Friday, 22 June 2012


I've been messing around with risotto for years now and I think I finally have what I think is the perfect risotto.  I don't so much have a recipe (as lots of things can go into risotto and taste lovely) as a number of tips:
  1. I'm not someone who is generally precious about pans, I know some people are all about their Le Creuset and cast iron stuff and whatever but I'm not.  But I've tried risotto in a big frying pan and that didn't work well because the grains of rice at the edge ended up overcooked, I've tried it in a wok (I thought maybe that would be good as it would keep all the rice together and so cook it evenly) but that was too thin and got the risotto too hot, in the end it turns out that what you need is a good old fashioned thick bottomed saucepan.  
  2. You don't - in my view - need risotto/arborio/paella rice, pudding rice is just fine and is a bit cheaper.
  3. There are various recipes out there that cut out the tedious spooning of the stock element and bake it in the oven or just put all the stock in to begin with.  These sound appealing but, having tried a few, it just doesn't taste right.  They don't manage to get that creaminess that you can get from risotto done the traditional way.  Done right, the traditional way makes it so creamy that you almost think you must have put some cream in there.  Essentially, you add the stock at such a pace that the rice is always moist but is not actually boiling in liquid.
  4. Try not to get the pan too hot - even if you're using a good thick bottomed pan, it can still happen and then the rice starts to boil in the stock which makes it not come out so well.  If possible, use your smallest hob on its lowest setting.
  5. Think about what vegetables you're using and whether it's worth cooking them separately to avoid them getting too soggy - in my experience, it's well worth, for example, frying mushrooms up in a separate pan and adding in at the end.  With some vegetables, you can put them in but you want to wait until the dish is part cooked to avoid overcooking - for instance broad beans and peas.
  6. Start off with a bit of butter rather than oil - just tastes a lot better.
  7. Sherry is a nice alternative to white wine, if you have it, I think it has more depth of flavour to risotto.
  8. While we're on the subject of sherry/white wine, I find that it's good to add this at two points:  after you've toasted the rice in the butter, adding it straight away before any stock; and drizzling a little in right at the very end
  9. If you're adding cheese, add it around half way through - a point you recognise after a bit of practice, when the outside of a grain of rice is soft but the inside is still very hard.  I think gruyere is by far the best cheese to add, though others can work too.
  10. I find this hard as I naturally want to add LOTS of different things to everything but, with risotto, it's best to keep the spicing fairly simple - garlic, salt, black pepper are perfectly sufficient.  Fresh herbs are nice to add at the end too, though, particularly a bit of parsley.  A squeeze of lemon is nice too.
  11. Similarly, it's worth being a bit restrained as to the number of vegetables you add - don't just chuck everything you have to use up in there as the dish starts to lose focus.  I try to stick to two vegetables at most and often I'll just put one in.  
  12. If it doesn't seem to be cooking and you're getting bored of ladling in stock, don't lose your patience and just dunk lots of stock in, it's really annoying to end up with too much liquid in there.  The risotto will just suddenly towards the end get really creamy and that makes all the effort worthwhile.  It is, however, definitely worth preparing yourself for the time it takes - it usually takes me around 45-50 minutes - get someone in the kitchen to chat to you or a book or have some kitchen tidying to do.
  13. Enjoy!

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