In last week’s newsletter, we talked about how to set yourself up for success with risotto. Today, we are going to break down the different steps on the path to a delicious risotto.
Making Risotto—It’s More Art than Science pt. 2
There are all these “rules” about risotto. How you need to constantly stir it for HOURS. How your broth must be at exactly 207℉ (97℃). How you add said broth only a teaspoon at a time. How ingredients must be added at specific time intervals while cooking. 🤨 (Okay, some slight exaggeration here.)
But all those rules are BS. Risotto isn’t as scary or as complicated as it seems.
The way you add your liquid. The amount you stir. They both matter less than you think.
Let’s talk about the steps for making risotto.
(Extra credit: watch me make corn risotto on Instagram.)
1. Saute Aromatics
You can start risotto with onions, garlic, carrots, celery, etc. And those veggies will add flavor to the dish overall. Just add a little fat then dump the veggies in. And cook them until they start to change color. This light browning makes them even more flavorful (learn why browning is the key to flavor).
But sauteing aromatic veggies isn’t a requirement for a good risotto. I’ve read plenty of recipes from folks I trust who don’t add any aromatic veggies. Why? They can mask other flavors.
Here’s how I think about it.
If I’m making a simple risotto, I load up on the aromatics. It will give the risotto a “classic” flavor. It becomes the perfect side to any braised meat.
But otherwise, I keep the aromatics to a minimum. I might only use a quarter of an onion. That is unless I want to go BIG on a specific aromatic flavor. Enter mushroom risotto. 🍄 Cooking down mushrooms at this point is the perfect way to start a fun(gi) risotto. 😉
2. Toast the Rice
Now that your aromatics are starting to pick up some color (or not if you decide to skip them), add your rice. But hold your horses before adding any liquid.
When you give the rice a little bit of time in direct contact with a hot pan, it will develop a wonderful nutty aroma. And that means more flavor!
So toast your rice until it starts to get translucent on the ends and smells nutty. It will probably take around 5 minutes.
3. Cook the Rice
This is where things may get controversial. 😬
Classic risotto recipes start with a touch of wine. But like I talked about in last week’s newsletter, it’s optional.
But whether you go with wine first or straight to stock, most recipes have you add broth one ladle at a time. And then once you add the liquid, you stir vigorously! And constantly too! Once most of the liquid cooks off, you add another ladle. And repeat! Stir. Stir. Stir. Pour. Stir. Stir. Stir. Pour. Stir. Stir. Stir. 😩
Here’s the thing. Risotto can actually be pretty hands-off.
First, let’s talk about stirring.
Conventional wisdom says the constant stirring makes the risotto creamier. But most of the creaminess actually comes from the starch in the rice, not the stirring.
J. Kenji López-Alt did an experiment to prove it. He started by soaking two batches of rice in water to remove all of their natural starch. Then he cooked one batch of risotto, constantly stirring it. And then another batch where he didn’t stir it. Guess what? The risotto where he constantly stirred was not creamier than the other! 🤯
But stirring isn’t a complete waste. An occasional stir helps the rice cook evenly. Why? Well, the rice on the bottom—which is in direct contact with the heat source (aka the pan)—will cook faster than the rice on top. So make sure you do some occasional stirring. You just don’t need to feel pressured to stir constantly, counterclockwise, at 3.5 stirs per second, with an oak spoon. This isn’t potions class folks. 🧙
What about the liquid?
Check out part 1 if you want to know what kind of liquid to use.
For starters, you need lots of liquid. It’s one of the reasons risotto is creamier than normal rice. I typically use a ratio of 4-5 cups of liquid to 1 cup of rice. But having 5 cups on hand is a safe bet. You never know if your rice might be a little temperamental that day and need it.
Next, let’s bust a myth. Does the liquid really need to be added slowly, one ladle at a time? Nah.
After reading recipes, learning how chefs in Milan make risotto, and trying it myself, I was sold. Surprisingly, you can dump in a bunch of liquid at once and still end up with a creamy result! There’s just a small trick. Reserve some liquid to add at the end. The rice will have already absorbed almost all the liquid it can and then there won’t be enough time for the liquid to cook off. So you’re left with a creamy consistency! 😋
Here’s the technique:
- Once you’ve toasted your rice, add in about 75% of your liquid. And give it a quick stir.
- Cover the pot and bring it up to a boil before reducing the heat to a simmer.
- Let it cook for about 10 minutes, stirring 2-3x during the process.
- Cook until the rice tastes almost done, but not soft. You want it to have a little bite to it here since it will continue to cook.
- Then add your reserved 25% of liquid. And simmer for a minute until it combines but is still a little soupy. Add more liquid if needed.
- Then take the pot off the heat.
And remember, just like anything in cooking, adding stock little-by-little does make for a delicious risotto. So if that’s your jam, do it! Why change something that isn’t broken? But now you know it might not be the most efficient way to cook risotto. And if you’re cool with that, I’m cool with that!
4. Add Your Finishing Touches
Once you take the risotto off the heat, that’s when the extra flavor comes in.
Typically it’s in the form of heat cheese and butter. And trust me, always add cheese and butter. 😁 But it could be whipping cream or crème fraîche.
But it could also be seared shrimp. A handful of herbs. Roasted butternut squash.
I recommend cooking those add-ins separately and adding them at the end. That gives you more control. You can make sure the add-ins are perfectly cooked and then warm them up in the risotto.
And remember the newsletter last week? Please don’t forget to sneak in extra acid at this point. A few teaspoons of vinegar will brighten the risotto and give it that extra zing that brings out the other flavors.
Those my friends are the steps for risotto.
Extra Credit: Giving Risotto a Specific Flavor
Now that you know the steps, let’s finish with talking about my favorite topic: flavor. While we’ve talked about it at different points, I want to call how to give risotto a specific flavor.
Whether you want seafood, bacon & pea, or butternut squash risotto, there are three points to think about flavoring:
- Your aromatics: whether it’s sage, shredded butternut squash, or leeks, going big on aromatic flavors at the beginning will imbue those flavors subtly as the risotto cooks.
- Your liquid: like we talked about last week, choosing a liquid other than vegetable or chicken stock is the perfect way to double up on certain flavors.
- Your ending: flavors often become less prominent when heat is applied. So finishing with a bold flavor makes sure the flavor comes through.
Want to see all three in action? Watch this video on corn risotto on Instagram!
I hope you enjoyed this two-part series on risotto! If you did, please forward it to a friend and tell them to subscribe!
Until next week,