Risotto is a really satisfying dish when it comes together. It’s not difficult, but it takes time, and there are a few techniques that you can use to ensure that it’s flavorful.
When I first started making risotto, I would start it as if I were making steamed white rice. I’d add chicken stock and water throughout the cooking process, along with wine, garlic, salt, pepper, lemon juice, etc. It seemed like I was trying to throw all of these flavors at it, but when I tasted it, it seemed as if the flavor was going into a watery black hole. It tasted watery, and the rice hadn’t melded with the other ingredients – it was bland. I’d then try to counteract the blandness, and lack of cohesion, by adding more salt, more this, more that, and it wouldn’t work.
The first tip that I learned is to toast your rice at the outset. The first mistake that I made was not toasting the rice enough. I’d do it for a minute or two at the beginning of the cooking process, but more as a formality. When I started really toasting the rice, and taking it to just before the point of browning – to the point where you really smell a toasted, nuttiness – that was a breakthrough.
At that point, the rice really began to accept the flavors and ingredients, and the finished risotto was flavorful, and cohesive.
The second tip is to start with a really good chicken stock. If you’re going to take the time to make risotto, you might as well do it right at every stage, and just make your own chicken stock.
I also like to reduce the chicken stock a bit before starting the risotto. Taking the time to craft a really good, flavorful chicken stock makes a huge difference in your risotto.
It’s also a nice treat to reserve some of your chicken stock, and reduce it to a demi glace. You can then add this at the very end, to finish the dish, and it’s beautiful.
The third thing that I learned to do is to let the risotto rest for a bit at the end of the cooking process. Just remove it from the heat, cover it, and let it sit.
This takes a little planning, because the rice will continue to cook, and it’ll drink up a little more liquid during this step, but it’s worth it. Others might argue that this isn’t necessary, but I’ve found that it really helps the flavors, and the dish, come together.
I also learned that good risotto is about simplicity and good technique. If you find yourself in a position where you’re having to throw salt, and other flavors at the rice to try to get it to respond, you might try adjusting your technique like I did, and you might be happy with the results.
Rice (short grain like Arborio or any that you prefer)
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)
Start by making a chicken stock (with chicken bones, carrot, celery, onion, parsley, leek, garlic, salt, and pepper), unless you have some on hand, or plan on using packaged stock.
Next, sauté diced leeks, onion, and garlic in a bit of olive oil until they’re caramelized. Then remove them from the heat and set them aside.
Next, add a cup of rice to a large sauce pot, and begin to toast the rice over high heat. There’s no need to brown the rice, just get it to a point where the rice begins to smell toasted and nutty.
At this point, add your leeks, onions, and garlic, along with a cup or so of white wine, and a bit of chicken stock. Season with a bit of salt and pepper (not too much at this point), and stir.
Add more chicken stock (and try to add a bit more wine throughout the cooking process) each time the liquid cooks out, and continue to stir. You can also periodically cover the sauce pan and let it cook a bit before stirring and adding more liquid.
This process takes a bit of time (30 minutes or so), and you’ll want to keep checking the firmness of the rice when it starts to get toward the end of the cooking process.
When the rice is just under done (it should be ultimately be a bit al dente), stop adding liquid, add chopped sautéed mushrooms, and allow it to thicken to a creamy consistency.
At this point, remove the rice from the heat, stir in a knob of butter, cover it, and let it sit for 10 minutes.
After the rice has rested, add lemon juice, grated parmesan cheese, chopped basil, salt, and pepper as needed.
Serve it on a plate or in a bowl, and top it with more parmesan cheese, olive oil, and basil.