rice ball. Keep practicing and you'll enter a rhythm.
These balls of warmth are perfect for winter months. As a thank you to my mother for all her years of deep frying during my childhood, I'll be bringing these balls home for Christmas this year.
Clear oil, fried rice, can't lose!!!