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A Word About Risotto…

October 14, 2009

I’m always mulling about various food topics that divide the world into two camps: Sea urchin.  Black licorice.  Cilantro.  Boiling ribs before you grill them.

Today it’s risotto.  One camp thinks risotto is just plain scary.  Too labor intensive, too time consuming, too HARD.  Then there’s the other group who find the making of risotto completely satisfying, Zen-like and therapeutic, also reveling in the insane versatility of the dish, and the ability to play with the core concept to make an endless, brilliant varieties of one of Italy’s greatest national dishes.hungrymouserisotto

Can you tell which group I’m in?

I’m in love with risotto.  It’s one of the biggest consolations for the arrival of chilly weather.  I want to start a petition re-naming fall “risotto time”.  When those little individual grains of rice give up their starch and start to bind themselves together into that creamy, luscious nectar of the gods….

Sorry, I think I blacked out for a minute.  Where was I going with this?  Oh yes, what I am trying to say is that risotto is NOT HARD and NOT REALLY THAT TIME-CONSUMING and worth EVERY SECOND OF IT.  I don’t mean to yell, but I am just so determined to rid people of the notion that risotto is a fancy restaurant type dish.  If you can pour and stir periodically, you can be a risotto god.

If you want to immerse yourself in the art of risotto making, one definitive read is Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.  Also, our good friend Jessie at The Hungry Mouse created a remarkable step-by-step photographic lesson for making Jamie Oliver’s Three Cheese Risotto, which pretty much eliminates any possible confusion as to how things should look as you’re cooking along.

And if you just want some quick tips to get you feeling empowered, here are some of the things I keep in mind, whatever recipe I’m using:

-Use a short-grained rice, like Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano.

-Saute the rice in butter or oil until translucent before beginning to add the liquid.

-Other than an optional initial splash of wine, make sure the liquid you add is hot.

-Don’t add too much liquid at a time, a cup maximum, and less as the cooking progresses.

-Use a fairly high heat; the risotto should be simmering in a lively fashion the whole while.

-Here’s a biggie: you don’t have to stir constantly.  Stir frequently, but don’t get too crazy about it.  You can absolutely keep walking away from the pot to get everything else ready, just go back every couple of minutes.

-A little bit no duh, but add ingredients you want to cook longer (onions, shallots, etc.) at the beginning, those you’d like to be more pronounced or al dente at the end (asparagus pieces, lemon zest, etc.)

-Don’t use too small or too deep a pot.  You want a generous amount of surface area so the liquid absorbs at a nice brisk, even pace and the rice doesn’t steam.

– At the end, add that extra splash  of broth – it should be soupier than you imagine because it will keep cooking and absorbing broth even after you take it off the heat, and if you’re adding cheese at the end, that will thicken it up even further.  The risotto is finished when the rice is tender, but still has a firmness to it, and the risotto it is still quite wet.

-Don’t be scared to add a pat of butter at the very end.  It makes the texture silkier and the flavor richer, and none of us should be freaking out over an extra tablespoon of butter in a dish meant to serve 6 or so people.

– Serve it immediately.  (You have to say this when you are writing about risotto.  It’s the law.  Now having said that, I ate rewarmed leftover butternut squash risotto for breakfast today, and was quite happy.)

11 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2009 10:50 pm

    I completely agree with you on risotto! I love it–love to cook it–love to eat it–love to serve it to other people. I would also vote for calling fall ‘Risotto Time’ except I also love a nice spring risotto with fresh asparagus. There’s not much I don’t like with risotto!
    Leftovers? Delicious! I make risotto cakes with mine: cold risotto, form into patties, dust with seasoned flour, fry in evoo/butter 1:1 until browned in both sides. I can promise you’ll love them–and you’ll be surprised that the inside returns to that creamy mouth feel while the outside is crisp. So good!

  2. October 15, 2009 1:35 am

    I’m with you on the risotto love, too, and there are times when I definitely love the process, but lately I’ve been cheating: slow cooker risotto is so.freaking.easy it should be illegal. Not even remotely authentic in technique, but the end results are pretty darn good. (I don’t mean to be a self-publicizing ass here, but I blogged about it just last week: http://wordstoeatby.blogspot.com/2009/10/slow-cooker-butternut-squash-risotto.html)

  3. October 15, 2009 1:43 am

    I agree Risotto is not so hard, but once when I made it and added the wine to the butter, it shot up like a geyser and stained my ceiling with 13 huge grease spots. Then I oil primed and painted and they returned. Then I got a super duper spray primer and ended up with a snow village kitchen from overspray. I finally managed to get the kitchen back in shape, and I still make risotto, but I always have that lid in my hand when I add the wine.

    Oh and I don’t always serve immediately either. I mean with taking pictures, nothing in my house is served immediately.

  4. michelle permalink
    October 15, 2009 1:47 am

    I love risotto and just had some at a cooking demonstration on Tuesday. It’s the perfect kid-friendly food and they can help make it. Yay fall!

  5. October 15, 2009 2:07 am

    Also, risotto properly prepared correctly at home is better than most of what you get at restaurants. In most restaurants the rice is par-cooked and then finished to order, usually not with the requisite attention, and often ends up overcooked and gummy. Even at otherwise good restaurants. Learn to make it at home and you’ll be proud that you can do it as good or better than the pros.

  6. Lee permalink
    October 15, 2009 1:49 pm

    Katie – thank you for such a wonderful post on risotto! We make it all the time in my house, everyone loves it. It is such a fun dish to experiment with, once you understand the basics. Just picked up a butternut squash and can’t wait to try the recipe you link to above.

    Loving the site, as well. So glad you were on Top Chef, so we could find it!

  7. Dwight permalink
    October 15, 2009 1:54 pm

    My cooking experience when I was younger (and single) consisted of Ramen in the microwave, fruit salad and a lot of prepared food. This experience (or lack of) has manifested itself into a general fear of the kitchen (except the freezer). That is – until I discovered Cookstr. I’ve been taking it slow though and haven’t really tried the scary looking recipes. Last night, I threw all caution to the wind and decided to test drive your claim that what I had always thought was an impossible dish to master, is actually quite easy. WOW. You were right. And it was delicious – at least that’s what my wife and kids said. (and I’m an easy critic on myself – what with a background in Ramen and whatnot)

    On to the “Roast Partridge with Grapes in Sauternes” tonight. Just kidding. Baby steps.

  8. October 17, 2009 8:36 pm

    My first try was a recipie from epicurious.com for asparagus risotto. It was easier than I thought and delicious. I have also made a number of Weight Watcher recipies for risotto. I have made risotto as a main course dish for dinner parties and everyone loved it. Don’t be scared it is worth the effort.

  9. May 28, 2011 3:29 am

    I also knew in masterchef that this dish is pretty hard to make. That is why I haven’t tried making it.

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