Recently I've tried my hand at cooking risotto. The results are always delicious, but one step in the process has me stumped - the instruction to cook the rice until translucent. I've tried cooking the rice for different amounts of time with different amounts of oil and I honestly can't see a change in the rice. Could someone describe what to look for here, or even better upload some before and after photos? And how does one achieve "perfect translucent rice"?
Risotto is a common dish down my parts of the woods, being so close to Italy and all. Making your fist few risottos might seem a tad overwhelming with all the tiny details and tricks that recipes will hit you with, but you'll soon get a hang of it and think nothing of it. One 'seasoned advice' though - to keep it fairly moist and remove from the heat while it's still bubbling on top with its own juices. It's OK to keep it even slightly waterish, as that adds to its creaminess (most of the times I've eaten it in Italy, they actually leave it nearly thick soup like). Then keep it covered but off the stew for ~ 5 minutes, while you chop some fresh herbs of choice and grate Parmigiano cheese.
OK, since this is not a recipe question, let's continue answering your 'perfect translucent' question; I'm not sure which recipe you're referring to. but e.g. this one mentions:
Stir in the rice and sauté it too until it becomes translucent (this will take 7-10 minutes), stirring constantly to keep it from sticking.
It also gives advice what rice to look for and is most recommended for risottos. I tend to agree about the article's choice, but you shouldn't have difficulties finding rice that is marked to be suitable for cooking risottos. These tend to be rounder, but most importantly (and what the article I link to fails to mention) they'll have any excess starch removed from it, to allow for longer cooking without overboiling it.
This excess starch removal also helps with its ability to soak in oils (extra-virgin olive oil is recommended, preferably cold pressed, and some butter if you like creaminess of your risottos or to soften vegetables faster), making it nearly translucent in the process, similar to how normal white paper becomes nearly translucent when soaked in oil. This rice will later become white-ish again as you add water and it starts releasing more starch, gathering on its surface.
That 'perfect translucent rice' in your recipe probably refers to the rice being perfectly (equally?) soaked in oils and butter, rather than trying to suggest it should be perfectly translucent in a way that you could see through it. The latter, I'm afraid, isn't possible with any rice I've seen sold neither here, nor in Italy (or in UK, for the matter). The only way to literally achieve 'perfect translucent rice' that I can think of is by using rice-shaped Chinese pasta (I don't know what it's called, but we nicknamed it in my family 'fake rice', that we sometimes use to trick kids into eating 'rice' dishes that they otherwise wouldn't touch) that is actually pasta made of rice starch instead of wheat flour. This rice-based pasta will be literally invisible to the eye when boiling in pure water. But don't use that for risotto (it tends to overcook fairly quickly), unless you have really picky kids that wouldn't touch it otherwise!
Hope this answers your question, and I've attached a photo that approximately shows how the rice should look like when it's supposed to become 'transparent' and equally soaked in oils and butter.
EDIT: For the better of me, I honestly can't find the name of that 'rice starch pasta shaped like rice', but I presume it has a Chinese name, and since I don't speak Chinese, I won't be able to find it. It is however available in some better stores throughout Europe, and quite similar to Orzo, only that it obviously isn't made out of Semolina (durham wheat flour) but rice starch, making it perfectly translucent while boiling and nearly translucent afterwards, much like thin rice noodles.
The best characterization of "translucent" I can give here is that it looks like, if you held it up to light, some light might make it through. But of course, it's at the bottom of a pot, so there's no light to shine through.
When it starts out, it's got a good layer of white, powdery-looking starch firmly stuck to the outside of the rice. As you cook and stir it, that gets rubbed off, until you're looking at the hard, solid rice grain itself. It's the same thing you'd see if you broke a grain in half, except with a little extra sheen from the oil coating it.
It should be obvious as you're cooking.
When you start, the rice is opaque, looking like little sticks of chalk. As you cook it in oil, it'll take on a look more like frosted glass. It's not clear, but it's not fully opaque, either.
I won't say that gets to be fully translucent ... just not opaque as when you start. It's more similar to cooked onions than clear glass.