I've been watching a lot of Hells Kitchen, and one of the signature dishes that Chef Ramsay has the chefs prepare is Risotto. This seems like a simple enough dish but often times the seasoned chefs on the show get it wrong. I'd like to try making this dish at home, so what is the technique I should use to ensure a tasty final result?
One of my favorite recipes is Giada De Laurentis' Wild Mushroom with Peas. It's rather simple, but amazingly delicious.
The most common flubs when making a risotto are overcooking or dumping in all the liquid at once. I always use the wooden spoon test to determine when the risotto is finished.
First, stir often!
Periodically drag your spoon down the center of the pan as to part the risotto. If the path the spoon makes closes quickly then it isn't finished yet. If the part stays open, then you've overcooked it. Ideally it slowly oozes back together.
You're looking for two important things in a perfect risotto:
- The finished risotto should be creamy, not runny, and not gummy. The spoon test takes care of this.
- The rice grains should be tender, not crunchy, and not mushy. You should taste frequently as you approach the end of the cooking time. You want the grains slightly al dente. You should know that you have rice in your mouth and not just a good tasting mystery-paste.
The typical issue with risotto is that it requires attention -- it's considered a problematic dish because you're supposed to stir it almost constantly. The issue is that you need to get enough starch off the rice to get it to be creamy, so you want to keep only a little bit of liquid in there at any time, so that you can keep the grains rubbing up against each other.
You need to add the liquid a little bit at a time, but you want it already hot, or it'll just take forever. You can use stock, but if you do, go with low sodium or you might end up with too salty of a dish. You can make a pseudo stock quickly by pouring water over dried mushrooms to reconstitute them (but be careful of the grit that'll fall to the bottom), or by quickly boiling some shrimp, then peel the meat for adding later, and leave the heads and shells boiling in the water.
It also doesn't hold well -- you need to eat it soon after it's done, as it'll continue absorbing liquid, and will set up if it's over cooked or cools.
So, the basic steps:
- Heat up the stock, while you heat a pan with a little olive oil in it.
- Add a medium grain rice to the oil, and cook 'til it's almost translucent.
- Add whatever other vegetables you'd like cooked in the dish, diced small (onion, shallot, bell pepper, etc.)
- Finish cooking the rice 'til translucent.
- (optional) add some white wine, then cook it 'til it's almost dry.
- Add a ladle or two of your stock to the rice, and stir for a minute or two.
- Cook 'til the liquid is mostly absorbed.
- Stir the rice, add another ladle of stock, and stir some more.
- (repeat steps 7 and 8 'til the the absortions is taking a long time, then cut back to 1/2 a ladle each time.)
- (repeat steps 7 & 8 'til the rice isn't absorbing liquid quickly)
- Taste for doneness and salt level.
- Stir in any fresh herbs and maybe a little hard grating cheese (we prefer pecorino romano)
- Dish up and top with any more herbs and/or cheese (if not using seafood).
- Serve & enjoy
Leftovers are tricky, too ... it can be microwaved if you didn't add too much cheese, but you'll need to add a little extra liquid before microwaving. You can also make balls, coat 'em in tomato sauce and bake.
"Risotto" is a typical Italian rice-based dish, it comes in a number of variations, but the basic technique is common for all the versions:
Start browning some chopped onion with butter or olive oil, then add the rice and roast it a bit. When the rice is roasted add some white wine and let it almost evaporate, then cover the rice with vegetable stock. continuously add stock to cover the rice while it cooks, and stir frequently! The more you stir, the better it cooks! Cook until the rice is soft but beware to not overcook it! You should get the ideal cooking level called "al dente", the best way to get it is to taste frequently (as every rice variety has a different cooking time).
At the end, add butter and grated parmigiano cheese and stir vigorously (this phase is called "mantecatura").
Now, with this basic recipe you can create as many variations as you want. Just add vegetables, or tomato soup, or cheese, or sausage (add the additional ingredients in time to have they well cooked when the rice itself will be cooked).
A common Italian version is called "alla Milanese", you have to add some saffron near the end of the cooking, the rice will have a nice yellow color!
The basic risotto recipe is fairly simple.
1) Buy some risotto rice. I usually get mine from trader joes and it is called Arborio Rice.
2) Make sure you heat the rice along with some olive oil before you start adding the stock. Many recipes will also add wine, onions, or other flavors at this point.
3) Once the rice is translucent (semi opaque), then add your stock.
4) Make sure that you always keep the rice in the stock. If you let any stray rice grains sit on the side above the stock they will be hard.
5) Don't stop cooking and adding stock until the rice is very tender.
Restaurants frequently cheat on risotto by taking it to 80% done, and then chilling. Reheat, final liquid addition, stir to creamy, and you're good. Or pretty good. This can save your butt at a dinner party -- cooking risotto for a large number of people absolutely sucks, for all the reasons mentioned above.
I use a similar approach to what Joe describes in this answer list. I would like to just add a few notes.
First, I like to caramelize an onion in extra virgin olive oil and add some minced garlic as it's finished. Then I begin preparing and cooking the rice the same way Joe describes. The caramelized onion adds a great flavor to the risotto. All of my guests who've tried it loved it.
Also, I don't add any vegetables until I'm on my last addition of stock. Typical vegetables for me are peas, which retain their shape and flavor if not added until late in the game and roasted red pepper, which also retain their shape and flavor for the same reason.
Risotto is one of my favorite dishes and very easy to prepare. Here's how I've been taught to make it:
- Use risotto rice, I always buy Vialone.
- Cut an onion.
- Put olive-oil, onions and rice in the medium-hot pan and cook & stir it until the rice becomes translucent. Be careful not to burn the rice.
- Deglaze with white wine.
- Stir rice until it's dry
- Deglaze with more white wine or water.
- Repeat step 5-6 until the rice is soft enough
Also it's always nice to add some extras such as...
Oh, and put some salt and pepper in there too ;)
If you don't want to use Dairy, I put a teaspoon of Duck fat in with good Olive oil in to get a nice mouthfeel.
I also cook it in a Tagine (Moroccan pointy top pot) which seems to work quite well, being like an oven, even when used on the stove top. I find I can add all the stock in one go, and stir it a few times still with good results, as the "oven effect" of the tagine bakes it to some degree I expect... it also makes it a one pot dish if you do the stock with cubes, a jug and and boiling the kettle ;-)
My kids love my prawn, spring onion and pea risotto... the mild onion contrasts the creamy and prawn flavours nicely. Warm/cook the prawns with the oil in the first stage to set the flavour, then set them aside till the end, and mix back in at the final stage with the peas and the spring onion, otherwise the prawns will overcook and be tough.
As you can tell, I'm not a traditionalist, but I have eaten Risotto in Northern Italy as well - buon appetito!!
If you have the money, I recommend investing in a kitchen product called "Thermomix". A lot of restaurants use them to make super easy risottos.
It's not cheap, but it will make an amazing risotto in 20 minutes and you don't have to stir - at all. In fact, you put the ingredients in, turn it on and walk away.
Find a recipe you'd like to try.
The biggest issue that I have found is that it doesn't get cooked enough and you end up with raw rice, or you end up with extremely thick risotto.
A good rule of thumb is to have your stock heated up while you start your risotto and when you start to ladle in your stock, stir constantly until the stock has been absorbed. This will help lead to a creamy delicious cooked risotto.