This savory Cauliflower Risotto with Asparagus, Seared Shrimp, and Fried Leeks is an easy and satisfying skillet meal. Duck fat and Italian cheeses add luxurious richness and flavor. This low carb, primal, one-pan dish has a lot going for it. Unlike risotto made with arborio rice, this is faster and simpler to prepare, has all of the satisfying richness and texture you love about traditional risotto, and the low carb count will minimize your blood glucose and your waistline.
The leeks that sit atop the shrimp are fried in duck fat (yum!) and add a great textural contrast, along with the snap of the asparagus and the toothiness of the ‘grains’ of cauliflower. A squeeze of fresh lemon at the end adds a punch of bright acid to counterbalance the richness.
Back in my Standard American Diet (SAD) days, I enjoyed eating rice frequently. I thought I was being healthy because it’s virtually fat-free. Now I know that it’s the fast-acting carbs, like rice, that are a problem for my body, not the fat. Arborio rice has a particulary high starch content, which is what gives it a ‘creamy’ quality when prepared as traditional risotto. The good news is that, when following a low carb high fat (LCHF) way of eating, fat is our friend, so we don’t need to rely on starch to take the place of fat. Healthy fat not only adds true creaminess, it adds flavor and blunts insulin response.
Now, if you’ve never had properly-prepared cauliflower rice, you may be apprehensive about this strange-sounding rice substitute, especially if you don’t usually care for cauliflower. I totally get it. In my Beefy Taco Mexi-Cauli Rice Skillet post, I mentioned the tredpidation my husband, Dale, and I felt the first time we tried it. Up to that point, we were not cauliflower fans, to say the least!
Two key things have enabled us develop an appreciation for cauliflower: (1) the cooking method itself, and (2) not overcooking it. In this recipe, I saute the grains of cauliflower in fat to bring out the subtle toasty, nutty flavors. Equally important, I stop cooking when it’s reached just barely done — tender, but with firm toothiness, much like properly prepared ‘al dente’ pasta or traditional risotto.
If you’re unfamilar with ‘riced’ cauliflower, it’s easy to prep by grating raw cauliflower or pulsing it in your food processor. OhMyVeggies.com has a great tutorial with more details. Riced cauliflower is also available ready-to-cook at some stores, such as Trader Joe’s, either in the freezer section, the produce section, or both.
Another less common ingredient in this recipe is duck fat. It’s a wonderful addition to the dish because of it’s rich flavor. Plus, it’s a natural, healthy fat. A great source of pastured duck fat is Fatworks, which is shelf-stable and can be purchased online, as well as in some specialty grocery stores. I’ve also found duck fat in the freezer section of some of my local upscale grocers. That said, ghee (clarified butter) is a also good choice because of the flavor and high smoke point, and avocado oil would be fine as well.
Despite it’s elegant appearance, this dish comes together pretty quickly. I used already riced cauliflower, as well as peeled and deveined shrimp, and it took about 40 minutes from start to finish. Prepping the other vegetables ahead of time will save you 10-15 minutes when you’re ready to cook, leaving the actual cooking time at under 30 minutes.
The preparation and cooking process of this recipe is similar to stir-fry. It flows best if you have everything chopped and ready to go before you start to cook. A number of the ingredients are sauteed one at a time, removed from the skillet, and kept warm, while the remaining items are finished. At the end, it is all combined into one cohesive dish.
In addition to the benefit of having only one skillet to clean, this one-pan cooking method also takes advantage of incorporating the flavorful ‘fond’ (caramelized bits on the bottom of the pan) from the shrimp into the finished dish. Not one bit of flavor is lost!
This Cauliflower Risotto with Asparagus, Seared Shrimp, and Fried Leeks is best served immediately. Any leftovers can be kept refrigerated for 2-3 days and reheated gently. You’ll want to store the fried leeks separately so that they don’t become soggy. I don’t believe that this dish will stand up well to freezing.
The delightful combination of flavors and textures, along with the colorful presentation, will have you wondering how you could have possibly produced a restaurant-quality meal from your kitchen in under 45 minutes.
Let us know what you think!
- 2 ounces / 4 tablespoons duck fat, ghee, or avocado oil, divided
- 4 ounces leeks, white and light-green parts halved lengthwise, washed, dried, and sliced into very thin 2-inch strips (about ½ large leek)
- sea salt and ground black pepper
- 12 ounces shrimp (21 to 25), peeled and deveined, tails on or off
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 8 ounces asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (about ½ bunch)
- 12 ounces 'riced' cauliflower
- 4 ounces red bell pepper, seeded and diced about ¼" (about 1 small pepper)
- 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
- 2 ounces / ¼ cup dry white wine (can substitute broth)
- 2 ounces / ¼ cup mascarpone or cream cheese
- 1 ounce / ¼ cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated, plus more for garnish if desired
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives or parsley, for garnish
- Lemon wedges, optional
- Rinse shrimp, drain, and pat dry. Set aside.
- Heat 3 tablespoons of fat in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add leeks and fry, stirring often, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, drain leeks well and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate; sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
- Return skillet with the remaining fat to the stove and increase heat to high. Mix together paprika, ¼ teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon black pepper and toss with shrimp to season. When fat is shimmering, place shrimp in one layer in the skillet. Cook, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Turn shrimp and cook 1 minute on second side. (If you're using larger or smaller shrimp, you'll want to adjust the cooking time accordingly.) Transfer shrimp to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
- Return skillet to medium-high heat and add ½ tablespoon of fat. Add asparagus and season lightly with salt and pepper. Saute for 2 minutes, stirring often, then add 2 tablespoons of water to the skillet and cook until asparagus is crisp-tender, about 1 minute more. Remove asparagus to a plate and cover to keep warm.
- Return skillet to stove and increase heat to high. Add remaining ½ tablespoon of fat and heat until shimmering. Add riced cauliflower and red bell pepper, season lightly with salt and pepper, and stir to blend. Cook, stirring every minute or so, for 3 minutes. Lower heat to medium, add garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
- Add white wine to skillet and cook until wine is mostly evaporated, about a minute. Add mascarpone and parmesan cheese, and stir until cheeses are melted and risotto is creamy. Cook, stirring often, until cauliflower is tender, but still a little firm (al dente), about 1-3 minutes. Stir in asparagus, taste, and add salt and pepper if needed. Transfer to plates or serving dish. Arrange shrimp on risotto, and garnish with fried leeks and fresh herbs. Add lemon wedges, if desired, and serve immediately.
- Leftovers can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Reheat gently so as to not overcook the shrimp -- in a microwave at half power or on the stove over medium-low heat.
*I use Living Cookbook 2015, along with package information and data from www.nutritiondata.self.com, to calculate the nutritional information for my recipes. Thus, I can make no guarantees as to the accuracy.
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