Risotto is an iconic Italian rice dish as we all know, but risotto isn't as much the dish, as it is a method of cooking. Below I will show you how to utilize the risotto method, by making a classic Parmesan risotto. Risotto method cooking can be broken down into 4 major categories;
Starch; rice, quinoa, pearl barley, farro, orzo, spelt, bulgur wheat, Israeli couscous, wheat berries, lentils, potato,
Stock; chicken stock, fish stock, beef stock, lamb stock, pork stock, game stock, vegetable stock, mushroom stock, dashi, chinese stock (this will be in an upcoming blog)
Alcohol; white wine, dry vermouth, sparkling wine, sherry, red wine, port, brandy
Flavour; Parmesan, mushroom, saffron, beet, seafood (lobster, prawn, crab, etc.), chicken, chorizo, confit duck, corn, pea, spinach, bacon, pancetta, butternut squash, red pepper, asparagus, butter, olive oil
Aromatics; onion, garlic, shallot, green onion, herbs; thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley, sorrel, tarragon, basil, cilantro, sage, marjoram, chervil, chives
Highlighted are the ingredients used to make the Parmesan risotto in this blog
Step 1 - Choose your starch
The most common starch to use when preparing something in the risotto method would be rice, and the most common would be short grain Italian, these 3 in particular; carnaroli, arborio, and vialone nano. Arborio is the most common, and easiest to find, so this is probably where you would start. However, carnaroli is the creme de la creme, as it has a slightly higher starch content, and is a little bit firmer in texture. As I have stated above, risotto is more about the method in how you are cooking, and less an actual dish, so other starches are at your ready as well. Quinoa, pearl barley, farro, and couscous, have been gaining in popularity, as it offers you a different look, at a grain you may be unsure how to prepare.
Step 2 - Choose your liquids
The next step will be choosing the liquids for the dish, this will usually consist of a stock, and an alcohol. Vegetable stock is probably the most neutral, allowing you to go anywhere (like a blank canvas), where as chicken stock is probably the more popular. Depending on what the final dish is, will be the stock that you choose. If you plan on doing a seafood risotto, you may use prawn stock, or a mushroom risotto, you would make a mushroom stock (stock preparation in a following blog)
As for alcohols, white wine would probably be the most neutral, and would always work well, and never ruin your day, although I keep a bottle of dry vermouth in the fridge at all times, just for this very reason, risottos. Dry vermouth, works well in place of white wine in just about any dish, just add about 1/2 the quantity as you would white wine. This way you always have white wine for cooking on hand, that won't go bad before you have a chance to cook with it......... or drink it.
Step 3 - Choose your flavour
Here we are sticking with a basic Parmesan risotto, so we have just gone with Parmesan cheese, and will use olive oil, and butter to bump up the richness. If you decided to go with a vegetable risotto, now you would have the choice on whether you want the vegetables to be cut up in the risotto, or cooked down and pureed, and added as a last minute addition to the risotto. It is also very common for a combination of the two.
Step 4 - Choose your aromatics
Aromatics come in two categories when making risotto;
Added at the beginning; onion, garlic, shallot, green onion
Added at the end; herbs; thyme, rosemary, oregano, parsley, sorrel, tarragon, basil, cilantro, sage, marjoram, chervil, chives
Here we went with shallot and garlic, but in a classic Parmesan risotto you are just as likely to see shallot replaced with onion. You can finish this risotto with fresh thyme if you would like, but traditionally this is left without an herb garnish.
Step 5 - Have your pot of stock simmering on a back burner
When making a risotto, you always have your hot stock you are using to cook with on a back burner, that way when you are adding ladles of stockto your pot, you are not stopping the cooking process. You are going to want to have about 4 to 1 stock to rice, so for every cup of rice, you will have 4 cups of stock.
If you want to be extra boss, you can add additional flavourings that are going to compliment your risotto. In this case I have added a Parmesan rind, as it is only going to enhance that rich Parmesan flavour, and also my background is Italian, so I have a lot of this stuff just lying around.
Step 6 - Chop your aromatics
You want to make sure that you chop your aromatics; to the same size, or finer then your rice. You don't want the pieces of onion, shallot, or garlic to feel bulky in your mouth, and get in the way of the smooth texture of the risotto.
Step 7 - Saute your aromatics
Saute your aromatics, in this case, your shallot and garlic, in a good amount of olive oil, just until translucent, you do not want to brown these. It is important to add enough oil, 3 tablespoons minimum, as it will be needed in the next step. If you are making a mushroom risotto, this is where you would add your mushrooms in as well.
Step 8 - Saute your rice, and coat in oil
This step is very important, and very often overlooked by many. You must make sure you coat every grain of rice in oil, this helps the rice to take on a protective layer, so that it doesn't take in too much liquid, and stays al dente, and does not overcook.
Step 9 - Deglaze with your alcohol
After the risotto has been fully coated in the oil, you will now deglaze the pan with your alcohol, usually white wine, or dry vermouth. Usually you will want a good 1/2 a cup of white wine, or 1/4 cup of vermouth for around 2 servings of risotto. Make sure that you cook the alcohol down au sec (till almost dry). There are a few cases where you would not use white wine/dry vermouth. Lobster risottos classically are deglazed with brandy, and if you are taking your risotto down the Spanish route, you would probably reach for a dry sherry instead of wine.
Step 10 - Ladle the hot stock into the risotto
You now begin the process of cooking the rice/starch, by ladling hot stock into the rice a little bit at a time. You only want to add around 2 ounces each time, you don't want the rice mixture to be very liquid, as it will not turn out nice and creamy like it should. If you are adding root vegetables or squash to your risotto (i.e. beets, butternut squash), you would add in now, depending on how hearty the vegetable, and the cooking time it will require.
Step 11 - Stir the risotto constantly
Keep stirring the risotto constantly after you add the ladles of stock into the pan. The whole reason risotto get its creamy texture is from the agitation of the starches rubbing against one another. You can not possibly stir this dish too much, impossible!
Step 12 - After stock runs out, replace with water
If you have run out of stock, and your rice is not finished cooking, no worries, this usually is the case. Do not warm up more stock to add to the risotto, as this will change the flavouring of the dish. Just take your same stock pot, and add water, and return it to the stove, and bring it to a simmer, before starting to ladle it into the rice to finish the cooking.
Step 13 - Check for doneness
Here you are checking for the doneness of the starch. If it is rice you are using, you are looking for what the Italians call "al dente", loosely translating to "toothsome". You want to make sure your risotto still has a little bite to it, and is not complete mush.
Step 14 - Add in your butter and Parmesan
After you have decided that your rice is now "al dente" you may now finish with your flavouring of choice. Here you would add any fresh vegetables that do not require much cook time (i.e. fresh peas), seafood (i.e. mussels, clams, lobster, prawns, crab) or herbs of choice.
Stir the butter in cohesively before adding your cheese.
Finish with grating the Parmesan into the risotto, cheese should always be grated in after all of the cooking has finished, or you will end up with a gluey consistency.
Don't be shy, this is a Parmesan risotto, don't stop grating until your arm starts to fall asleep, make it rain!
The finished product
It is important that your risotto is still runny, it should be runny without pooling at the edges. It is usually served on a plate, or a very shallow bowl.
It wouldn't be Cacio Pepe if we didn't provide you with a recipe on the classic Italian dish done in a risotto style, so here is the link to a recipe we did for a newspaper in Niagara (bottom of the article); Cacio e Pepe risotto.