Risotto Made Simple

Mastering risotto is an important step in learning to cook.
Mastering risotto is an important step in learning to cook.

Many people who are learning to cook feel intimidated by risotto, the creamy dish of rice in broth that originates from northern Italy. In the U.S., risotto is often found in fine dining restaurants, and cooking a pot at home requires preparation and close attention. However, with the right guidance you may find that making a basic risotto is easier than you expected.

Choose a rice
All rice is not the same, and this is important to keep in mind when it comes to making risotto. According to Fine Cooking, you should stick to medium or short-grained rice with a high proportion of amylopectin. This starch that gives risotto its creaminess. Long-grained rice like basmati tends to contain a more of another starch, called amylose, which is not sticky enough to make a successful risotto.

Serious Eats explained that there are four types of rice commonly found in U.S. grocery stores that are properly suited for risotto. Arborio is the one most cooks use because it is easy to find, short-grained and has a minimal amylose content. It makes for an especially thick sauce and requires caution to avoid overcooking. Bomba, a short-grained Spanish rice usually associated with making paellas, is also a good choice.

Whenever possible, you should select either of the rices most commonly used in Italian risotto: carnaroli or vialone nano. Both of these starchy, medium-grained rices will produce exceptionally creamy results and are less likely to overcook than arborio.

Prepare ahead of time
If you are going to cook a quality risotto, it is essential to plan ahead. As The Kitchn emphasized, it is a dish that calls for careful timing. Therefore, you should have everything ready before you turn on the heat, including chopping your vegetables and measuring out all other ingredients.

For a simple risotto, those ingredients will include:

  • 2 cups of rice.
  • 2 tablespoons of butter.
  • 2 minced cloves of garlic.
  • 1 chopped onion.
  • 1/2 cup of white wine.
  • 4 cups of chicken or vegetable broth.
  • 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese.

Shrimp RisottoCooking your risotto
First, prepare the risotto’s flavor base, called soffritto, by sauteing the onion and garlic. Melt butter over medium heat and then cook the onion for about three minutes. Add garlic and any other spices when the onion appears translucent.

Next, toast the rice in the soffritto to add flavor. Pour the rice into your pan and cook for about two minutes, stirring to ensure it is well-coated. Then add wine to deglaze the pan. Simmer until the rice absorbs the wine and pan appears to be be almost dry.

Classic risotto preparation calls for slowly pouring in the stock ladle by ladle, as the rice cooks at medium heat and absorbs the liquid. This is a straightforward but laborious process that requires paying close attention and stirring frequently. However, Serious Eats pointed out that you can make the cooking easier on yourself by using a wide, shallow skillet over a low heat. This allows you to pour in most of the liquid immediately, achieving evenly cooked rice with minimal stirring.

Begin checking the rice’s flavor after about 12 minutes. Continue cooking until rice is al dente, thick and still a little chewy. This may take up to half an hour.

When the risotto is cooked, remove it from heat. Stir in one more ladle of broth and the Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately to enjoy the dish at its creamiest.

Avoid common missteps
Bon Appetit explained that there are many misconceptions about preparing risotto that can negatively affect your results. For instance, you should not use a cold stock, which can interfere with the cooking process. If your stock has been chilled, heat it before you begin.

Even if you are using the traditional cooking method, you do not need stir the entire time the rice is cooking. You’ll achieve a superior texture and avoid wearing yourself out by taking some breaks.

Make it your own
A simple risotto makes a great side dish or appetizer, but with some hearty additions it can be a fantastic entree as well. Once you master the technique involved in making a basic risotto, you can experiment with a vast array of ingredients to find your favorite. Try adding mushrooms, caramelized onions, butternut squash or slices of sausage.

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