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I'm not looking for a Risotto recipe. I make a pretty nice risotto, thank you very much.

But, making a risotto takes about 20 minutes. It seems unreasonable to me that a cook would start from scratch in a restaurant.

So how do they do it? There must be some pre-cooking involved, and then it's finished off when ordered in about 5 minutes.

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Great answers so far, particularly Joe's. I'm going to let it ride for a while before accepting. Maybe we'll get a real chef to tell us how it's done. –  Chris Cudmore Jul 20 '10 at 21:24
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7 Answers

up vote 23 down vote accepted

It's actually hard to hold when it's almost all the way cooked -- it'll start getting gluey on you if you let it cool off, but could start scorching on the bottom if it's not stirred, and get too runny if you keep adding stock.

I saw a show and Mario Bitali said that risotto isn't finicky in the middle -- so you can cook it part way, cool it down (I think he said he spread it on sheet pans to cool quickly), then can add hot stock and cook it from that point, so you've already got a 10 minute head start.

I've also been to a restaurant where it was only served on the hour and half hour.

(okay, I admit it ... it was on Martha Stewart, about 12 years ago ... I was living in Kentucky, and didn't have cable, so there weren't many options of what to watch in the morning while waiting for the others in my carpool)

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That is correct Joe...in restaurants the rice and onions are par-cooked about 2/3 of the way and then spread out on sheet pans to cool and go into the walk-in. When needed for service, the par-cooked rice goes into a saute pan with hot stock added and it's finished off. Doing it in this manner also allows you to do a large batch of par-cooked rice but then vary the flavor of the finished item by using tomato juice, vegetable purees, etc. to offer more than one type of risotto. –  Darin Sehnert Jul 20 '10 at 21:55
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Absolutely. We don't do risotto where I am now, but the previous restaurant I was at we did a lovely white truffle (hideously expensive, and yes we used shavings of fresh Alba), where we did exactly what Joe says. Par-cook, then finish as needed. Some very very high end restaurants will only do risotto from scratch, to order, and will advise guests that it will take some time. –  daniel Jul 21 '10 at 6:05
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Risotto can linger for a while and be plenty tasty, and it reheats fine if you add some liquid. Arborio is tough as nails, and can withstand a ton of abuse. If it were me, I'd cook it until it's about 75% finished, and then cool it.

Then you could just slop it out in a skillet and finish it off in a few minutes with a little more broth and some grated parmesan.

I've read a lot of people say, however, that it can't be done without the risotto devolving into a blob of starch. Some people add cream to slow down the arborio's ability to absorb liquid. I think though, that it wholly depends on your crowd. If you're serving at a nice restaurant, held over risotto is probably not going to cut it.

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I've been told by an Italian chef that Carnaroli rice is often used in restaurants due to its ability to stay solid longer than any other strain of rice. I suppose that when using Carnaroli you could indeed cook it almost all the way through, then finish the dish with some more broth.

You could also make all the preparation, e.g. sautee the onions, vegetables, etc, so that when a dish of Risotto is ordered it can be ready in 20 minutes. Some restaurants I've dined in warn you when you order Risotto that it takes a while to prepare...

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Both Carnaroli and Vialone Nano are used for Risotto in addition to Arborio rice. I'm not sure about Carnaroli but Vialone Nano is used primarily in the Venice Veneto region of northeast Italy because they prefer their risotto to be cooked to a doneness known as "al onda" or wave-like, a bit soupier than it's usually cooked to here and in some parts of Italy. I presume the Vialone Nano doesn't absorb liquid as quickly/readily as the other two or at least as much as Arborio. –  Darin Sehnert Jul 20 '10 at 22:01
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I am a cook in an Italian restaurant. We cook risotto to order, from scratch in under 20 minutes.

You need a hot pan, hot stock and a hot French top/burner.

It's easy. Add onion, butter, olive oil, salt and pepper, sweat the onion (it in your already hot pan). Add rice, toast and deglaze the pan. add stock, cream, salt. Come back in 10-15 minutes (All that stirring is actually not necessary). Add your veg, stock, salt. Finish with cheese and butter.

You need 18-20 minutes for perfect al dente risotto.

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There seems to be some fanfare for par cooked risotto. What happens once cooled, the grain will heat up much faster on the outside than the inside and will absorb the extra liquid far quicker creating a mushy outer layer on each grain which will still needs to be cooked at the inner core.

The single biggest factor with the final flavor and texture is the initial saute or roast of the grains before the liquid is added. Add diced onion and olive oil to a pan and heat a little before adding the rice. During the saute each grain will become translucent on the outside and at the ends while the middle will still be white. The rice will also start give off a strong aroma. This aroma will carry to the final product. If the rice is cooked too hot or too long at this stage it will lose the aroma and will not absorb liquid correctly, creating a soggy outside and hard inside.

I would gladly face any master chef in the world in the Iron Kitchen for Battle Risotto if they had the handicap of having to cool their product and reheat it while I can, without stopping, go from start to finish on the stove top. I would surely win no matter what other ingredients they put in it.

EDIT: I would in Iron Kitchen make a type of Paella which I believe made with a short grain rice is the single most technical dish in all of European cooking for added points in technique. How it's done.

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It's not that we're advocating for parcooking -- the questions was in how restaurants do it, and many (not all) par-cook. There's a completely different question on how you should prepare risotto and only one of those answers (out of 10) mentions par-cooking. There are a number of other questions on risotto and paella –  Joe Feb 5 '11 at 17:02
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Bourdain, who loves gabbing about tricks like this says that you can spread it out in sheet pans and cool it when 'partway' done in his Les Halles cookbook. I think this is a sensible plan of attack, especially because I usually need 45 minutes to make Risotto, not 20.

That said, I haven't tried it, so I can't personally comment. I bet there are some easy sous vide applications here as well; I'd be interested to get a comment from a chef on that.

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I save time on homemade risotto by actually putting the rice in the rice cooker and cooking it until done. It's never disintegrated on me while finishing the risotto because it doesn't cook any longer, it's just reheated from the stock which isn't boiling and is in the pan no longer than a few minutes on low to medium heat. I use this method so I don't have to babysit risotto for 20 to 30 minutes and use the time preparing other menu items.

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