by John Wood
I have lots of mixed feelings about risotto. On the one hand, I love it and I love making it. On the other, I know that 99.9% of the time when ordering risotto in a restaurant (or serving risotto in a restaurant), it is not done correctly. It can’t be. In a place where people want their food fast and relatively cheap, there is no way to cook every single order of risotto from scratch, from start to finish.
I remember one day, I told a cook of mine to make a risotto for some arancini we were going to cook for an event. He timidly informed me that he had never cooked risotto, which I found hard to believe since he was such a well versed and talented cook. We had cooked together in many restaurants and before me, he worked at Kinkead’s for about 10 years. I couldn’t believe it. I asked Bob Kinkead about it one day, and he said something along the lines of “Of course we didn’t serve risotto with our volume. If you can’t do something right, don’t do it at all.” Makes sense.
It seems like most traditional Italian food is just not designed for mass production, or any modern business at all. Their food comes from home cooking and was evolved to be made for family or visitors….maybe an occasional party or a festival. It was not designed for restaurants or wholesale or any type of mass production where consistency, speed, and profit are of primary concern. Whether it’s pasta, bread, risotto, sauces, etc…most Italian food has to be changed one way or another in order to make it fit into a modern business plan.
Good risotto is not very hard to make at home, there are just a couple key things to remember:
- Use a thick bottomed pot and wooden spoon.
- Never, ever, under any circumstances, stop stirring. Wear a sweat band if you need it.
- Serve it as soon as it is done.
- It should probably be soupier than what you are used to. You should not be able to make a ‘mound’ out of it.
- Quality ingredients are what is going to make the biggest difference here. Use the best you can find or afford.
There are many different kinds of rice you can use for risotto. I have made it out of everything from arborio to sushi rice. There is truly no one better rice than the others, as they all have their place and purpose. Different aromas, flavors, and textures can compliment certain dishes better than others. That being said, unless you have been making risotto since you were three years old or for some other reason have made it at least a couple thousand times…you probably shouldn’t complicate it too much. If you want an overcooked, mushy risotto, which is perfect for any type of fried rice ball for example….use Arborio. For anything else, use Carnaroli. Acquerello makes, for the most part, the best Carnaroli rice available to us in the USA. You can probably find it at any European imports store, or just get it from us.
After the rice, the liquid you use is what is going to make the biggest difference. You need a full flavored stock. I am not going to get into making a stock as that is beyond the scope of this, but I will give you a tip. Once you have a stock made - bring it to a simmer about an hour before you plan on cooking your rice. Add a piece of roasted meat/bones and aromatic herbs in a cheesecloth, and let it simmer for an hour or so before you start. Leave it in there while you are making the risotto. If you are using a chicken stock, use a chicken carcass. If you are using a rabbit stock, use a rabbit carcass…and so on for whatever flavor you want. If you want to go all out - use an entire roasted chicken or rabbit! Later on, pick the meat and use it in something else. The only exception here is that if you are using seafood, you only want to precook the stock for 15 minutes as opposed to one hour. If you cook seafood too long it can get bitter and actually lose flavor.
A good risotto has 4 components. The rice, the stock, the soffritto, and the garnish or finishing elements.
A good basic soffritto would just be onions, olive oil, and white wine. The soffritto adds depth and complexity that you can’t get if you just added a stock to the rice. For seafood risottos, I like to add tomatoes, garlic, leeks, peppers, and saffron…..almost like a paella base.
For finishing, some people add dairy in the form of butter, heavy cream, unsweetened whipped cream, cheese….and this is all fine. Many things lose their aroma and flavor while cooking, like lemon juice or herbs for example. If using these, I like to add these at the very end as well. In fact, I try to never boil lemon juice in anything I’m making. The stock already has herbs, and maybe the soffritto as well, so a nice trick is to add just a touch at the end to bring back some the aromas that got lost while cooking. The recipe below is quite simple and doesn’t need much added at the end.
While this recipe may seem extravagant, it is actually quite simple and a great accompaniment to any meat you may be serving. If you don’t like truffles there is nothing wrong with omitting them from the recipe. If you want a vegetarian version, just use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. This is really a great base recipe to add whatever you want to.
Black Truffle Risotto
- 10c chicken stock
- 3 tbs EVOO
- 1 yellow onion, diced fine
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2c carnaroli rice, or one can Acquerello
- 1c dry white wine
- 5 tbs butter, cubed and kept very cold
- 1c parmesan, finely grated
- 1 large black truffle (or however much you want)
- sea salt
- Bring the stock to a slow simmer.
- In another pot on low heat, sweat the onion, garlic, and EVOO.
- Go slow - this should take at least 10-15 minutes. Make sure all the onions are completely translucent.
- Add the rice and stir to incorporate completely with the soffritto.
- Turn up the heat to medium-high and continue stirring for another minute or two.
- Add the wine and let it evaporate completely. Don’t stop stirring.
- Use a ladle to add a some stock to the rice, about 1 cup at a time.
- Never stop stirring and always wait until the stock has been fully absorbed before adding more.
- After 15 minutes of this, turn the heat down to medium low. Try a couple peices of rice to see how close it is to being done.
- Add less stock at a time at this point as it is probably almost done. You can always add more stock, but never less. If you still have stock leftover, don’t worry - that is ok. If you need more, feel fry to add more…depending on the humidity of the rice and size of your pans there can be some variation.
- The risotto should be ready after about 18 minutes or so. Take it off the heat and let rest for about 2 minutes.
- Without turning on the heat, add the butter and cheese and stir vigorously until all the butter is melted. Use a cheese grater to grate half of your truffle into the risotto.
- You can adjust the texture here as well - if it is too dry, add a little more stock.
- Check the seasoning with salt and adjust as necessary.
- Serve right away and shave the remainder your black truffle on top.