Iće i piće

NO 31, July 2012


A risotto for patient carnivores

Jelena Ivanišević

Photos: Damir Fabijanić

It’s a positive sin to pass by Skradin without dropping in for the famed risotto. But as it usually is, sinning is but too easy, because you have to plan for this risotto in advance. Renounce all spontaneity if you have any hope of trying out this unique and meticulous dish. True, in Skradin, when you have settled down nicely on the border between sea and river, which is always a great position for cooking to develop, you’re bound to eat well even if you come entirely unannounced. But do plan a trip for this famed risotto. The pleasure in it is proportional to the effort that the cooks of Skradin put into its preparation Risotto connoisseurs and master don’t make a mystery of the recipe, and say that in fact, there is no secret to it, they just say that you need to have enough time for the preparation of Skradin Risotto. Lots of time. The ingredients are simple, and the guests anyway always arrive when it smells good from the kitchen. If you are not patient by nature, don’t even try to cook it. For the others, who have a weakness for dishes that simmer for hours, Skradin risotto is a kind of throwback to a different age. One that didn’t know about being impatient in food preparation, and spent its time cooking on hearths and wood-burning ranges. Today’s sweet expectation of slow-cooking dishes is like the game of nerves in slow seduction. The smell from the kitchen in which something is quietly braising makes us as impatient as people newly embarking on an affair. Armed with either patience or good planning, the Skradin Risotto Mission can start.

Slow like risotto

Skradin risotto, they say, has always been made by men. Which is not out of the ordinary in the case of rather special and complex foods. While the women traditionally take on the chore of cooking for every day, and necessarily also eking things out, men in the kitchen usually spellbind, perhaps making up for the industry that puts their daily meals on the table. Since they cook when they have the time, these are always dishes that are cooked for hours, those that are cooked in the garden, party dishes, that is, things made in larger quantities. Hearty and dazzling goulashes, spit roasts, grills, kotlovina (an outdoor cross between grilling and frying, usually stated to be untranslatable, as it is)… all of them social occasions in which it’s in order to drink a glass of wine or two. Hanging out with a gourmet touch breaks up the rhythm of the quotidian and makes life more carefree, nicer. Very much in this hedonistic tone is the ancient, burgher recipe for the tasty Skradin risotto. Entirely unexpectedly exaggerated, because risotto is reckoned, if not actually a scanty then at least a rapid food. Risotto, like pizza, puts up with anything. Whatever is found in and around the fridge and the house, as long as there’s a bit of good cheese to finish it off.

This prodigal risotto, though, demands absolutely the best part of the meat, the veal rump centre cut. But this is not nearly enough. There should also be a bit of beef, young and old; an older capon, some ham. The rest is simply enough, bit of salt and pepper, bit of nutmeg. Some hard, characterful cheese at the end, as befits. The recipe for this risotto couldn’t be simpler. But have you got six or eight or eleven hours to do it? So, it gets cooked only in the most leisured times. And you don’t make it in small quantities, there’s no point. It’s better to cook it in company, because even the strongest hands get tired of mixing. An equal amount of onion and diced meat is gently braised until it gives up its soul to the soul and turns into essence of meat. The kind in which boiled stone would taste good. When the extract of meat and onion is ready, the rice is added, and then to the end is moistened with the bouillon of beef and capon or rooster. The rice is seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and a bit of prosciutto. Only the best meat, a powerful stock and a lot of time are the ingredients of this old burgher recipe that is today a traditional attraction of the Skradin region. The smell of an age that didn’t need tins or dehydrated veg. The sophisticated spirit of a time preserved in a recipe the making of which was once the pride of every well-off house in Skradin.

A stop in Skradin on the way down south is to be understood, the rest is nonsense. But don’t be late. If you are on time, the all-meat risotto has to be smoking on the dish. Now slowly, blow on it, mix.

Skradin risotto

rump veal 1 kg
onion 1 kg
rice 500 g
hard sheep cheese 150 g
salt and pepper
capon 1
jung beef for soup 500 g
beef for soup 500 g
soup vegetables 1 bunch
onion 1
  1. Cook the bouillon with soup vegetables (leaves of parsley and celery, root parsley, celery, carrots and kale leaf) and meat. Young beef is the meat we get from cattle aged 12-14 months, which is difficult to 380-450 kg. Beef is meat from cattle aged 14-16 months old and heavy 450-500 kg. The best part for the soup is beef neck.
  2. Sauté finely chopped onion in oil or lard until it glazes. Add the veal chopped into dice and braise, adding the bouillon now and then to stop it from drying out, 6-8 hours. At the end of the braising, salt. You should have got a dense mixture, something like paté.
  3. Add the rice, and go on to simmer the rice, moistening with bouillon. Season with salt, pepper, nutmeg. Before serving, sprinkle abundantly with grated cheese.

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