Food & Drink

Summer Seafood Risotto

An odds-and-ends seafood dish from Charleston’s Cru Café

Photo: Andrew Cebulka

Serving fresh seafood at a restaurant sometimes means a chef has to get creative. “When you’re butchering seafood, there are often random pieces not big enough to serve as an entrée, and we have to figure out a way to utilize those,” says John Zucker, the executive chef at Cru Café in Charleston, South Carolina. His risotto, with Thai and Italian influences, solves the odds-and-ends problem for him. “I love risotto,” he says. “So it was a natural solution.” 

After honing a decidedly French style of cooking at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Zucker moved to Las Vegas to work under Wolfgang Puck. “He focused more on California eclectic cuisine with lots of different influences, not just restaurants with specific themes,” he says. “So, when I moved to Charleston to open my first restaurant, Sonoma, I had a lot of European, pan-Asian, and Caribbean influences.” That’s where the risotto first made an appearance. “This recipe has been on my menu in some form for twenty years.” 

Zucker admits the recipe is tricky, but it can be mastered at home with a little patience. “Add the liquid slowly and work it in with a wooden spoon to release the spices,” he says. “You have to stir constantly and mix the flavors really well. And be sure to pull the fish, mussels, and scallops out of the pan and set aside so they don’t overcook. That’s the key.”


  • Thai Seafood Risotto (Yield: 4 servings)

    • 12 mussels

    • 4 large scallops (Zucker recommends U-10, or fewer than ten to a pound)

    • 1 lb. fish (any fresh tuna, grouper, salmon etc.) cut into ¼ inch cubes

    • 8 shrimp (Zucker recommends 21–26 per pound)

    • Salt and pepper to taste

    • ¼ cup olive oil

    • 2 tbsp. chopped shallots

    • 1 tbsp. chopped garlic

    • 1 chopped tomato (preferably Concasse)

    • 1 red pepper, julienned

    • 1 poblano pepper, julienned

    • Par-cooked risotto (see recipe)

    • 1 cup chicken stock (can substitute fish or shrimp stock)

    • 2 tbsp. coconut milk

    • 2 tbsp. soy sauce

    • ½ tsp. fish sauce

    • 1 tbsp. hot sauce (or cayenne)

    • 1 tbsp. Thai basil (or regular basil), chiffonade

    • ½ tsp. thyme, chopped

    • ¼ cup unsalted butter

  • For the par-cooked risotto:

    • ¼ cup olive oil

    • 1 whole white onion, finely diced

    • 1 box risotto (usually a one-pound box)

    • 2 cups white wine

    • 1¼ qt. chicken stock (this may vary depending on the risotto)


  1. To par-cook the risotto:

    Heat a large saucepan over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, add oil and diced onions and sauté until translucent.

  2. Add the risotto and continue to sauté, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the risotto becomes slightly translucent. Add the white wine and continue stirring until the wine has been absorbed by the risotto. It is very important to constantly stir the risotto to help bring out the natural starches and creamy consistency of the rice. 

  3. Add the chicken stock one cup at a time, continuing to stir (always wait until the risotto has absorbed the stock before you add more.) Continue this process until the rice is al dente (still a little firm when bitten). 

  4. Place the almost-cooked risotto on a sheet tray and spread it out to cool down. Place in the refrigerator until cool. 

  5. For the risotto: 

    Heat a large sauté pan or a risotto sauté pan over medium high heat. Place all the seafood on a plate and season with salt and pepper. Add olive oil to the hot sauté pan, then add shallots and garlic and sauté until translucent. 

  6. Add the seafood and sear until half cooked. Remove the seafood from the pan and place on another plate. 

  7. Add tomato, peppers, and risotto to the pan. Stir in ¼ cup of chicken stock with a wooden spoon. Constantly stir the risotto.

  8. Slowly add the coconut milk, soy sauce, fish sauce, hot sauce, and more stock, stirring constantly. Then add the seafood.

  9. Add the basil, thyme, and butter. If needed, add more stock to create a creamy consistency. Stir until seafood is fully cooked. Serve in four large bowls.