Risotto: Rice Done Right

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I was an adult the first time I tried risotto. I never knew what could be so good about a big bowl full of rice. The first risotto I actually remember consuming was this recipe when I made it the first time, and it was amazing. For a while, risotto became one of my default nice, impress guests, dishes. Sadly, many people feel the same way as I felt before. They have been bitten by bad restaurant risotto (I have), or had some poor Rice-A-Roni parody of true risotto.

Risotto is a dish that features the rice in almost as pure a way as you can. It requires the rice to be the foundation of the dish, the bulk of the sustenance, and even the base by which the ‘sauce’ is formed. A short grain is ideal, and Arborio is the traditional variety, though here in Japan we can’t get Arborio. I have now on a few occasions made it using sushi rice, and it works just fine, though I think the starch content may be a bit lower than Arborio. The starch from the rice mixes with the broth and forms a rich and creamy base that surrounds the rice and forms a smooth suspension which binds the rice loosely together. As such, you want to keep all of the starch on the grain before it enters the pot. So if you regularly rinse your rice prior to cooking, don’t do that in this case. Basically, if you’re risotto is watery then you are doing it wrong.

Sushi rice

Sushi rice

Risotto is not hard. In fact it is one of the easier things I make routinely. It is, however, a dish that requires attention. It isn’t a soup that you can put on and let boil down. It’s not a dish you can throw in the oven to finish off. From start to finish it takes your dedication to make a good product. Budget an hour to be in front of the stove, relatively actively engaged, and free from the distractions of the house. Since having our baby, I am doing most of the cooking, while my wife holds our daughter. She is in a completely different part of the house, and that is the best way to manage this dish particularly.

Some words of advice, if I may. Get everything ready to go before you even think of starting the rice. Have everything chopped, cheese grated, stock simmering, and prep needed for the mix-ins complete. This will greatly decrease your stress, and make it go faster in the long run. In this case, I added asparagus and sauteed mushroom (just one, it was a massive portabella the commissary had; they basically never have these, by the way), which I cooked independently prior to starting anything else. In the past I have used pancetta, leeks, bacon, and assorted other meats and veggies to add in. Nearly everything goes great in the dish, you just want to have something that stands up and has some tooth. Otherwise it is just a big bowl of soft stuff.

This is a great main or only course. You can extend this recipe to a larger dining audience by topping it with a protein such as a slices of a seared pork loin or some grilled chicken breast.

Basic Delicious Risotto

  • 2 T. Butter, plus drizzle of Olive Oil
  • 1 Onion, Diced or Chopped
  • 2 c. Arborio or Sushi Rice
  • 1 c. Dry White Wine or Sherry, or 1/2 c. Dry Vermouth
  • 48 Oz, give or take, Chicken Stock
  • 1/2-1 c. freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
  • Mix-ins, precooked
  • Kosher Salt
  • White Pepper
  • Nutmeg

Bring stock in a saucepan to just below a simmer, right as it is starting to steam. In a large pot or dutch oven next to the stock, melt butter and add oil. Add onion and a heavy pinch of Kosher Salt and sweat until nearly translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add rice and let cook with onions and fat for about 3-5 minutes, stirring nearly continuously, until the ends of the rice grains start getting translucent. Add the wine and let it get absorbed, again stirring all the time.

Sauteing the rice for a few minutes

Sauteing the rice for a few minutes

Start adding the stock one or two ladle-fulls at a time. Keep stirring. As the stock is absorbed into the rice, and the liquid doesn’t fill in when you drag your spoon across the bottom, add another ladle or two. Keep adding stock until the rice is tender. This should take about 30 minutes, require a dozen ladles or so, and make you completely bored of stirring the risotto.

Just after adding stock, you never want it to cover the rice.

Just after adding stock, you never want it to cover the rice.

Add the cheese, stirring until it is melted and fully incorporated into the risotto. Add your mix-ins, a sprinkling of white pepper, 3-5 grinds of fresh nutmeg, or about 1/4 t. from the spice rack, and stir gently to distribute evenly.

Serve in a big bowl, and top with some additional shavings of Parmesan and/or nutmeg. Serves 4+, and makes excellent leftovers.

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