Downtown's Lazy Ox Canteen isn't a fancy place. In fact, for the first couple of months it was open, there wasn't even a sign out front. But chef Josef Centeno really knows how to cook soul-satisfying food. Nothing exemplifies that better than his rice pudding. It's a thoroughly grown-up take on the nursery treat. Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila raved: "It's dreamy, with sides of whipped cream and a deep caramel sauce, and definitely big enough to share." That it is. The recipe is a bit involved — besides the cinnamon-scented rice pudding, there's a caramel sauce and an almond brittle — but the payoff at the end is enormous. This is one rice pudding you won't quickly forget.
Lazy Ox Canteen's rice pudding
Total time: 11/2 hours, plus chilling time
Servings: 10 to 12
Note: Adapted from Chef Josef Centeno of Lazy Ox Canteen
Rice pudding base
1/2 cup Arborio rice
2 cups water
1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick, preferably Mexican (canela)
1 quart half-and-half, more if needed
1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Rinse the Arborio rice several times until the water runs clear. This is very important, so that the rice will be evenly cooked and there will be no al dente grains.
2. In a heavy saucepan, bring the 2 cups water, a pinch of salt and the cinnamon stick to a simmer over high heat. Add the rice and simmer until it has absorbed the water, about 10 minutes.
3. Stir in the half-and-half and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally (be sure to stir the bottom of the pan to prevent the rice from sticking; if it burns, you will need to start over). Depending on how quickly the rice absorbs the liquid, you may need to add a little more water or half-and-half.
4. Stir in the cream, brown sugar, condensed milk and vanilla extract. Continue to simmer gently, stirring frequently, until the rice is very thick and creamy (it should have no "bite" whatsoever), about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat.
5. While the mixture is still very hot, adjust the consistency as needed with additional cream (it should be rather thin, as it will thicken dramatically as it cools; it will be easier to finish the rice for service if it is not too thick). Taste the rice and adjust the flavor with more salt and sugar as desired.
6. Move the rice to a medium bowl and cover with plastic wrap pressed flat against the surface (this will prevent a skin from forming). Refrigerate the rice until chilled.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 orange peel
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the mixture caramelizes to a light golden brown. (Do not stir the sugar once it begins to bubble, and brush the sides of the pan with water to keep the sugar from crystallizing — if it crystallizes, you will need to start over.)
2. While the sugar is cooking, combine the orange peel and cream in a small saucepan over high heat. Scald the cream, then remove from heat.
3. When the sugar has caramelized, add the butter and stir slowly with a wooden spoon, being careful not to seize the caramel. Slowly add in the hot cream, being careful of the hot steam.
4. Season the caramel with a pinch of salt, and reserve in a warm place. This makes a scant 1 cup caramel.
Butter, for greasing the sheet pan
1/4 cup whole almonds
3 tablespoons olive oil
Fleur de sel
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (optional, this will make for a lighter and more airy brittle)
1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a rimmed sheet pan and set it aside.
2. Toss the almonds with the olive oil and a sprinkling of fleur de sel. Place the almonds on a baking sheet (not the buttered pan) and toast until golden and aromatic, about 4 to 6 minutes. Set aside in a warm place.
3. While the almonds are toasting, in a small heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar and water and cook until the mixture begins to boil. (Use a small brush dipped in cold water to brush down sugar crystals that cling to sides of pan.)
4. Boil the sugar without stirring until a candy thermometer inserted reads 310 degrees (hard-crack stage); the sugar should be golden. Remove from heat and stir in the warm toasted almonds and baking soda, if using.
5. Immediately pour the mixture onto the buttered sheet pan, spreading it into an even layer with a metal spatula. Sprinkle over a pinch of fleur de sel, then set the mixture aside until hardened, about 30 minutes.
6. Break the brittle, crushing it to desired consistency.
Chilled rice pudding base
2 cups heavy cream, whipped, more or less as desired
Crushed almond brittle
1. Spoon the chilled rice pudding base into a large bowl and fold in whipped cream until the mixture has achieved a sufficiently fluffy and light consistency (this makes a generous 6 cups pudding).
2. Spoon the pudding into bowls and garnish with the warm caramel and crushed almond brittle. Serve immediately.
Each of 12 servings: 572 calories; 5 grams protein; 58 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 37 grams fat; 21 grams saturated fat; 113 mg. cholesterol; 47 grams sugar; 97 mg. sodium.