(make sure you check out our musical pairing at the end of this post!)
I watch way too much cooking reality TV, to the point I used to be deathly afraid to try and make certain dishes like scallops or risotto because Chef Ramsay would most assuredly yell at me for being an “idiot sandwich”.
But that’s not what this whole “learn all the cooking things” journey is about. I have to make risotto. I have to face the dish that it seems like every professional chef with years of training and experience cannot seem to make. No big deal, right?
What is Risotto?
Risotto is a creamy rice dish, usually served as a main dish but can be a lovely side for most meats. It’s made from arborio rice, a short grain rice that’s more starchy than other kinds of rice. It’s not usually rinsed ahead of time like regular rice, so it’s used in creamy rice dishes where that high starch content is released during the cooking process.
How do I make risotto?
The short answer is: carefully. This isn’t a “set it and forget it” dish, like plain rice. It’s a hands-on, 20-30 minute process that needs you at the stove the whole time. It’s worth it, though.
Basically, you start by boiling water or stock and setting it aside.
Then you cook your veggies (usually onion) in oil, toast the rice with the veggies, then add the acid (white wine, normally) and cook that out. Then, a little at a time, you add the hot liquid you set aside earlier, one ladle at a time.
You let the liquid absorb into the rice until it becomes creamy and slightly al dente in the middle. Then you remove it from the heat and add parmesan, and voila! Tasty risotto.
Seems simple enough.
How can I mess up risotto?
I believe one of the important things to know about a deceptively tricky dish like risotto is knowing how you can screw it up. Knowing this will help you avoid those pitfalls.
- Rinsing the rice. Just don’t do it, and you should be fine.
- Not cooking the rice in oil or toasting it before adding your liquids. The oil slows the arborio rice from cooking to quickly and turning to mush on the outside before the center has a chance to cook.
- Not heating the stock/water before you add it. The cold liquid would slow the cooking and then you would just be standing at your stove for the rest of time, hoping the liquid would heat up and absorb into your rice.
- Adding the stock/water all at once. That doesn’t let the rice absorb the liquid little by little, and gradually cook, it just floods the rice and makes a mess.
So now that you know what NOT to do, here’s what to do:
A basic risotto without wine that can be served as a side dish or a main dish.
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 large onion (not sweet) diced
- 2 cups arborio rice
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 cup chicken stock (not broth)
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 - 3/4 grated parmesan (not the powdered kind)
- Dutch oven
- Wooden spoon or spatula
- Bring 10 cups of water with 1 tablespoon of water to a boil over high heat before you start the rest of the recipe. Keep it on a simmer while you continue the steps.
- Heat the oil in the dutch oven over medium. Cook the chopped onion in the oil with a pinch of salt, until it softens (about 7-9 minutes). Add 1/2 cup of water and stir, cooking until water evaporates (about 5 minutes).
- Add rice and stir to combine. Continue to cook until rice is slightly translucent on the edges, about 5 minutes.
- Add white wine vinegar and chicken stock with a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook while stirring, until liquid is totally gone (about 2 minutes).
- Start adding hot salted water to the rice mix by the ladleful, stirring continuously and letting the liquid absorb completely into the rice before adding more. (See notes) You have to keep stirring to let the rice come to the creamy consistency you want, so just keep an eye out. After 15 minutes of adding the water and stirring, taste the rice. It should still be slightly toothy (have a good bite to it, slightly al dente) and should not be mushy.
- When it's right, remove the pot from the heat. Add the chunks of butter and stir until it's melted and combined. Add 1-1/2 cups of the parmesan and stir until the cheese is melted and incorporated. It should be creamy, not watery or chunky. You can still stir in a little water if it's not creamy enough.
- Serve, with a bit of black pepper and a sprinkle of parmesan on top.
- Each salted water addition should take about 3-4 minutes to absorb, so if it's taking less, turn the heat down. (Same with if it's taking too long, turn the heat up a smidge.)
- You probably won't use all the salted water, and that's totally ok. Add until the consistnecy is RIGHT.
And for those of you who like to mix music with your cooking, for this particular pairing, we recommend a little love song from Dean Martin, Volare.