Risotto by Walter Trupp
Risotto is one of my favourite to go to recipes, its easy, its quick, it allows me to use up my left overs meat or vegetables and it makes an amazing starter, a hearty main course and if you want to you can even turn it into a dessert. A good risotto is a guaranteed winner as an everyday or special occasion meal.
Originated in the north of Italy and historically it used to be a bit different from what we know today. Onions and unrefined brown rice where caramelized golden brown before cooked down in beef broth and then finished off with slivers of bone marrow and parmesan cheese and served like a porridge. Today we refine the rice and add other things and the bone marrow is replaced with butter or left out.
Risotto is a north Italian dish and the saying goes that: “A risotto never waits for you! It is you who have to waiting for the risotto”.
This means that a risotto needs a lot of attention during cooking as it is only good for a very short time of period before it loses some of its unique texture. Reheating can be done with a loss of quality but don’t tell an Italia that you reheat it as this is considered a culinary crime.
Here are the secrets to how to make a perfect risotto every time.
The best rice is obviously grown in northern Italy and many farmers there use still the same water channel system that was developed by Leonardo da Vinci. Rice is planted and once the shoots of the rice plants grow out of the flooded fields carp fish are released into the water. The carp fish does not touch or eat the shoots that have grown out of the water but feed on all the upcoming weed shoots making the carp fish the natural gardener or the rice fields and through this ancient method rice in most cases is grown organically.
Once the rice is ready to be harvested most of the water gets drained off through the canals the fattened carp fish is removed and if large enough sold off as food just like the harvested rice.
Note; an interesting point here is that if you ever came across as Italian vintage risotto rice than this is not a joke as rice that is a few years old has the tendency to harden and develops a superior texture when compared to younger rice.
Risotto rice is a high starch round medium or short grain rice and is similar to the ones used in paella and sushi and if you are stuck you could use them also for a risotto but again do not mention that to any Italian.
Those types of rice different to other rice varieties in their ability to absorb moisture while they also release or rub off starch into the cooking liquid which creates that unique silken creamy texture which is impossible to achieve with other rice varieties.
Hence stirring is so important especially towards the end of cooking when the starch together with stock cheese and butter will help to emulsify your risotto and give it its unique creamy silken texture.
So, what rice do need to use?
Good quality rice and most recipes talk about Arborio but that’s of no help to you as you could purchase top quality Arborio rice and cheap crap from the supermarket which will never make the risotto you try to achieve.
Arborio rice is one variety and like wine it can be cheap quality or top quality, so don’t stress yourself what grain you use rather choose quality but a bit more about that below.
Good quality risotto rice is a bit more expensive but it will pay off as good quality rice is not completely stripped off its outer fibrous layers which gives you a superior texture as well as flavour.
If risotto rice is completely stripped of its outer shelling (cheap Rice) will not create a good texture and will be sticky and the risotto will end up like porridge or milky rice.
There are three different risotto rice grains offered readily available outside of Italy.
“Arborio” has long be considered the favourite in risotto cooking therefore it is the most common one. Arborio has a medium sized grain that makes this rice a good all-rounder. Unfortunately, there is a lot of low quality Arborio rice on the markets and therefore I want to introduce you to a few other and more interesting ones.
“Carnoroli” is the Chefs Favourite rice for rustic risottos as it has the largest grain and is great for risottos that have rougher textures and a better and firmer bite than Arborio, But if not stirred well it tends to cook uneven.
“Vialone Nano” is my favourite as it is the finest grained rice and has the reputation that it hard to overcook as the grains are shorter and thicker and rounder than other risotto varieties. Vialone is a great rice for more elegant risottos like seafood or fish or truffle or saffron and so on.
There are also some harder to find risotto rice like “Martelli” “Roma” “Originario” “Ribe” “Baldo” “Calriso”
Additionally, to the varieties you will find the words “Fino” “Semifino” and “Superfino” on the label which refers to the size of those individual varieties but does not refer to quality of the rice.
Stock is the other main ingredient for a good risotto and will give it body and depth, and it needs to be good quality stock and as better the stock as better the risotto and it will literally act like your bass Guitar in a good rock song, not too obvious but will give the Umpf.
Additionally, the stock must be boiling hot, cold stock will interrupt the cooking process and affect the rices consistency, extend the cooking time and often lead to burns the bottom of the cooking pot.
Wine is the other liquid add and it can be as much as up to a ¼ of the liquid content and will give the risotto its much-needed acidity and best choose a wine that is acidic and stay away from heavily oaked wines.
Cheese is the other main ingredient and there are different qualities with different flavour strength around and always grate your cheese fresh. Pre-grated cheese is often oxidised with a rancid flavour and in most cases contain so called “anti-caking agents” such as tapioca starch which prevents the cheese from forming lumps or sticking together.
You than add such cheese to your risotto and your risotto becomes very thick creamy like a white sauce where most texture is lost and flavours are masked up.
For everything you ever need to know about Parmesan Cheese and its differences to Grana Padano sign up onto my online courses and I explain it to you all there.
So how you cook a perfect risotto?
Never rinse risotto rice before cooking as you will wash off some of the valuable starch.
Make sure the stock you use is boiling hot.
Stir the risotto often, like every 2-3 minutes in the beginning to assure even cooking, I know you will say that there are lot of recipes mentioning to cook it in the oven or stir just occasionally but those recipes are designed for cheap rice that has all its outer layers removed. I am talking here about top quality risottos where some of the outer fibrous parts are left on and to cook those recipes perfect regular stirring is needed and remember stirring helps releasing starches contributing to the creaminess of the sauce and perfectly cooked chewy grains. Stirring will create a risotto of two different textures and make it much more exiting and interesting to eat.
When you come towards the end of cooking the grains fully (the last 2-3 minutes) you will have the highest starch release and then you lower the temperature and add cheese and butter (if you want) and Italians say that this is the stage when you have to “Stress” the rice meaning you need to stir or almost whip it as the fats and liquids and starches through the vigorous stirring develop an emulsion similar like a butter sauce or hollandaise or mayonnaise and create the perfect creaminess.
And here a few questions answered I often get asked in my hands on or online classes;
No a risotto does not need to be covered with a lid.
Cream or mascarpone is an ingredient you can add but is not found in traditional risottos and will make your risotto very rich and masks some of the flavors and creates a more soupy creamy texture..
When do you stop cooking a risotto?
When the rice is cooked ‘al dente’ meaning the rice or grain has a soft firm bite. Al dente translated means “Sticking to Your Teeth” but its ready when you are happy with the rice’s doneness. Here again good quality rice will be much more forgiving while cheap rice will collapse and turn to mush and the risotto loses its structure
If it is not creamy enough and sticks together, a little more of liquid needs to be added, if it is too runny – you need to cook it for a few more minutes longer.
What consistency should your risotto have; the same as a runny porridge and be runny and spread itself evenly on a plate but for more about that watch the video below.
If you want to learn how the best restaurant chefs precook their rice and how you can do that at home for your next dinner party than check out my online courses www.cookwithtrupp.com
“Dedicated to bringing the chef out in you!”