tiny test kitchen
February 9, 2008

I'm booked solid for the next two weeks (thanks mostly to a work trip), so if I want to try out anything before our party, then this weekend is my last chance. So despite multiple editing projects, laundry piling up and other pressing chores, I decide I can squeeze in a test run for fried risotto balls between girl's night out and the theatre.

I've wanted to try these since my friend's fancy-catered wedding almost a year ago—and even quizzed the serving staff on prep tips during the reception. But I haven't had the chance until now. I've done some research in the interim, which leads straight back to Daniel Boulud. With a little tweaking I figure I can make this work.

The trouble is that I'm tired and busy and I don't really feel like cleaning the kitchen before I start. I figure I can make a lemon coulis (with all roads leading to Boulud) without clearing out the sink. The boiling part works fine. The trouble comes when I'm trying to blend. I'm quartering the recipe so I won't end up with enough risotto to make me sick, but one fourth of one-fourth cup grapeseed oil isn't enough to rise above the blades of the mini-prep. Nor do I have enough liquid for the regular food processor. Very quickly I've gone through all my blending apparatuses (apparently I own five; no wonder Tiny Kitchen's been feeling cramped), and I still end up fishing out the lemon peel, chopping it finely with the cleaver, then whisking it back into the oil-lemon juice mixture with a fork.

It doesn't matter. It's so good I can't stop licking my fingers. I'm almost happy enough to forgo the arancini (proper Italian name) and just eat lemon coulis for the rest of my life.

But I press on—which takes a certain amount of fortitude, considering I now have a week's worth of dishes plus all manner of blending and chopping devices sprawled across the counter, stove and floor. I go back to my excellent German peeler for lemon risotto cooked with zest—but I'm less pleased with the outcome. Sure, it's risotto, and it's fine, but after the lemon coulis this citrus seems tame. The boredom factor isn't helped by the fact that my vegetable broth has rendered the whole thing a rather unappealing shade of mud. I remember the bright yellow orbs from the wedding and realize I need saffron to do this right. No matter; the real test-kitchen challenge is deep frying.

After stickily forming balls, pouring in thumbprints of coulis and freezing overnight I'm ready with my splatter guard, meat thermometer (which will have to stand in for the deep fat variety) and peanut oil. I figure I ought to be pouring the oil into a deep pot to avoid injury, but I don't really have enough peanut oil to use anything but my tiniest Tiny Kitchen pot, so I hold out the splatter guard like a shield and begin. The oil heats almost immediately way past 325°. I also somehow read my compiled recipe incorrectly and fry for 3-5 minutes rather than 2-3. So some of the floured and panko edges come out a bit charred. But otherwise they're gorgeous—golden and crisp and round and tasty. The flavor of the risotto doesn't even matter; this coulis could shine through cement. I stand in the kitchen and polish off eight without waiting for them to cool (at which point I've burned my tongue and given myself a stomachache).