I am not an Italian so my opinion on Italian food has to be taken with a grain of salt. The holy trinity of italian food is pizza, pasta and risotto. The availability and the "market penetration" also follow that order pizza > pasta > risotto. Of these three, risotto is the holy grail. I don't know why, since making a good risotto is as difficult as making a good pasta or pizza, if not the easiest. There is no reason why pizza or pasta is more widely available than risotto.
For the uninitiated, risotto is a rice dish. To be more specific, it is arborio rice cooked with rich broth. Therefore the key to an excellent risotto is to start with the highest broth quality. The second key is to use arborio rice and nothing but arborio rice.
After immersing myself, years after years, in looking at recipes, I finally stretched my hand and reached for the Holy Grail - Risotto- and the risotto that I chose to make was the most generic of the generic kind - mushroom and green peas and the broth was chicken stock.
To make the chicken Stock
- chicken carcass
- a stalk of celery
- a medium size carrot
- a medium size onion
I am not a stock purist nor do I have the time to cook a stock for 5 hours so do whatever you feel like doing in the manner that you deem appropriate for yourself. This is what I did:
I cooked the chicken carcass in water for about 5 minutes, then I discarded the water. I added just enough water to cover the chicken carcass. I cooked this in low heat for about 1 hour (this is not enough, I admit). Then I added the chopped/sliced/julienned celery, carrot and onion into the stockpot. As for other aromatics, it is really whatever you want. I am limited by what I can get, which is not much. Salt and pepper, that's all. Cooked this for another 45 minutes.
To make the risotto (serving size: 5-6 adults, if risotto is the main dish)
1. Cook the mushroom in a pot and take it out of the pot when it is cooked.
2. Fry some chopped onion (from 1 whole onion) until it turns translucent.
3. Add a cup of raw arborio rice to the pot and stir the onion with the rice thoroughly.
4. Once the rice is evenly coated with oil and onion, add a ladle of the chicken stock.
5. Keep stirring the rice until the stock vaporizes.
6. Add another ladle of the chicken stock, and stir the rice until the stock vaporizes.
(It is these steps that makes the risotto a risotto. The slow process of cooking the rice while you add the stock in small quantity. You achieve two things - the rice will soak up the stock and the rice will begin to release its starch to give risotto its classic goo-ey consistency).
7. Keep repeating step 5 and 6 until the rice is cooked to el dante. At some point, it will be a good idea to season the rice with salt, pepper, and butter. (some chef goes crazy with lots of butter, the effect is undeniably better).
8. Stir in the cooked mushroom and the frozen green peas at the very last minute and you have yourself a risotto.
9. As you served, add some shaved Parmesan cheese. Be liberal with the portion!
Arborio rice coated with oil and onions
I haven't had many risotto in the past but if I were to give my creation a score, I would give it a 6. There is still room for improvement. The biggest place to improve is the stock. I am limited by the aromatics that I have so that's something that I can work on. I wasn't being generous with the Parmesan cheese nor do I have the best quality Parmesan cheese (read: stinkiest) so that, again, is something that I can work on in the future.
The dish is turning goo-ey
For now, I am happy with the result. The risotto is delicious, flavorful, I achieved the desired goo-ey consistency (what's the chef term for this?) and most importantly, all of my food tasters enjoyed it and that brought a lot of satisfaction.
The risotto is nothing but plain rice. It is like a blank canvass. You can "paint" this rice whichever way you want. My next risotto adventure would involve seafood. That's a teaser for you!
Here are some lessons that I learned (by no means expert opinions). These are the things that they don't tell you on the cooking show or in the recipe book:
1. I feel that the ratio of your stock to rice is about 5-6 cups of stock to 1 cup of rice. So make sure you make the stock according to the serving size. It is good to have more stock and start with the most concentrated stock.
2. The rice expands when it absorbs the stock. So start with a large pot. A cup of arborio rice can service 5-6 adults.
3. If you anticipate having left-overs that needs to be stored, make sure you set a side some chicken stock. The risotto will harden in the refrigerator. Use the chicken stock as "lubricant" when you reheat it the following day.
4. Do not underestimate/under-use the cheese and the butter.
5. Be patience. It takes a lot of patience to stir, mix, stir and mix for 20+ minutes.
have fun making this dish.