Saturday, January 2, 2010

Risotto: Step Aside Rice-A-Roni

For some reason Risotto is thought of as this Italian delicacy served in fancy restaurants. I blame Seinfeld. Risotto is peasant food! They took rice, cooked it in broth and ate it. There's no mystery in the making, no revelation that is being guarded by an armed staff of chefs. In fact I can show you how to make it right now and the only thing you'll really need is extra arm power, because it does involve a lot of stirring.

What you'll need:

  • large pot
  • large knife
  • wooden spoon
  • liquid measuring cup
  • dry measuring cup
  • small bowl
  • large bowl
  • ladle

  • 1 medium sized onion, rough to finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cup of aborio rice
  • 2 - 3 tablespoons olive oil (or butter)
  • 5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup of grated peccorino romano or parmesan cheese

The Set Up: I shouldn't have to mention this - BUT I WILL.....

You should have all your ingredients measured out before you embark on this mission. Why? Mostly because I said so and while I may not have the best spelling in the world I can still cook circles around you, buddy. When you have all your crap together, measured and set out in those cute little bowls I'm sure you wasted your money on, you'll have an easier time when the additions come into play. Nothing is worse than having a pot going and your dinner burning while you muck about with a spoon measure.

  1. open up the cans of stock
  2. use the liquid measure to get 5 cups of stock into a large bowl
  3. measure out the rice you need and stick it in a smaller bowl
  4. and have the grated cheese PRE-GRATED and ready to roll

Step 1: Mack the Knife

Make sure your knife is sharp (always always always!) because a sharp knife makes everything easier! If you're new to the site or need a refresher course on chopping onions here's the link. You don't have to get too carried away with the knife. Now there's a statement... As long as you have the onion diced fairly small, you'll be fine.

Put your pot on the stove, add the olive oil, turn the heat on medium and start clarifying your onions. What do I mean by clarifying onions? When you add the onions to the oil you have a choice. You can brown them which releases the sugars and caramelizes them so you get a very sweet flavor. Browning them requires only a little stirring action on your part. Or you can clarify the onions, which means the sugars are released but not caramelized, resulting in a more subtle and less sugary flavor. This is what you do when you're making soups, stews and risottos and requires a lot of stirring to prevent the onions from browning.

SO - after you have the oil, heat and onions together like the Culinary Holy Trinity, stir that bitch! Listen for the sizzle of the onions to know when you can start timing. You'll notice after 2 minutes or so that the onion is getting translucent. Keep going for another 2 or 3 minutes until you have a decently clear look to the onions.

Step 2: Rice Boogaloo

Shut up. It's hard to come up with this stuff by myself and teach you infants how to cook at the same time.

Add the rice to the clarified onions and mix it up for about 3 minutes. You want to get the rice warmed up and start the cooking process. It'll make life easier. Once the rice is cooked a bit, start adding the stock.

Step 3: The Stock and You

DO NOT ADD ALL OF THE STOCK AT ONCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yeah I saw that look in your eye. You were all like, "Me add stock now! POUR!" Yeah you said, "POUR" as you were doing it. I know all, see all, taste only MY cooking for a reason. -Sigh-

To add the stock, which should be measured out into that large bowl mentioned above, take the ladle and add 1 ladle full. Stir the rice until the liquid is absorbed. This is what's going to give you that creamy texture. Add another ladle full, stir til absorbed. Sensing a pattern here? The stock is added about 1/2 cup at a time, which is roughly how much a ladle holds. When you have made this recipe a dozen times you can eye ball the measurements but until then you belong to the numbers! Keep stirring the whole time. This will prevent the rice from burning and speed up the absorption of the stock.

After all the stock as been added in batches and absorbed by the rice, it should have a very creamy consistency. NOW - sometimes you won't have to use all of the stock you measured out, especially if you're doing a double batch, so watch the rice and TASTE IT. If it crunches, add more stock. If there is a bite to it (not crunchy but not mushy) then you can stop adding stock. If you like a thinner risotto, add more stock. If you like it thicker, use less stock. Just make sure the rice isn't crunchy.

Step 4: Say Cheese

Add in about 1/4 cup of the grated cheese. Some people like very cheesy risotto, and there's nothing wrong with that. But make sure the cheese does not over power the rest of it. Notice how I never mentioned adding salt in the recipe? That's because the salt comes from the stock and the cheese that gets added. Unless you're using low sodium/no sodium stock you won't need to add salt. Remember: You can always add, but not take away.

This will serve about 4 to 6 people and can be used as a main or side dish. The only catch is that you have to serve it right away. It's basically a starch bomb and gets very stodgy very quickly.  It'll keep for about a week and yes you can make it fancy by adding fish or vegetables, but this is the plain jane version I served at one of my parties and it was a huge success.

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