Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Man Can Cook #2 - Risotto

Many "food blogs" feature serious photography and insight from professionals. I'm neither a photographer or professional chef. I'm just a guy who likes to cook and likes to share what Ive learned with others. All of my food photos are simply taken with my iPhone using available light in my kitchen. So you are seeing exactly what comes out of my kitchen as opposed to lush, artfully composed pictures. The point is that I want to show you what you can do not what experienced pro's can do. Get in your kitchen and cook. It's better for you and for your family in terms of your health and time spent together.

Risotto is awesome. Almost everyone likes it. I mean when was the last time you were in a restaurant where risotto appeared on the menu and someone at your table didn’t react with a, “Ooooh, risotto!” The thing is, in a restaurant it’s often disappointing if you’ve had a good home made version.

It’s usually not the restaurant’s fault. It’s not really a dish that is conducive to that environment because it takes too long to make an individual batch. In most restaurants they prepare a big batch to the point of being “almost done” and it sits…getting all gooey and starchy until you place your order. Then they toss a serving worth into a pan with bit more stock, some butter and parm and finish it before they serve it too you. The flavors will be good, but the consistency will be…meh…because the rice is often overcooked and glutenous.

So if you want REALLY good risotto you have to make it yourself. It isn’t hard, but it takes the right ingredients and a specific technique along with time and attention to get right. Below is my method for a basic risotto bianco with a couple of suggestions for tweaks to make it work with other main dishes. Give it a try…I think you’ll like it.

Risotto Bianco:

3qts Chicken Stock (home made is best, store bought is ok)
1 med/large yellow onion (very finely chopped)
1-2 stalks celery (2 if they are small, very finely chopped )
1-2 med carrot (very finely chopped)
2-3 cloves garlic (very finely chopped)
14oz Arborrio rice
2-3 Tbsp HIGH quality olive oil
½ stick of butter – softened (salted)
2 glasses of white wine (one for the rice, one for the cook)
Kosher salt
4oz fresh grated parmigiano reggiano
(Optional - 4-8 dried mushrooms, porcini or morrell, Italian parsley)

Step 1) Pour 2qts stock into a large saucepan (with optional dried mushrooms if you like) and simmer till reduced by ~1/3. Meanwhile chop your veg and get your cheese grated.

 Step 2) In a large skillet, heat your olive oil & begin sweating over med/low heat (do not brown!) your veg with a pinch (~1tsp) of kosher salt. Continue sweating until the onions, carrots and celery are soft. It’s important that you don’t brown the veg. The garlic will be bitter and the caramelized flavor will throw off the balance of the risotto. If you need to add a bit more oil go ahead just don’t brown the veg.

 Step 3) Once your veg is soft you will crank up the heat to med/high and pour in your rice. If you need a bit more oil to get the rice coated add a bit more. You want the rice coated, but not swimming in oil. Fry the dry rice in the oil a bit until you get a bit of “crackling” sound and there is a slight coloring of the rice. Then add 1 of the two glasses of wine. The second glass is to drink! The wine will quickly absorb and it will smell great! Stir vigorously until the wine is completely absorbed.

 Step 4) By now your stock should be reduced. Add 1 ladle full of the hot stock to your rice and stir until completely absorbed. It’s important that you add 1 ladle at a time and that you continue to stir while it is being absorbed. It keeps the cooking of the rice even. If you add a bunch all at once and leave it, the rice will not cook evenly and you’ll be sad. Once the first ladle full is soaked up add another….repeat. At the end of each of these cycles you will see an increasing amount of creamy “sauce” in your rice. This is the point where you’ll add your next ladle of stock. Don’t allow it to get so dry that it begins to stick or caramelize on the bottom of the pan. Again, this is why you need to stir constantly and tend the dish as opposed to adding the stock and letting it simmer. If you need to add more stock to your pot, you can do so. But keep the heat on it so it stays hot.

 Step 5) After 3-4 cycles, check your rice. This is the tricky part that you have to develop a “feel” for. You are trying to determine the point at which you are 1 ladle of stock away from being done. Add stock, cook it down, taste…repeat…until you are pretty certain that just 1 more ladle-full will do it. The rice should have a little bit of “al dente” to it at this point, but not so much that it sticks in your teeth. It’ll take a couple of attempts at this dish to get it just right.

When you reach the “almost done” point you will VERY quickly:
  • Turn off the heat
  • Add 1 more ladle of stock
  • Add your parmigiano reggiano
  • Add ½ stick of butter

Stir this very quickly & vigorously to combine completely cover your skillet with a tightly fitting lid. Cross your fingers that you guessed right and wait 10-15min. Have another glass of wine or something. But don’t open the lid. I know you want to look…you want to check…resist. There’s Italian magic happening in there and you need to let it happen. If you guessed right you’ll have a better batch of risotto than you’ll get in nearly any restaurant. If you guessed wrong, it won’t be perfect but all is not lost. If need be, add a bit more stock. It’ll still be great, but you’ll know what to do next time.

Serve with a drizzle of really good olive oil, a sprinkle of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and perhaps some roughly chopped Italian parsley. The serving below is paired with a roast duck breast…I took the photo before adding the parm and parsley.


If you make this w/o the dried mushrooms this will be a bright, light and fresh tasting dish that goes great with fish or chicken. You can make it a bit richer by adding the dried morrells or porchini to your stock. To up the earthy factor even more, you can lightly fry then oven roast some fresh porcini or morels and add them along with the butter and parmigiano reggiano at the end.

You can also use a seafood stock to make the risotto, then add some nice prawns, clams & mussels for a great risotto fruit di mare. Definitely omit the dried shrooms for this one.

1 comment:

  1. That looks delicious and is making me hungry looking at it.