It seems Risotto has been made quite popular lately by Chef Gordon Ramsay and his reality show “Hell’s Kitchen.” So much so that home cooks seem terrified to even attempt it. Surely, if the professional Chefs on Hell’s Kitchen can’t get it right then….
But it really isn’t that way at all. In fact, I made my first ever risotto today. In all honesty, while it was slightly time-consuming, I basically just stood there and watched it as it cooked wondering when it was going to get difficult. Truth is, it never did. It wasn’t difficult at all. I swear!!
Risotto is more than just a traditional Italian rice dish but more aptly it’s named for the style used when cooking it (adding the liquid slowly in batches). Yes, it does take a little time (about 25 minutes) and some modicum of attention. What I found was that to make risotto, it’s best to have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go ahead of time for ease of preparation.
First of all, let’s get started on the Mise en place pronounced [mi zɑ̃ ˈplas] which is a French culinary phrase which means “putting in place”. It is used to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients needed for a recipe before you begin so that everything is ready for you as you need it. So for this recipe, you will need to:
- Bring the chicken or vegetable stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
- Finely grate any cheese, so that it melts quickly when added near the end of the cooking process.
- Cut butter into small, even-sized pieces to be added when the risotto is nearly finished. Place the butter in the fridge; it should be very cold when you add it.
- Dice the onions so that they cook through properly and don’t affect the texture of the finished risotto. When you’re sweating the onions in the butter and oil, make sure not to let them brown.
- Clean and slice the mushrooms to get them ready for their quick saute.
And then there are just a few easy steps to go over for cooking:
- Add the stock just enough at a time to cover the rice and let the rice absorb it a little at a time. Scrape the base and sides of the pan as you stir in the stock. This technique allows the dish to become creamy from the starches in the rice much like slow cooking grits in a similar fashion.
- Make sure that each cup of stock has been nearly absorbed before adding the next cup. The idea is to keep the rice runny and moving so that it cooks evenly. The rice should not look dry. Keep it bubbling steadily as you add stock, but not at a hard boil.
- Constant stirring isn’t necessary, but stir frequently: a couple times after adding an additional cup of stock, then again before it evaporates.
- To avoid making your risotto too soupy, reduce the amount of chicken stock you add toward the end. It’s better to add too little stock rather than too much because you can always stir in a little hot stock to loosen it up after you add the butter and cheese.
- When the rice is not quite done, the risotto will look creamy and not too thick. In finished risotto, the rice is plump and tender, but with a bite in the center (al dente).
After cooking my rice according to the package directions, I found that I like my rice a little more “done” than the traditional al dente standards. This according to the professionals is “overdone.” This according to my family is perfectly done. To me, and this is only my opinion, how my family and I like it is all that matters. If you like your rice a little more done than the traditional al dente, cook it a little longer than directed until you reach your desired doneness. If you like it al dente stop when you reach your desired end point. I promise, no Risotto police will come to your home and take you away kicking and screaming from your kitchen.
At the end of the day, how you enjoy your food and flavors is up to you. To me, there is no wrong way. There’s just food, flavors, and techniques. If my family doesn’t like it then we are not likely to eat it and that’s just wasteful. The flavors are still the same and it is delicious. We still enjoyed it and will be adding it to our recipe box because now that I’ve finally conquered Risotto it isn’t so scary anymore.
Parmesan and Mushroom Risotto
- 16 oz mushrooms, any combination or type you desire, cleaned and sliced
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small white onion or 1 large shallot, minced
- 1 1/2 cups Arborio (Italian) rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- fine sea salt and pepper to taste
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- flat leaf Italian parsley, minced
- In a saucepan, bring the chicken or vegetable stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
- Add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil to a saucepan or large skillet, and the onions and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the onion begins to become soft and opaque about 4 minutes. The onion should not pick up any brown color which would detract from our beautiful rice.
- Next add the rice, stirring constantly to coat with oil, about 2 minutes. When the rice has taken on a pale, golden color, pour in wine, and let it bubble until it has reduce by half.
- Add 2 cups of your broth to the rice and stir occasionally until the broth is absorbed.
- Continue adding broth 1/2 cup ( about 1 ladle full) at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 20 to 25 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in another skillet with a tablespoon of butter, cook the mushrooms until just tender. Set aside to be mixed into the risotto during the final stage.
- Remove from heat and let stand 1 minute. Stir in mushrooms, butter, parsley, and Parmesan. Adjust the salt and pepper, if necessary.