I was hanging out in Michael Chiarello‘s kitchen last weekend waiting for the risotto to finish cooking when I heard there were sausages grilling out back.
Hold that thought, because this is a grilling blog, after all, and we’ll get back to it.
My job takes me to some amazing events, and this one rocked—literally. For Live in the Vineyard, a Napa Valley event that pairs up top recording artists, wine, and chefs, Sutter Home winery, one of the sponsors, invited me to schmooze with 300 fancy people at Chiarello’s party. Christina Perri gave an intimate concert by the pool. And yeah, the food was amazing.
For an Italian-Spanish play on his two restaurants, Bottega and Coqueta, Chiarello decided to make risotto, paella-style. Or was it paella, risotto-style? He slow-cooked a sofrito, then added Spanish paprika, Arborio rice, and broth made with a prosciutto bone.
Arugula pesto and a special Italian pepper like pepperoncini went on top of each serving.
The risotto-paella idea was clever, but it was the details—especially the smoky flavor and crisp edges of the grilled chunks of sausage that were in the dish—that had me thinking Top Chef.
Out back, more sausages were grilling slowly over an oak and apple wood fire.
One of the cooks, George Velazquez, explained that before putting the sausages on the grill, they gently pre-cook them in water to keep the skins from bursting when they get near the flame. “If you just put them in the risotto, you don’t get the color,” he added. “Grilling is important for the eye as well as for flavor.”
I couldn’t have said it better. With seconds in hand, it was on to the party.