Mastering Risotto

This appealing dish made from simple ingredients is at its very best when made at home.

By FamilyTime


Italian home cooks have mastered the task of turning simple, easy-to-come-by ingredients into magnificent dishes. Think of pasta, think of polenta…think of rice, which these culinary magicians cook into creamy risotto.

Risotto is as much a technique as it is a dish. It’s made by adding hot liquid to cooking rice, stirring all the while. The result is a creamy, full-flavored dish that is smooth but never mushy.

Depending on how much is served and what other ingredients are added to the basic recipe, risotto can be a first course, side dish, or main course,

Three Rules to Successful Risotto
The first rule to a good risotto is to use the right rice. It should be medium-grain rice, preferably imported from Italy. Do not use long-grain rice – you will never get the desired consistency.

The most easily found imported rice is Arborio. Carnaroli and Vialone Nano, also imported from Italy, make tasty risotto. (Keep in mind that while we label these imports “medium grain,” in Italy they are called “short grain.”)

The next rule is the right pan. It should be heavy and large. Figure on about a quart capacity per serving. Enameled cast iron pans are ideal.

The third rule is constant, gentle stirring. Vigorous stirring can turn the rice gummy. It takes 20 to 25 minutes of stoveside attention to get the right consistency – creamy and smooth yet with a bite.

This is a dish that demands patience and tending.

Making Risotto
Before you begin, heat the stock you will use for the risotto in a large pan. Keep this at a gentle simmer right next to the risotto pan.

For most risottos, begin by cooking chopped onions in melted butter until soft. Add the rice and stir in the butter until the grains turns white and chalky.

Next, for classic risotto, add white wine. Now, ladle in the hot, barely simmering stock, a half cupful or so at a time. Use a sturdy wooden spoon to stir the rice with constant, light strokes until the stock is absorbed. Then add the next ladleful, and so on.

Once nearly all the liquid is absorbed – and this will take about 20 minutes – taste test the risotto. It will be creamy yet you will be able to feel the grains of rice with every bite. If it needs more liquid, add more stock, or hot water if you’re out of stock.

For a classic risotto, this is the time to stir in butter and Parmesan cheese. Let the risotto stand for a few minutes before serving.

If you want to make risotto that includes raw or sautéed vegetables such as corn, squash, wild mushrooms, broccoli, or asparagus, grilled seafood, or cooked chicken, stir these into the dish after adding the Parmesan.

Serve the risotto as soon as it’s cooked. It does not like to wait, and in fact loses it lovely texture with standing.

In restaurants, the chef makes risotto to the halfway point. He then spreads it out in a shallow pan to stop the cooking. When ready to serve, the half-cooked risotto is stirred with hot stock until it’s creamy and smooth.

This technique never produces the same melt-in-your-mouth texture that home cooks can get.