Mar 20, 2012

Fearless Risotto

Simply hearing the word “risotto” is enough to strike fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned chefs.  This dish is renowned for being complicated and temperamental with the slightest mistake turning an elegant masterpiece into a pot of starchy mush.  Truth be told, however, risotto is actually not that complicated to master.  

For those who are unfamiliar with risotto, it is a creamy Italian rice dish, and making risotto is one of the primary methods of cooking rice in Italy.  Think of it as a savory stove-top rice pudding, if you will.  The most wonderful aspect of this dish is that it is incredibly adaptable, and many different varieties of risotto can be made.  It is a wonderful year-round dish as well; it can be made rich and hearty in colder months and light and refreshing in warmer months.  It can also be served as a side dish or as a main course – any type of seafood makes a wonderful addition for a main-course risotto!

In recent years, risotto has gained popularity in the United States, mainly as a staple in many fine restaurants.  Unfortunately, though, many home cooks fear even attempting this dish due to its complexity.  While risotto does require an ample supply of patience to prepare, the steps to making this Italian delicacy are actually quite simple, contrary to popular belief.  All that is required of the home cook are the proper ingredients and knowledge of the proper steps.

First, let’s talk rice.  Not just any rice can be used for risotto.  You need to start with a starchy, short-grained rice.  The most typical variety of rice used for this dish is called Arborio rice, which fortunately these days can be found in most supermarkets and is pretty affordable.  In a pinch, some varieties of short-grained Asian rice (sushi rice, for instance) can be used. 

Next, you must consider wine.  Some types of risotto use red wine, but for the risotto that is typically prepared in the United States, white wine is preferred.  Don’t worry about trying to find a fancy, expensive wine; any old dry white wine will do (Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio have served me well in the past).  

You will also need a good amount of broth or stock, usually chicken or vegetable.  Finally, there’s the Parmesan cheese.  You may want to go for a higher quality Parmesan than the stuff in the shaky-bottle, but don’t feel like you have to break the bank with top-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Any “good” grated Parmesan cheese will do.

Now, let’s discuss the cooking technique.  First, I recommend pre-measuring all of your recipe’s ingredients beforehand, as it tends to make the process significantly easier.  In regards to the proper cooking vessel, all you really need is a large pot – I’ve found that an enamel-coated dutch oven is perfect.  You will want to have your broth or stock already heating on the stove in a different pot, as it needs to be warm when you add it later. 

All risotto recipes begin with chopped onion (and occasionally garlic) cooked on low to medium heat in butter or olive oil until soft and translucent.  Then, you add the rice, and give it a good stir to make sure all the grains are coated in the cooking fat.  Next, add the wine, and cook the rice until the wine is completely absorbed. 

At this point, you will want to raise the temperature to medium or medium-high heat. This is when you begin to add the broth or stock.  Add one or two ladlefuls at a time, and as with the wine, cook until the liquid is absorbed.  Give the mixture a few good stirs every now and then to ensure that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom, but don’t feel the need to stand there and continually nurse it.  Then, you simply continue adding the broth or stock, one or two ladlefuls at a time, until the rice has reached a creamy consistency and is tender to the bite.  Once you’ve reached this point, add your Parmesan cheese, and your risotto is complete!

So while this cooking process can be a bit tedious, you can see that all in all, it’s not that hard! Now, armed with the proper knowledge of this delicious dish, you can begin the adventure of making risotto right in your own kitchen.

We have provided two risotto recipes from our database for your cooking enjoyment.  The first is a variation on a traditional risotto called a “risotta.”  If you are still nervous about attempting a true risotto, this recipe is perfect for testing the culinary waters.  Skillet Chicken Risotta is a very easy, flavorful, hearty dish using simple ingredients that are simmered until completion.

The second recipe, Maryland Risotto, is a more traditional version of a scrumptious seafood risotto.  This recipe includes saffron and tomatoes to give it a vibrant flavor, as well as succulent shrimp and crabmeat, putting this dish over the top! 

1 comment:

  1. This is extremely helpful! I want to try now!