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Q&A -- Risotto-- Rice in the Spotlight

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Stone   

1. What is the proper direction/pattern for stirring risotto?

2. Is it true that rice is for tourists?

3. Excellent essay. I've never needed much more than 7 cups broth for 2 cups of rice. Am I not going far enough, or is the extra "just in case?"

4. I've heard that each of the three types of risotto rice goes best with certain ingredients. I.e., one is best with fish, one with meats, one with vegetable preparations. Is this hooey?

5. (Maybe I missed this in the essay), but one issue to pay attention to when adding "flavoring" ingredients to the risotto (chicken, shellfish, vegetables, etc.) is what texture you want from them at the end. Of course, the earlier in the process the ingredient is added, the more it will break down into little bits by the end. That is not necessarily a bad thing, as the flavor gets released. But you may have people wondering where the shrimp is. I often do a 2/3 - 1/3 ratio, putting in 2/3 of my stuff early, to break down, and 1/3 at the end.


Edited by Stone (log)

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1.  What is the proper direction/pattern for stirring risotto?

2.  Is it true that rice is for tourists?

3.  Excellent essay.  I've never needed much more than 7 cups broth for 2 cups of rice.  Am I not going far enough, or is the extra "just in case?"

4.  I've heard that each of the three types of risotto rice goes best with certain ingredients.  I.e., one is best with fish, one with meats, one with vegetable preparations.   Is this hooey?

5.  (Maybe I missed this in the essay), but one issue to pay attention to when adding "flavoring" ingredients to the risotto (chicken, shellfish, vegetables, etc.) is what texture you want from them at the end.  Of course, the earlier in the process the ingredient is added, the more it will break down into little bits by the end.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, as the flavor gets released.  But you may have people wondering where the shrimp is.  I often do a 2/3 - 1/3 ratio, putting in 2/3 of my stuff early, to break down, and 1/3 at the end.

1. I believe there is no 'one direction' that is right for stirring risotto. It depends on the person doing the stirring. They should stir in the direction that is most comfortable to ensure they stir all the rice evenly. The issue is not really direction but consistency, gentleness (don't breakdown the rice) and thoroughness.

2. No. In Lombardia it is a weekly (if not more) dish in most homes. In regions where it is not a regional dish sometimes yes.

3. The exact amount of broth needed depends on the type of rice used. It is an issue of taste and how al dente you like your risotto. I like my risotto quite moist so I use a bit more than you do.

4. The type of rice used often not only depends on the dish, but the region. In Piemonte arborio dominates and their risottos tend to be quite robust like the rice. In Veneto where vialone nano dominates they have wonderful seafood and they have many seafood based risotto. I think the grainy texture of vialone nano goes best with fish and seafood and arborio with meat and mushrooms. However this may be physiological on my part. Carnaroli is good with everything. I'd say I use carnaroli 90% of the time and vialone nano the rest. I almost never use arborio anymore. Not that there is anything wrong with good arborio.

5. Your comments about adding ingredients are correct. You just want to be sure to add enough of them early on to well flavor the broth and rice. Shrimp and other seafood are often cooked separately and added at the end with a broth used to flavor the rice. For instance with fresh porcini you would add some chopped in the beginning, but then add the large pieces towards the end to maintain their texture.

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slkinsey   

First of all, congrats on a great article!

I wonder what you think of the technique Rachel and I were discussing yesterday in the Straining, defatting and reducing Q&A thread. In a nutshell... I don't usually have time to make a brodo for risotto as you suggest. I also never measure the amount of rice. There are several problems I have encountered in making risotto: a) the brodo is too strong and the risotto ends up tasting too strongly of brodo; b) I run out of hot brodo before the rice is fully cooked; c) the rice is perfectly cooked before I have used up all the brodo, which then must be saved/frozen/etc. which is a real pain in the neck. So... since I usually have a lot of of super-concentrated stock in the freezer, I simply determine how much broth flavor I want in my risotto, start out adding the corresponding amount of concentrated stock and thereafter use simmering water for my liquid additions. This way I always have just the right degree of broth flavor and never run into too much/too little hot liquid problems. Any thoughts/comments?

I have long been of the impression that Americans serve risotto too thick. Seems like you agree?

I think my favorite rice for risotto is vialone nano. I think it's especially good for seafood risotto, which I like to serve quite wet (all'onda, as they say). A favorite nontraditional risotto around the slkinsey household is made with vialone nano, fresh sweet corn, corncob broth and a touch of chicken stock. An interesting variation on this would be to include clams for a kind of "corn chowder risotto" effect. Very untraditional (especially as Italians seem to think of fresh corn as animal feed only), but very good. Risotto can also be great way to use up leftover ragu.

Speaking of leftover ragu... here's a reason to always make too much risotto: arancini di riso! I make mine by adding an egg, some fresh bread crumbs and some grated parmigiano to the leftover risotto, and I like to put a touch of leftover ragu in the middle if I have any around.

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Regarding the brodo vs stock point in the lesson:

Being that many of us have recently made quite a bit of stock, and that stock, if you following Fat Guy's advice, is quite meaty tasting, the thought of making a separate brodo for the risotto makes my head ache. Since I have all these nice concentrated stock ice cubes, I'd like to use them. Should I use them in a weaker concentration, adding more water than I would to just bring it back to full strength stock?

Please refer to the exchange slkinsey and I just had on page 3 of Q&A -- Straining, defatting and reducing Unit 3:

An ice cube equals about 2 tablespoons. I would normally have stopped the stock at about 6 quarts - that's when it tasted good. So how much water should be added to a stock cube to make a cup of stock for a sauce, soup, or other recipe, like risotto?

Well, since you said you liked the taste at 6 quarts and reduced that down to approximately 2 quarts... I'd say you should add two parts of water to every 1 part of reduced stock to get back to the taste you like.

Whether or not the "6 quart strength" represents a good concentration for sauce, soup, risotto, etc. is up to your own taste. I imagine it is probably perfect for soups with the addition of 2 parts water to make it "6 quart strength" -- although you may want to make it weaker if you have other elements in the soup that will contribute flavor to the broth

If you're going to add a little bit of the chicken glace to enrich sauces, you can use it at ice cube strength.

For risotto, it's more complicated. Since part of the risotto process involves a concentration of flavors as the hot broth is repeatedly boiled away, one normally uses a fairly weak broth. I have a less traditional method I use: What I like to do is determine how much broth flavor I want in the risotto and use the corresponding amount of hot reduced stock for the first few additions. Thereafter I simply use simmering water. That way I don't end up either short on broth or with extra broth once the rice is cooked perfectly. I haven't been able to taste the difference between a risotto made this way as opposed to mixing the same amount of reduced stock and simmering water to make a weak broth that is used throughout.

Wow, that's a great tip for making risotto. I totally wouldn't have thought of that.

Thanks. We'll see what the maestro dei risotti, Signor Camp, thinks of this method a little later on...

You save washing on the second pot too (if all you do is boil some water in it).

Yep! But only if you heat up the reduced stock in the microwave. You don't want it to be cold when you put it in.

Why? It'll melt right quick, maybe add a little water to go with it at the same time.

Because you don't want to add cold broth to the risotto. You want all the liquid additions to be hot. Granted, if you toss in a few cubes together with a ladle full of simmering water, you're probably OK.

Now that I think about it, there's no reason you couldn't just start the risotto off using simmering water and throw in a couple of reduced stock cubes with every addition of hot water until you reached the level of flavor you wanted, at which time you could go over to 100% simmering water until the rice was perfectly cooked. Until you made my mind go there, that hadn't really occurred to me. I had tended to nuke up the reduced stock and use the warm reduced stock as my first liquid addition.

Edit: I see that Sam and I had the same thoughts at the same time. :raz:


Edited by Rachel Perlow (log)

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Bollito is such a common dish around our house in cool weather that I always have some broth in the refrigerator or freezer. This is part of the concept of Italian home cooking - everything connects to something else and nothing is wasted: just like the delicious arancini you mention.

I see no reason why diluted stock would not work for risotto. Never done it, but I will have to give it a try

I agree risotto is served too thick(or dry) in the USA for the most part. I like to think of it as creamy when I get it right.

By the way it was cool and rainy here for two days so I have a nice batch of broth to use - so in a few hours friends are arriving for ossobuco e risotto Milanese. Thank God that hot weather is gone so we can cook and eat again!

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slkinsey   
Bollito is such a common dish around our house in cool weather that I always have some broth in the refrigerator or freezer.

I am planning on a big bollito misto party once it gets cold. No doubt there will be plenty of broth left over from that. I think I'll take Marcella Hazan's advice and poach the cotechino and zampone separately so they don't change the flavor of the broth too much.

By the way it was cool and rainy here for two days so I have a nice batch of broth to use - so in a few hours friends are arriving for ossobuco e risotto Milanese.

My favorite! I'll be right over...

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The Lombardian version of bollito is not as exciting as it is in Emilia Romagna. Here it is often just a piece of beef, tongue with some vegetables. My wife loves it, but thank God for mostarda which adds some excitement to the boiled beef. Maybe that's way mostarda is so popular here!

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What do people think of the modern (non-Italian) restaurant preparations of risotto? Both Nico Ladenis (now sadly retired) and Gordon Ramsay make risotto by blanching carnaroli/arborio until almost done, making a separate heavily creamed/buttered sauce, and stirring it through the rice, thus completing the cooking and giving the illusion that the creaminess is a property of of the rice.

I've never had a risotto cooked by either of the above, but have made a cep risotto, guiltily following Ladenis' advice. It was better than any other I have made.

(On another note: Ladenis objects to the boiled wine taste which seeps into the kernels of rice if you make a risotto by (one of) the Italian method(s). Does anyone else object to this or do they think it a intrinsic (and good) quality of a risotto?)

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The question that follows is: Does the name of a dish really mean something? To me there is risotto and then there are risotto inspired dishes. To be risotto it must be prepared using a clearly defined technique with certain types of rice. This is not to say that many of these risotto inspired dishes are not excellent - they are just not risotto.

I think the wine is an essential part of the risotto process. I guess I like 'boiled wine taste'.

Also the creamy texture of risotto should come from the starch of the rice itself - even if creme is added in the recipe the main texture should be created by the rice.

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slkinsey   
What do people think of the modern (non-Italian) restaurant preparations of risotto? Both Nico Ladenis (now sadly retired) and Gordon Ramsay make risotto by blanching carnaroli/arborio until almost done, making a separate heavily creamed/buttered sauce, and stirring it through the rice, thus completing the cooking and giving the illusion that the creaminess is a property of of the rice.

It is a rice dish, IMO, but not risotto that they're making. One of the nice properties of a well-made risotto is that it is creamy and rich-seeming without being cloyingly rich and heavy. I don't see how the Ladenis/Ramsay method you describe could possibly duplicate this effect. Basically they are making "Italian rice in a cream sauce." I abhor the practice of adding cream to risotto.

The most common restaurant compromise on risotto is to cook a gigantic batch risotto around 2/3 of the way, refrigerate it and then finish cooking individual portions as orders are sent in to the kitchen. Not too fond of this one either. Personally, I always think it's a good sign if the restaurant tells you it will be at least 20 minutes before your risotto is ready.

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albie   

My experience has been that much like their polenta, the style of risotto in the Veneto is softer, more liquid, (``all' onda") closer to the sea, and sturdier as one moves inland or into other regions. Never, however, should risotto be so sodden as to have ``pantani" (``puddles") of broth in the crevices.

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Great lesson! I never make risotto because my husband does not eat cheese (nor does he eat seafood so a seafood risotto won't work). Is there any way to leave the cheese out of risotto and still have a passable product? Anything that can substitute?

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Stone   
Is there any way to leave the cheese out of risotto and still have a passable product? Anything that can substitute?

Of course. It will taste different, but still be good. You can always load up on butter or cream.

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The parmigiano is a key flavor element in the two recipes given. They would of course be acceptable without it, but the dish will not have the complexity of flavor the cheese brings to the rice. Parmigiano would not be added to seafood dishes, but he does not like that either.

As this is the last step what you might do is take his risotto out before adding the cheese. Then you don't have to deprive yourself! :wink:

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Yeah...that is what I am now thinking. Your lesson makes me have a craving for risotto (though I have never tasted it!). I'll just scoop out half for him and put cheese in the rest. :cool:

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This is a recipe from the Villa d'Este on Lago di Como:

5 cups beef broth - hot

1 cup 'carnarino' - water in which a whole lemon rind has been boiled - hot.

The peel of one lemon grated.

2 cups arborio rice

8 tbls.. butter

4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Melt half the butter over medium high heat in a large saute pan - do not let it brown.

When the butter is melted add the rice and toss well with the butter making sure it is well coated.

(there is no soffritto in this recipe)

Craig:

I've made this recipe (w/the shrimp) that you posted last April with great success (and feedback). I quote this to ask two questions:

(1) When is a carnarino appropriate? Only with seafood risotto? Does it essentially replace the wine?

(2) What precisely is the soffritto? (I assume it's the sauteed onions.) Is it a generic or risotto-specific term? Is its composition variable? Under what circumstances is it included or left out?

Thanks for a great seminar. I love making risotto, and the finer points you raise/discuss can only help improve my skills.

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Carnarino is used in many seafood/fish recipes. Some times people with use both wine and carnarino in the same recipe and some omit the wine. It is more a matter of taste and tradition.

Soffrito simply refers to sauteed aromatic vegetables used as a flavor base in many dishes. The classic onions/celery/carrots combo is used in all of Italy (I hear the French have stolen this idea too), but a soffrito can be only one or any combination of these three used depending on the dish. So in risotto the onions alone are the soffrito.

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Neil   

Craig,

First I'd like to compliment you on a great article. Your lesson was one of the best risotto lessons that I've seen, and I've looked at many. However, as any article that is good does, and should do, it raises questions. I'd like to bring up a few.

Brodo:

You make a big distinction between stock and brodo. I've just spent a fair amount of time searching through over a dozen cookbooks trying to discern the difference between broth and stock, and frankly I can't seem to get a clear distinction between them.

In most respects, your broth recipe and those of any Italian cookbook that I own, would seem to be the same as a white beef stock. And, as I've looked at dozens of recipes, the only difference I can see is the point you made that broth is made with fewer bones than stock. It would seem the resulting difference has more to do with the gelatin content obtained from adding veal knuckles or shins. So I'd be interested in a cleared distinction between meat and chicken brodos - and meat and chicken stocks. The ONLY difference I can see is that Italian broth is lighter than French stock. Would you please elaborate?

Rice - Strains:

I now use carnaroli exclusively. Carnaroli takes longer to cook than arborio, and I assume, vialone. I guess this means that it gives up its starch a bit slower than other varieties. In my opinion you get a longer "window" of readiness. This is important so that the risotto has a longer time to be ‘al dente' and less chance to overcook and turn to paste.

Here's a curious factoid that I found. Although I was aware that carnaroli is a relatively new strain of rice, developed in the 1940's, so is arborio. In fact, arborio was developed in 1946 and derives from vialone. (http://www.risoscotti.it/xmidco1a.html)

You make mention of Gabriele Ferron on your web site. He is a producer of vialone nano rice. An article I have says that he has an unconventional method of cooking risotto. He uses 1.5 times the volume of the rice for the broth. Then he covers it and cooks it gently for 15 minutes, after which he adds a little more broth to finish it. Not exactly traditional, but I guess he can do it anyway he wants. (http://f.about.com/z/js/spr09sm.htm)

Do you have any experience with ‘baldo" rice?

The Beginning:

You say that the rice should be sauteed for one minute. I've read and use a 4-6 minute saute. I saute until the grains become a little shiny and start to become translucent. This necessitates using olive oil, or at least 50-50 oil and butter so that the butter doesn't brown. I only use oil at this point and save any butter I want to use for the mantacare.

I've read absolutely conflicting accounts of why this is necessary. One camp seems to think that this saute helps the starches begin to cook; whereas the other opinion is that it seals the outer layer of starch so it doesn't give up its starch too quickly. Which do you believe? Neither?

Also, some recipes advise removing the onions at this point so that they don't brown, returning them after the first addition of broth.

You don't make any mention of heating the wine when adding it. If the stock needs to be at the boil so it doesn't shock the rice, shouldn't the wine also be hot? I don't understand that one comment someone made about ‘boiled wine taste'

The Finishing

One sign that I use to test for doneness, is from about 15 minutes into the cooking process, I rub a grain between my fingers every minute or so. When ‘perla,' the core, of the grain breaks into 3 pieces, the risotto is nearly done. And, as you say, it should be firm, not crunchy. I think that is the best description I've heard about the doneness test. I don't know if this works for vialone nano.

One restaurant I know adds some unsweetened whipped cream to loosen it up and give it a very creamy texture.

You say serve it immediately after adding the mantacare, but I've read that you should time the risotto to allow a 2-3 minute sit before serving. I usually add a bit more stock just before the risotto would be finished so that it thickens and comes to proper doneness during this siting phase. I don't let it sit intentionally, but it gets about a 2 minute rest during serving. Any comments?

Thanks again for your lesson.

Neil

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Many questions I hope I hit them all:

Brodo in an Italian home is more than likely to come from cooking meat (bollito) for a meal. Often no bones are used at all - nothing other than a basic soffrito. It is not reduced and has a delicate flavor. Perfect for the concentrating effects of making risotto. You are right about the gelatin - brodo does not congeal thickly in the refrigerator.

Carnaroli has a very firm inner hard core of starch so remains 'al dente' for a slightly longer period and is less likely to become rice pudding than arborio.

I have not used Baldo which is a relatively new type derived from arborio. It produces a high percentage of grains that qualify for superfino. Some complain it is too low in starch for great risotto, but is perfect for puddings and salads.

The risotto at Ferron from vialone nano is not moist and creamy, but emphasizes the character of each grain of rice. I have not read your article, but as his kitchen is open you can see he does cover the pan before serving. The whole dining room is fed from large platters of the rice served by the waiters.

I have to confess I do not like to use olive oil except in very specific recipes and so adjust the time sauteing the rice in the butter so as not to brown the butter.

To really cook the onion soffrito for the best flavor you have to cook them very slowly - almost sweat them - for a long time. I have seen some cooks take 30 minutes to do it. I usually take about 15 minutes. With a bit of care and patience - and attention - browning is not a problem.

I don't heat the wine as I like it to evaporate slowly. Heating before hand only evaporates flavors.

Your doneness test makes sense. I will have to try it.

Cream in risotto is a cheat and I don't like it. Major exception the shrimp risotto an Villa d'Este on Lago di Como, but the cream is not blended in - a bit is poured over the top like a condiment. Well cooked risotto does not need cream as the creamy texture comes from starch.

I don't add more stock at the end unless I waited too long and it is too dry. It takes a minute or so to get them plated, but I don't wait because the rice is still cooking. It also take a minute of stirring to get the mantacare well blended. If you want to wait several minutes you need to undercook it a bit so it does not overcook while you are waiting.

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alfie22   

Craig, I trully enjoied your article.

Some time ago, during a visit to Verona, I was invited to a restaurant, the name of which I do not remember and the primo plato offered was a risotto made with Amarone red wine. I have tried to replicate the recipe with no luck. In my several attempts using Amarone wine ( not easy to come by) the flavors are either too strong or too weak or totally different. Since there are no more ingredients I don't know what am I doing wrong.

Do you by any chance know how to make this risotto?

I welcome help form orher members too.

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Craig, I trully enjoied your article.

Some time ago, during a visit to Verona, I was invited to a restaurant, the name of which I do not remember and the primo plato offered was a risotto made with Amarone red wine. I have tried to replicate the recipe with no luck. In my several attempts using Amarone wine ( not easy to come by) the flavors are either too strong or too weak or  totally different. Since there are no more ingredients I don't know what am I doing wrong.

Do you by any chance know how to make this risotto?

I welcome help form orher members too.

Red wine risotto is delicious and common in northern red wine regions. Barolo in Piemonte - Amarone in Veneto - Refosco in Friuli - Teroldego in Trentino...

All involve not much wine as the color and the flavors of these full flavored wines don't require overkill.

How were you making your risotto con Amarone? Perhaps you used too much wine and not enough stock? All that is required is about a glass.

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alfie22   

Craig thanks a lot for your help. I think my problem was adding too much wine, between two and four glasses.

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Jinmyo   

I'd read this article before and complemented you on it before, Craig. I'm afraid I have to repeat myself.

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I'd read this article before and complemented you on it before, Craig. I'm afraid I have to repeat myself.

Thanks Jinmyo - you are most kind.

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