When people ask me what my favorite thing to cook is, which happens quite often, I generally say risotto. There is something very soothing about stirring a warm pot of rice and nursing it to the perfect soft, creamy texture. Plus, an excuse to open a bottle of wine is never bad.
When we finally got to the subject of risotto in culinary school, I was slightly surprised to discover I have been making it correctly for all these years, and so here is what I have to share on the topic. With the below risotto tutorial you should be able to make any risotto recipe turn out well.
The General Method for How to Make Risotto:
1. Get yourself two high sided saucepans. In the first put your stock and bring it to a simmer. You want to make sure you are adding hot stock. If it isn’t hot it will cool down the starches in the rice and you won’t get the creaminess desired in a risotto.
2. Chop up the aromatics finely, usually this consists of onion and sometimes garlic. You don’t need very much. For a cup of rice, a few tablespoons of onions is plenty.
3. Sweat the aromatics in a few tablespoons of oil or butter in your second saucepan.
4. Add your rice to the aromatics. You want to toast the rice in the hot fat until it starts to make a popping sound, do stir it regularly to make sure it is cooking evenly.
5. Next add some wine. This will help soften the rice but also add a depth of flavour, cook at a gentle simmer until the wine has almost entirely disappeared.
6. Add stock slowly, you should add just enough to cover the rice, then allow it to gently simmer and absorb into the rice.
7. Stir regularly, but you don’t need to stir it constantly. If you need to do a few dishes or focus on cooking something else you can let it go for short periods of time without stirring it.
8. Continue adding stock until the rice starts to soften when you bite into it, then you can reduce the amount of stock you are adding each time until it is just al dente.
9. Stir in any extra ingredients such as butter, cheese, cooked fish or fresh herbs. Serve immediately.
A few more tips:
Use arborio or carnaroli rice, other rices don’t have enough starch to produce a true risotto. However, the risotto method can apply to any grain or even a starchy vegetable if chopped to the right size. Barley produces a nice “risotto”.
When making a squash, mushroom, or any kind of risotto where the primary ingredient is cooked in the rice itself, try and time it so that you add that ingredient at the appropriate time so that it is just cooked when the rice is cooked. You don’t want it too mushy or raw either. Generally I find that it takes about 20 minutes to cook a risotto but try it a few times to get the hang of it.
The correct consistency of the finished risotto is a matter of opinion. Some people like it quite soupy while others like it to be firm. Personally I like it to be quite soft, but as the cook it is easy to tweak it by how much moisture you leave in the risotto before you serve it, just remember it will thicken up a bit when you add the butter and transfer it to a plate.
You can use a variety of stocks, or flavoured liquids to create the base of your risotto. Chicken, beef, or vegetable stock are great choices. In fact I will generally choose a homemade vegetable stock over a box of store bought chicken stock. Make sure that your stock is seasoned as it will season the risotto as it cooks. That said because the liquid will reduce, do be careful you don’t end up with a dish that is way too salty.
One of the big “aha” moments I had when discussing risotto in class was the validation that very rarely is risotto made in a restaurant this way. Generally it is par-cooked to 75%, cooled, and then finished cooking when a customer orders it. By doing it this way it won’t ever be as creamy as when it is made start to finish at once. This explains why risotto is truly something best made at home or by your Nonna.