In continuation of the last post, about my love for Italian food:
How does one cook a risotto that won’t make Gordon Ramsay want to throw pans in the bin?
The short answer is: By watching it like a hawk unless you’ve done this before.
Below is the longer, more helpful answer.
Firstly, grab a wooden spoon and use a pan that is large enough. Preferably with sides that are about 3 inches high or taller.
Secondly, wear an apron. You will be controlling the heat and the food won’t (shouldn’t!) be spitting everywhere, but I got a lot of little chicken stock-rice starch liquid splatters all over my Banana Republic silk skirt because of stirring too quickly and concentrating too hard on the food. That’s some serious focus!
Stock can go sour on you, so always smell and taste before cooking with it. If you aren’t making the stock, choose a good quality store-bought one that is not too salty, in the same way that you should only cook with a wine that you would also enjoy drinking because a when nasty wine reduces, the flavour is going to concentrate! I choose low-sodium stocks because more seasoning can always be added at the end. The rice absorbs liquid as it cooks, and if the stock is salty, the rice is only going to be edible for horses, who like both salt and carrots.
Sautéeing the rice before adding stock gives it a nutty, toasty flavour and will make it take a little longer to cook through, but is a deliciously important step.
This is a wine-less risotto (we thought there was a bottle of white kicking around but alas, tragedy). If you’re going to add some to this dish, use about a cup to deglaze the pan before adding stock, and reduce your total stock amount by a cup. And if you’re going to add wine to any dish over heat, do not pour from the bottle! You might kill someone if it flames up and into the bottle, causing it to explode and shoot glass pieces everywhere. You will probably also injure your hand, meaning no cooking for a while. Blood is sometimes used as a thickener when cooking, but I’m pretty sure people don’t want your blood. No offense.
Everyone who likes to cook risotto has their own tips and tricks here and there (someone told me “It takes 18 minutes on the dot!“), but there are a lot of different factors that can affect how things pan out. Taste and texture are what counts at the end, so in the last few minutes, when it’s starting to look closer to readiness, taste every minute or so, then more frequently to check for doneness.
If cooking a risotto with green ingredients, like broccoli florets or asparagus purée, they may be partially cooked beforehand, but should be added closer to the end. Overcooking green ingredients turns them a shade of greeny-gray. Bleh!
Oh, and if you’re adding cheese at the end, watch the salt! Again!
I have to admit that I was excited by the risotto dinner request, but when we were thinking of vegetables and carrots were suggested, I thought, “Carrots?…Okay!” Sometimes being unsure of how something is going to turn out will give you the motivation to rock it.
“Pony Up!” Carrot Risotto
Serves 6 generous side portions for humans, or 1 actual horse’s dinner
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
2 large cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped finely
2 large carrots, scrubbed well and grated
2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
7 to 8 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable stock (almost 2 1L tetra packs)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup grated parmigiano reggiano or another awesome, strong cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat the chicken stock in a covered pot, bring it to a boil, and keep it warm.
2. Pour the olive oil into a large pan and warm over low-medium heat.
3. Add the onion and a small pinch of salt when the oil shimmers, and lightly sauté a few minutes until golden.
4. Add garlic, cook another minute.
5. Add carrots, stirring occasionally until softened.
6. Look at the clock and note what time it is. Add rice, and more oil if needed to coat, and sauté about 5 minutes, stirring almost constantly. Gradually bring the heat up to medium and keep the food moving in the pan so that the garlic doesn’t burn, but the rice has a chance to get nice and toasty, and the carrots and onions turn sweet and caramelized.
7. Add the stock, starting out with 2 cups (if using wine, use 1 cup and 1 cup of stock here), and stir to fully incorporate. It should start simmering like crazy.
8. Stir some more! Once the stock is almost all absorbed and the rice looks creamy, add another cup of stock, and stir occasionally to prevent scorching, sticking, and angry English chefs kicking things.
9. Repeat twice more, and at about 15 or so minutes in, start tasting the rice to check the texture and doneness. It probably needs at least one more cup of stock and a few more minutes on the stove. Did you stir it? Good. Do it again!
10. When you think the risotto is just about done, add butter and cheese and quickly stir them in to melt and fully distribute creamy fabulousness.
11. Check seasoning, hit it with what it needs, serve immediately before it thickens too much, and sit down to enjoy! You deserve it!
Note: If you are a cook and have to make risotto for service from par-cooked rice, always, always, always make sure that the rice isn’t overcooked or it’s all downhill from there. What I hear Gordon Ramsay yelling the most often in Hell’s Kitchen is “Look! Look!!!!!” Because people clearly are not, and that is where the problems begin to snowball. I adore the guy but swear he is going to have a hernia of the brain.
The risotto in the picture was a bit creamier and looser but I waited a bit too long to take this photo (and kept piling more on the plate!) so the rice absorbed more of the liquid. Didn’t stop me from eating it, though! It managed to earn lean-back-in-the-chair and sneak-more-while-everyone-else-is-relaxing levels of goodness.
I would definitely make this again and was delightfully surprised at how well the carrots tasted with the cheese. Maybe this summer I will try cooking it with grated zucchini with a hint of basil, and in the winter make a version with some caramelized onion purée, roasted garlic, or roasted butternut squash.
Risotto is not intimidating, once you get the hang of it. The quicker you get out there and stir, the easier it gets, so hop to it! I have to get back to reading Jamie’s Italy and toss that skirt in the laundry. That book is so good that it’s distracting!