Shrimp asparagus risotto: creamy, saffron infused risotto, with fresh asparagus, tender shrimp, and nutty parmesan cheese. Whether you are looking for a date night treat or classic comfort food, this is a recipe that every home chef should know. While this method is not traditional, it produces delicious result with a lot less stirring. Read on to learn how to choose the right rice, which wines work best, and why I refuse to keep this a one dish meal (hint: it’s all about the shrimp!).
Like most home chefs you hear risotto and you instantly think about spending an hour standing over a hot stove constantly stirring. The arm cramps. The heat. The stiff back. The inability to get anything else done.
Before you click away, you should know that description does not fit this risotto. This risotto is creamy and flavorful, and requires about 1/3 of the stirring of a traditional risotto.
I know. I know. All the Italian grandmothers in the world are rolling over in their graves right now. Before you get upset, please understand that I’m not claiming this recipe to be authentic, I am only claiming that it works.
Delicious Risotto, Less Stirring
My method for risotto came about by pure accident caused in part by a bottle of wine and part by a great phone conversation with my best friend. Short story: I got distracted and walked away from the pan. By the time I remembered that I was making shrimp asparagus risotto it should have been ruined, but it wasn’t.
Instead, the liquid was absorbed and the rice looked ready for the next liquid addition, just like it would if I had stood there and stirred the whole time. It took me a couple more tries to figure out what I did differently, but since then it’s always worked.
So, what did I do different? I kept the temperature low and put the lid on the pan before I walked away. Simple as that.
As a result, the liquid condensed on the lid and dripped back into the pan instead of evaporating. In effect, it’s almost like steaming the rice, but not exactly. The lid helps to keep the top from drying out and requires a lot less work from you.
The Prep Work
Mise en place, the French word for establishment, is key to getting this recipe right. In the cooking world the phrase means to have all of your ingredients prepared and ready to use. For this recipe you need to do the following before you ever put the pan on the stove:
- Chop the onion, garlic, and asparagus.
- Clean & devein shrimp, including removing from shells, then place back in the fridge until needed.
- Make shrimp stock (optional, see cooking liquid section).
- Measure out the wine (or wine substitute, see wine section) and gather all other ingredients along with necessary measuring cups or spoons.
The Kitchen Tools
My preferred pan for risotto is a 3 1/2 or 4 quart non-stick saute pan. Because we are stirring less, there is a higher likelihood that something may stick. By using a non-stick pan we reduce that risk.
If you don’t have a non-stick saute pan, an enamel coated dutch oven would be my second choice, followed by a stainless steel saute pan. Just make sure to lower the heat if you notice anything sticking and check it more often until you are comfortable with how quickly/slowly it cooks.
You also need a long handled mixing spoon or spatula to for the minimal stirring required. I like to use a spatula, as I find it’s better at scraping all the starchy sauce from the edges.
For successful risotto, you must use an Italian short grain variety of rice. In the United States the most commonly sold variety is arborio rice. Depending on where you are in the world you may find carnaroli, vialone, nano, or baldo. I’ve been told that carnaroli is the best for risotto, but I have yet to find it in my local market, so I use arborio.
The key to this rice type is the high level of starch. This starch combines with the liquid, usually broth, to create the creamy sauce. Do not use a basic white, brown, basmati, or jasmine rice for this dish. Also, do not rinse the rice. This will remove some of the starch and can cause your risotto to fail.
Toasting the Rice
After you cook the onions, the rice needs to be toasted before you start adding the liquid. Toasting the rice will help release the starches and add a bit of flavor to the risotto, kind of like searing the surface of a steak. Warning: this is the only part of the recipe where you do have to stir constantly.
The rice must keep moving during this process or it may burn. So grab that spatula or spoon and start to stir. In about 3 – 5 minutes, the rice will begin to brown slightly and the oil in the pan will absorb. Once this happens, immediately add the first cup of liquid, which if using, will be the wine.
When it comes to cooking with wine there is only one hard rule: if you don’t like the way it tastes in your glass, don’t put it in your food. You don’t need expensive wine, but NEVER use something that is labeled “cooking wine”. It’s not fit to drink. Instead, find a wine that you enjoy, at a comfortable price, and use that.
Another good rule of thumb is that the wine in the dish usually makes a great pairing for the dinner table. Chose a wine that pairs well with shrimp to use while cooking, then reserve the rest for the meal. I’ve made mine with chardonnay, but I also like viognier, or even a pinot gris.
If you don’t want to use wine, replace it with an extra cup of stock and add a bit of acidity. Lemon juice, lime juice, or a light vinegar such as champagne or white wine all work well. About a tablespoon is all you need.
The Cooking Liquid
The standard cooking liquid for risotto is stock or broth. You can use a basic chicken or vegetable broth, but I like to take it a step further and make homemade shrimp stock. Of all the types of stock I’ve made, shrimp stock is the easiest.
Once you’ve shelled your shrimp and placed the shrimp back in the fridge, grab those shells and place them in a medium sized stockpot. Cover them with 5 cups of water, bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and you now have your own homemade shrimp stock. Seriously simple.
Whatever stock you use, heat it up and keep it warm while you work. Working with warm stock makes the whole dish cook faster. Once it’s warm, but not boiling, go ahead and add in the saffron. Saffron provides the best flavor when it’s given at least five minutes to steep before use and this warm stock makes it easy to do.
At the very top I admitted that this recipe is not one that I keep to a single pan, and that’s not counting the pot to heat the stock. The pan I’m really referring to is the frying pan to make the shrimp.
Can you skip this step and steam the shrimp right on top of the risotto? You sure can! Does it taste as good? Absolutely not.
The dish is called shrimp asparagus risotto. While the risotto takes most of the work and the flavor of the shrimp comes through in using the stock, adding in steamed shrimp would be like adding boiled steak to a steak risotto. Sure it adds flavor and texture, but not enough to be headlining the dish.
By seasoning the shrimp on it’s own then sauteing it in butter (yes, butter) the shrimp gets those little bits of crusty flavor as the edges sear, and the butter develops a deep nutty flavor as it browns. In my opinion, this brown butter shrimp has the potential to steal the show and it definitely takes this dish over the top. Make sure you scrape all those yummy bits out of the pan and mix into the risotto when you add the shrimp.
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Shrimp Asparagus Risotto Recipe
With less stirring and more flavor, this shrimp asparagus risotto recipe is just the comfort food you need any time of the year. It’s loaded with the flavors of parmesan cheese, saffron infused risotto, tender crisp asparagus, and show stopping,pan seared, brown butter shrimp. Impressive enough for a dinner party or date night at home, but simple enough for comfort food on the couch. Homemade never tasted so good.
If you have leftovers, refrigerate them in an airtight container. The rice is going to dry out a bit, but that means you can reheat it without overcooking. Reheat it on the stove, not in the microwave. You’ll need to add extra stock or water, but add it a little bit at a time, again to avoid overcooking. If you want to make this recipe for entertaining, check out this post for how to precook your risotto like a restaurant. Use the first 9 ingredients in this recipe with his method, then jump back here to finish it off with the asparagus and shrimp.
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- 1/2 medium red onion (about 1 cup diced)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 1/4 cup Arborio rice
- 1 cup white wine*
- 4 cups stock*
- 1/2 tsp saffron
- 1 tsp salt*
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/2 lb of asparagus - trimmed and chopped
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
- 1 lb medium or large shrimp - peeled and deveined
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese (1 ounce finely grated)
- 2 tbsp heavy cream
- 2 TBSP chopped parsley
- Dice onion, mince garlic, trim and chop asparagus, finely chop parsley.
- Peel and devein shrimp.
- Make shrimp stock or heat vegetable stock. Reduce heat to low then add saffron (See notes.)
- Heat a 4 quart saute pan or dutch oven over medium heat.
- Add oil and heat for about a minute longer.
- Add onions, salt* and pepper. Saute 2 - 3 minutes or until onions begin to soften.
- Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer, or until fragrant.
- Pour in rice and continue to cook, stirring constantly for 3 - 5 minutes or until rice begins to brown and oil is absorbed.
- Add wine*, stir, cover, and drop heat to medium low. Cook for about 2 minutes.
- Stir, checking to see how much of the liquid remains. If there is still liquid to absorb, cover and let cook 2 more minutes before checking again. You will know it's time to add more liquid when the bottom of the pan stays visible after stirring.
- Add 1 cup of stock. Stir to combine, cover, and let cook 2 - 3 minutes. If there is still liquid to absorb, cover and let cook another 2 - 3 minutes. If the bottom of the pan stays visible after stirring, repeat this step with the next cup of stock. Continue to repeat this step until all stock has been added.
- After adding the last cup of stock and cooking for 2 minutes, add the parmesan, cream, asparagus, and parsley. Do not stir! Cover and drop heat to low. Cook approximately 5 minutes, until asparagus begins to soften.
- Heat butter in a small frying pan over medium heat and season shrimp with Old Bay seasoning.
- When butter begins to foam add the shrimp, leaving enough room for shrimp to cook without touching.
- When the shrimp start to turn pink, flip them over.
- Cook 2 - 3 minutes more.
- Pour shrimp and any remaining butter into the risotto mixture.
- Stir to combine.
- Taste and adjust salt* if needed.
- Serve garnished with parmesan and parsley.
In place of wine, substitute 1 additional cup of broth plus 1 tablespoon of citrus juice such as lemon or lime juice, or a light vinegar such as champagne or white wine.
To make shrimp stock, place the shrimp shells into a medium stock pot and cover with 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, drop heat to low, then simmer for 15 minutes. Strain out the shells and return the stock to the pan to keep warm over a low heat.
If using a premade stock, you will not need as much salt. Start with 1/4 tsp added to the onions and adjust at the end before serving.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 645