The first time I ever heard the term risotto or saw it being made was on an episode of 30 Minute Meals with Rachel Ray on the Food Network. I remember distinctly her saying that many people think making risotto is difficult to master and labor intensive. I’d never tried making risotto and personally am not a big fan of rice to begin with, but it looked like a creamy style rice and I thought I could live with that. Plus my husband is a huge rice fan and I’m always looking for ways to satisfy his need for rice with something that I find palatable as well.
After watching several episodes where she made different variations of risotto I thought I might give it a go. And over the past year after having made it several times I think I have the process down pat. The base recipe that I use is my own and I’ve found with a little ingenuity (and a need to use up various types of vegetables in my refrigerator) you can make just about any kind of risotto you’d like.
At first, the thought of making risotto was daunting, especially for a non-intuitive cook like me. I found out quickly that although Rachel Ray could seemingly make it in 30 minutes it takes much longer than that for me. Maybe living in high altitude has an affect on the cooking time, but after several attempts I know that it takes me 1 hour to get creamy rice. So that’s what I plan for now and it always turns out perfectly.
Since the recipe is mine, I’m not going to take the time to rate it. What I will say is that it did take several attempts before I got the risotto to its desired consistency. So let me share with you my lessons learned regarding making basic risotto and my recipe for portabella and sweet onion mushroom risotto.
Lesson Learned 1 – USE CHICKEN STOCK: Some recipes call for chicken broth, some for chicken stock, you can also use a combination of broth or stock and some wine, but my advice is always use chicken stock instead of chicken broth. Chicken stock is richer and adds more depth of flavor. There is no contest here – always use chicken stock. I find it takes me one full box of stock to make my risotto. (You can also use vegetable stock if you want to make this as a vegetarian dish).
Lesson Learned 2 – MAKE SURE THE CHICKEN STOCK IS WARM: A warm liquid helps the arborio rice (and that’s what risotto is, arborio rice) release more of its starches. Those starches are what creates the creaminess. About 5 minutes or so before I begin the process I put the stock in a pot on the stove and warm it under a very, very low flame. No need to boil or even simmer. I put my gas stove on its lowest possible setting where you can barely see a flame and keep it there the during the entire cooking process. It keeps the stock warm to the touch and that is really all you need.
Lesson Learned 3 – COOK THE RISOTTO SLOWLY UNDER A LOW FLAME: Face it, risotto takes time and there is no getting around that. The more you nurture it during the cooking process the better the end result. At any given point in time the risotto should barely bubble.
Lessons Learned 4 – SYSTEMATICALLY ADD WARM STOCK AND STIR: I think this may be the part where most people say forget it, I don’t have time for this. But it really isn’t that bad. I’ve gotten to the point where I check my risotto about every 5 minutes and if the stock has mostly cooked away I add another soup ladle full of stock, stir the risotto and then leave it for another 5 minutes. Remember stirring also helps the rice release its starches.
Lesson Learned 5 – IT MAY TAKE A FEW TRIES TO TIME IT RIGHT: As I mentioned earlier, when watching Rachel Ray cook risotto, it supposedly only took her 30 minutes. I’ve never even come close to that time. It takes me a full hour to get the risotto to its desired creaminess. Now I am not sure that high altitude has an effect on it, but I know that if I want to have risotto with a meal I need to start it an hour ahead of time. Depending upon where you live, the time may very. Unfortunately, this is something that you will need to discover on your own. But take my word for it – IT’S WORTH IT. I am not a big fan of rice but I love risotto.
Lesson Learned 6 – ADAPTABILITY: You can add just about anything you like to risotto and serve it either as a side dish or the main course. I like to add portabello mushrooms that have been sautéed in butter and garlic. But I’ve also added roasted butternut squash or asparagus. Just remember that whatever you add should be pre-cooked and added during the last 5 minute or so. Top it off with some chopped scallions or chives and you’ve got something very special.
Lesson Learned 7 – SIZE OF POT & THE AMOUNT OF RICE: My recipe calls for one cup of arborio rice. Don’t be fooled into thinking that is not enough. One cup of rice becomes three cups of risotto so depending on how many you will be serving this could well be enough for one meal and leftovers. And make sure to use a high sided pot when making risotto as it will grow right in front of your eyes. You’ll want to have a pot that can handle the end result.
Portabella Mushroom And Sweet Onion Risotto…
8 ounces of Portabella Mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup sweet onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 box (32 oz.) low sodium chicken stock
3 TBS. butter
3 TBS. olive oil
1 cup arborio rice
Pour stock into a pot and heat on the stove under the lowest possible flame (just enough to keep it warm). In a sauté pan, heat 1TBS. oil and butter. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (30 seconds to 1 minute). Add mushrooms and sauté until slightly softened. Set aside.
In a high-sided pot under medium heat, heat 2 TBS. of butter and olive oil. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add arborio rice and cook with the onions for 1 minute. Turn heat to low and add a soup ladle full of chicken stock. Stir to combine. After approximately five minutes (or until you see the chicken stock has almost been completely incorporated) add another ladle full of stock and stir. Repeat this process until all of the chicken stock has been used and the rice is thick and creamy (for me, that was approximately 1 hour). DO NOT LET THE RICE MIXTURE DRY OUT DURING THE COOKING PROCESS. There should always be a little moisture left when adding the next ladle full of stock.
During the last five minutes of the cooking process, add the mushrooms to the mixture. Garnish with chives or scallions and serve.