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I ran out of regular rice the other day, and subbed in some arborio (the traditional risotto rice). I figured it would serve well enough, since it's a tough variety, and I planned on a multi-stage cooking process. I threw it in a pot with some broth, and boiled it like regular long grain.

What I wasn't prepared for was the starchy mess that was revealed upon removing the lid. It looked basically like a bland, butterless risotto. Ended up throwing out my planned dish, and turning the rice into a kind of fritter (which worked great), but it got me wondering.

If arborio's natural state is basically risotto, then why is risotto preparation so much more involved than regular rice? I'm guessing the constant stirring is more about evaporating the broth off than anything else, but I was wondering if there was a risotto guru out there who actually knew the answer?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It's the starch that gives risotto its creamy texture. If you try to do it with regular rice with low starch there is no way you have that texture. Stirring is to prevent rice from sticking and it is not necessary (at least not constantly).

In the Do The Rice Thing episode of Good Eats, Alton Brown says:

I have to tell you, I've tinkered with risotto quite a bit, and I really don't think that that whole constant stirring thing is necessary.

Okay, here's what movement does in the pot. Now, as the kernels rub together in the hot liquid, they literally scrub off some of their starch, okay? Now hot liquid is added slowly because if it were cold, the starch wouldn't come off. And if too much gets added at once, the rice kernels would never make contact.

Now, I find that occasional stirring keeps the heat and moisture evenly distributed, but gentle pan shaking creates a better gravy.

I started not to stir (I mean constantly) the risotto after I watched that and it turns out great. However, slow addition of the liquid is still necessary.

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You say that the stirring is to keep the rice from sticking, but the excerpt you quote gives a different reason. –  kevins Jul 15 '10 at 19:55
    
I have to rephrase that I just stir to prevent sticking some time before adding new liquid to prevent sticking. –  Recep Jul 16 '10 at 5:46

I rarely stir risotto - just a couple of times to make sure it doesn't stick, but then I don't like it very creamy.

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The main point of stirring is actually to develop the starch in the rice, which creates the desired creamy texture. The reason you stir arborio for risotto is the same reason you don't stir normal rice. Of course, you can add all the broth at once, and leave the "risotto" covered at a low temp and it wont stick any more than normal rice does, but the result will not be the same. See this link for a comparison between stirred and unstirred risottos:

http://www.thekitchn.com/thekitchn/tips-techniques/yay-or-nay-do-you-have-to-stir-risotto-107639

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Arborio isn't really great on its own, as you've found, because of a high starch content. That same starch is what makes risotto so creamy, but doesn't work as well when you're looking to boil a side dish for chicken!

The constant stirring while making risotto isn't about evaporation, it's about making sure that the risotto doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.

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I don't know...I boiled it for a good 10 minutes or so, and it didn't stick at all (stainless steel saucepan), and that's without any appreciable amount of butter. –  Satanicpuppy Jul 12 '10 at 21:24

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