Wednesday, May 12, 2010


For some reason people think that risotto is far more complicated than it really is, which in turn is why you find it on so many restaurant menus. it is a very simple dish, that with a tad of knowledge is not only absolutely delicious, but also very versatile. i have seen it as an appetizer, by itself as an entree, and paired with everything from fish to fowl. the ingredients and reasons, then the method.

Rice-Real risotto can only be made with a few kinds of rice. i have used them all, and most aren't all they are cracked up to be. Arborio rice is the true risotto rice, a short grain Italian rice that you can find in the rice section of your megamart and even bulk at some. it will take some practice but i know even what the best brands are for my home, and which in turn i am not a huge fan of. i have never been impressed with the stuff you can buy bulk, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth a shot for you, not to mention it is far less expensive then the tubs that are your other option. this will be lightly toasted in a good pan to enhance the depth of flavor. one of the reasons that risotto is tricky is that we are using arborio due to its starch content, it needs to be stirred almost constantly, i use a wooden spoon. the agitation of the spoon is coaxing the starch from the rice, and that is what gives the final dish the creaminess desired. 1 cup of rice will make three to four portions.

onion- i wouldn't omit this but i suppose it isn't absolutely necessary. at least half of one yellow onion, but it must be chopped fine. classically you would saute the onion, then add the rice, but i find the onion will burn when exposed to enough heat to brown the rice. i add the rice first then the onion. it will still have plenty of time to cook.

liquid- first addition is almost always white wine. again not exactly required. its there to balance acidity, and perhaps sweetness, so if i don't use white wine as the first (even if i do) i will often finish risotto with the juice from a fresh squeezed lemon. next additions are almost always stock. of course homemade is best, but i have even been known to use canned in a pinch for a late night snack. the stock must be warm in a separate pan, and this is where the heat comes into play. while stirring the rice ladle in the cooking liquid. the goal is to monitor the heat and find a perfect middle of evaporation and absorbing. liquid will evaporate regardless, but if the pan is to hot the liquid will evaporate before the rice absorbs it and it will take forever, likewise if the pan is too cool, absorption wont happen as well either. work with it on mediumish heat. when the liquid in the pan gets low, ladle in more, if you run out of liquid use water, just stay with it. the rice will take about 20-25 minutes of cooking all together if you have managed your heat well.

finishing- when the rice is almost done starch will be begin releasing itself and the rice will take on a different appearance. stick with it, snag a grain of rice and press it between your fingers and look at it. arborio is amazing in that it will tell you when its done. look closely at the smashed grain and it will have three little lines or dots inside it. its close. keep adding liquid until you can squish a grain and not see any of the dots inside the grains. try it and if you don't get any crunchy texture then your done. i usually finish with shaved hard cheese of some sort and a pat of butter. it is best served a la minute (it doesn't hold very well at all). the list of additions in extremely long, blanched asparagus tips, puree of all sorts of vegetables, seafood of all sorts etc. before you get in to that give it a few whirls on its own though, take time to get a feel for the rice, the pan, all of it. lets recap-

get your stock or broth hot, chop the onion. in a separate pan start toasting the rice, lightly and gently it will take some time. remember just a tad of color, evenly on the the grains. add onions, allow to cook slightly. add first addition of liquid, turn down heat to medium-ish, allow to absorb, then add again, work the rice with a wooden spoon for about 20 minutes adjusting heat as needed, adding liquid as needed (don't let the pan go dry) check for doneness, finish with lemon, butter, cheese, whatever you are inclined to do. eat, and eat it as soon as possible.

i want you guys to give this a shot. people love risotto like they love bacon. no one says "i don't like risotto". not expensive, and not too tough. again by learning a tad about the method, we don't need a recipe. the goal is that by reading this you know what the rice is doing, seeing it, smelling, hearing, tasting are far better indicators than a recipe. good luck and let me know how it goes.

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