The Steps to Making a Proper Risotto

Joe is known for his famous risotto recipes and today he shares the basics of those recipes with all of you.

Risotto is a glutenous rice that is cooked with small additions of flavored liquid such as stock or broth, rather than the measure, cover, and cook method which is traditionally used for most rice.  This cooking method and the glutenous nature of risotto creates a creamy texture unlike other rice, which is simply delicious, and has led to risotto often being referred to as “macaroni and cheese for adults”.

Risotto IS in fact a rice, not a pasta (orzo is rice shaped pasta)  which it is often confused with because of its creamy texture and the fact that on many restaurant menus, risotto is offered in the pasta section.   For those that doubt that risotto is in fact a grain, look closely at an uncooked piece before you begin to cook it next, and you will clearly see a stem scar, something all grains that were once attached to a plant will have.

The following are the steps to making a classic plain risotto (exact measurements aren’t needed here)

1.  In a rondeau pan, large saute, or small soup pot, on low-med heat, heat some vegetable oil and begin to sweat some thinly sliced shallots or onions(approx 1/4 cup)

2.  When the shallots take on the first bit of color, add your dry risotto (approx 1.5 cups).  I like Arborio rice, but there are many types to choose from.  Stirring occasionally, allow the risotto to be coated completely with the cooking oil and to toast a little bit (about 5-10 minutes).  If it begins to get very brown you have toasted too much.

3.  Time for the first addition of liquid – I almost always use white wine (approx 1 cup).  Both Chablis and Chardonnay work well.  Stirring constantly, allow all almost all this liquid to be absorbed.

NOTE! AT THIS POINT DO NOT WALK AWAY FROM YOUR RISOTTO!  GOOD RISOTTO IS STIRRED CONSTANTLY AND SMALL ADDITIONS OF STOCK ARE ABSORBED QUICKLY.  IF YOUR RISOTTO IS STICKING TO THE BOTTOM OF THE PAN YOU ARE NOT STIRRING ENOUGH, WAITING TOO LONG BEFORE EACH ADDITION OF LIQUID, AND/OR COOKING ON TOO HIGH OF A HEAT.

4.  Add your stock a little at a time (1/2 cup, or a few small ladels worth) and keep stirring.  I like to use vegetable or chicken stock, and if your stock is seasoned properly, you shouldn’t have to season the risotto very much if at all.  When the liquid is almost all absorbed, guess what… add more.  You will repeat this several times, varying in number based on the size of the liquid additions, and type of risotto you are using.

5.  Check for doneness frequently by tasting – you are looking for an al dente firmness, where the risotto is soft and creamy, not dry, but the center of the grains still has some raw “tooth” to it.

6.  When your risotto has reached this stage of doneness, you can take it off the heat if you are going to use it later.  (Spread it in a thin layer on a sheet pan lined with parchment, this will allow it to cool faster and more evenly as well as stop the cooking process).  It is now ready to complete.

7.  You can add almost anything to your risotto at this point, but I suggest before you do, you first perfect the plain risotto and your risotto timing as well.  Put your risotto back in the pan (that is if you took it out to cool for later use) and add another single addition of stock.  When this is all absorbed, taste, if it seems almost ready and needs no further seasoning or cooking, add some cold butter (for this batch 1/4 stick will do).  Let the butter melt completely, stirring constantly of course.  When the butter is melted, add some grated hard cheese, such as Parmesan or asiago (about 1/4 -1/2 cup), stir it in and when it has almost melted completely, turn off the heat.

8.  Possibly the most important step, let your risotto rest for 5-10 minutes before you eat it.  It will need some time to set and get to the right thickness for maximum creaminess and the ideal texture.

Once you have mastered the plain risotto, the possibilities of ingredients you can add are almost endless.  It is however the final timing of the last addition or two of stock that will make or break your risotto.   For example if you were to add shrimp, you could add them raw and let the heat from the cooking process finish them off or you could add pre-cooked shrimp at the very last second. You could also start with a fresh pan and some par-cooked risotto, sear the shrimp to about half done then add your risotto back to the pan with the final addition of stock and let this cooking time finish them off (this is the common restaurant method of making individual portions of risotto to order).

When adding additional ingredients it is possible to over and under cook both the risotto and other ingredients.  Use your level of experience to base cooking times.  You don’t want crunchy, or mushy risotto and you wouldn’t want uncooked or overcooked ingredients, especially proteins.

The best advice for perfect risotto is to keep it to a “less is more” kind of philosophy,  the risotto itself is the star, the additonal ingredients are the supporting actors, and you really don’t want too many of them.   A general rule of thumb is to think of 5 or less flavors and textures that will be present in your risotto.   With the rice, stock and cheese you already have three flavors before you add additional ingredients; Think of the rice, the stock and the cheese, as the main cast and base your supporting actors on what will best compliment them.   Fish stock, cheddar cheese, beef tips, and dried apricots certainly doesn’t sound as appealing as a garlic/veg stock, and Parmesan with snow peas and shrimp.

Enjoy, practice, and have fun with the endless combinations of flavors you can add to a proper risotto!

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Photo by: evilnick

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