With winter in full swing and the wood fired oven hotplate available all day, there is nothing more comforting than stirring a risotto while enjoying the warmth in the kitchen. The aromas fill the air as the broth simmers gently.

Chicken thigh fillets have plenty of flavour, brought to life by poaching slowly in chicken stock, which has been enhanced by the tenderising action of coconut milk powder. Arborio rice is a plump white grain, entirely suitable for creating this classic risotto with a twist. Spanish red onions have a sweetness that compliments the chicken, and the use of saffron adds fragrance and colour to the rice. A final drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar provides a rich tangy contrast. Fresh herbs lift the palate and bring vibrant colour to the plate.

Saffron Risotto & Coconut Poached Chicken
Clockwise from left: finely grated Parmesan cheese, finely chopped Spanish red onion, arborio rice, powdered saffron, butter, white wine.

Saffron Risotto & Coconut Poached Chicken
Saffron threads (or turmeric) and Spanish red onions provide both colour and flavour.

Saffron Risotto & Coconut Poached Chicken
Plump and short cream-coloured arborio rice grains are the key ingredient in risotto.

Saffron Risotto & Coconut Poached Chicken
Chicken thigh meat being poached slowly, together with a fresh sprig of thyme.

Saffron Risotto & Coconut Poached Chicken
The poaching liquid is strained into a saucepan; the poached chicken is pulled and set aside.

Saffron Risotto & Coconut Poached Chicken
Ladles of simmering poaching liquid are slowly added to the rice, after each addition has been absorbed by the rice grains.

INGREDIENTS

Serves 2

For poached chicken:
2 chicken thigh fillets
1 sprig fresh thyme
2 tbsp coconut milk powder
500 ml chicken stock

For risotto:
45g reduced fat butter
1/2 small Spanish red onion, very finely chopped
2 tbsp white wine
1 cup Arborio rice
500 ml reserved poaching liquid
500 ml water
1/8th tsp saffron (substitute turmeric if desired) allowed to rest in a tbsp of warm water
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, extra to serve if desired
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley and/or chives
1 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar

METHOD

Poach the chicken: Bring chicken stock to a simmer in shallow pan and whisk in coconut milk powder, add chicken and cover pan. Bake in a slow oven approx. 150C or on the cooktop at the lowest setting until chicken is cooked all the way through, but still tender. This will take about 40 mins; ensure the water is barely at a simmer. Strain the liquid into a medium saucepan, add the water and bring to a gentle simmer. Allow the chicken to cool and then pull into shreds, working with the natural grain of the meat. Set aside in a bowl.

Make the risotto: In a large deep saucepan, melt half of the butter and sauté the red onion over a gentle heat until soft and transparent. Add the wine and rice, and stir for a few minutes until the grains are glossy and have absorbed the wine.

Add the simmering stock half a ladle at a time, stirring slowly and constantly over a medium heat, allowing each addition to be fully absorbed before adding more liquid. After ten minutes, add the saffron infusion to the risotto, and add the pulled chicken to the pan of broth to allow it to heat through gently. Continue adding broth and stirring the risotto for another 10 minutes. You will be left with just the pulled chicken in a very small amount of broth: remove this pan from the heat.

Plate up: After a total of 20 minutes’ cooking time, remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese and the remaining butter. Cover and wait a minute for the additions to incorporate and thicken. The risotto should be creamy: not too runny and not too thick. The grains should hold their shape, but not be hard or chewy. Place an even layer of risotto on each plate in a wide circle, top the centre with the pulled chicken, sprinkle the risotto with a small amount of extra Parmesan, top with fresh herbs and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Saffron Risotto & Coconut Poached Chicken
An ideal accompaniment to the finished dish would be a glass of your favourite white wine, or fresh grape juice.

Saffron Risotto & Coconut Poached Chicken
Morning fog over the Wollondilly River is common in winter here in Canyonleigh, Australia