A few weeks ago I taught a class on food techniques to a group of medical professionals. It was a wonderful time as we covered acid curing with a Ceviche, roasting chickens, baking a Nutella galette, and cooking Risotto; which most people are very particular about.
It has Italian roots. In the language, riso means rice. Risotto…BIG RICE. Traditionally, its made with Arborio rice, which has a high starch content and looks like a big fat blimp. If you compare it to a long grain rice, like a basmati grain, you’ll see how much rounder it is. Ergo…blimp!
Why Risotto is the Rolls Royce of rice
There are very few rice dishes that have have drawn so much fame or imitation. It’s smooth, creamy, velvety, and when done right its packed with so much umami flavor that you can still taste it long after its been swallowed. The high starch content make it very rich and creamy-a perfect carrier of flavors; which has inspired a bevy of other dishes in other cultures including: the Paella from Spain, Arroz con Pollo from Cuba, and Jambalaya from New Orleans.
Fun Fact! It was really hard to tie in “blimp” from the description with Rolls Royce, until a Google search revealed that in 1915 Rolls Royce made the Rolls–Royce Hawk….a blimp! And the rice analogy is saved!
Biggest Tearjerkers of Bad Risotto
Good risotto is a dream to eat, its lush, gluttonous, and so full of flavor that it sticks to your bones an hour after the meal. Bad risotto goes in two categories, the crunchy rice and the gummy rice pudding mess. Not fun!
Crunchy rice is when the heat is put too high and all the liquid evaporates before the rice has a chance to absorb it and release the starch completely. The liquid has to penetrate the grains, that process takes time. Take it out before its ready, and somebody is eating tasty gravel.
Gummy rice pudding? Take it out too long. All the starch is released from the rice, its starts to stick together, and loses all textures, becoming a pasty mess that stays on your plate, even if you flip it upside down.
How to make it good. Really, really good!!
The Stages to good cooking:
- Tostatura (Toasting the rice)
- Adding Liquid
- Finishing off
It means “toasting” the rice in Italian. In a pot with olive oil on high heat, you add the rice and stir for 2-3 minutes. You should smell a nutty aroma. It helps to start developing the flavors. Once the rice is toasted, add aromatics, onions, shallots, garlic or mushrooms. For this recipe I added onions and mushrooms. All of this is done on high heat.
At this step, you can add the liquids. Since risotto is a fantastic carrier of flavors, adding chicken, beef, or vegetable stock goes a long way in establishing layers of flavor. I used mushroom stock (a very basic mix of water and dried mushrooms that were rehydrated and removed.) Do this at medium heat, simmer.
Add water until it just covers the rice and keep stirring. As the water evaporates and the remaining liquid starts to bubble more and more, keep adding stock, and stirring. You will be repeating this process, 2-3 times. Taste as you go, the rice will start to tenderize little by little.
Once the stock is added, and the rice is al dente, add wine* (optional, but encouraged) and heavy cream. Let it cook out, cream should get thicker and the rice a little looser. Once its al dente, where it has a little resistance but NO CRUNCH, then you add very very generous amounts of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Mix it in, taste. Season for salt and pepper, taste.
Once its good….taste taste taste!
Let it rest for 5 minutes before serving, you may need to serve it with a ladle, its a good sign.
A new technique
There is a way to doing it in a pressure cooker. It saves lots of time from the process, about 3o minutes, but you run the risk of overcooking the rice if its not cooled fast enough.
Start the same way, with the toasting of the rice, add aromatics, and all of the liquid. Close the lid and bring to high pressure. It should reach high pressure within two minutes. Cook for 6 minutes, set a timer. The rice is not fully cooked at this point, so there is more time to tinker with it, and doing it this way does save time and energy. It’s like taking the express way instead of the streets, you’ll get there faster but need to be more careful.
- 4 cups mushroom stock
- 1/2 cup Olive Oil
- 2 onions small dice
- 2 cloves garlic small dice
- 2 cups mushrooms (shitake and portablella)
- 2 cups of Arborio Rice or Valencia
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 tbsp Lemon zest
- 1 tbst Clementine zest
- Add rice in Olive Oil on high heat until nutty aroma is presented.
- Add onions, garlic, and mushrooms and extra oil if needed.
- Sautee until onions are translucent.
- Add mushroom stock, and stir.
- Repeat until rice is tender.
- Add wine and stir until alcohol is cooked out.
- Add heavy cream, butter, and lemon & clementine zest. Stir
- Fold in parmesan cheese