RISOTTO CAN BE EASY, IF YOU DON’T FOLLOW THE RULES
Cooking long-grain rice is simple: Bring your ingredients to a simmer, cover the pot, and wait. Cooking risotto is the exact opposite. Accepted culinary wisdom dictates near-constant stirring to achieve the perfect texture: tender grains with a slight bite in the center, bound together in a light, creamy sauce.
So why is the stirring such a big deal? As the rice cooks, it releases starch granules, which absorb liquid and expand, thickening the broth to a cream-like consistency. Constant stirring jostles the rice grains against one another, promoting the release of more starch granules from their exterior.
But frankly, most of us have neither the time nor the patience to stir anything for 30 minutes. Our goal was to rethink this recipe so the stirring was reduced to just 5 minutes. So how did we accomplish this? Rather than adding the broth in small increments (as tradition demands), we add most of the broth at the outset. And we ditch the usual open sauté pan or saucepan for a covered Dutch oven.
One thing you can’t change is the rice. A short-grained rice like Arborio is a must. Long-grain rice doesn’t have the right mix of starches to create the velvety sauce that is the hallmark of well-made risotto. In addition, the starches in Arborio don’t break down as readily as the starches in other rice varieties, allowing the rice to maintain a firm, al dente center, even as the exterior becomes tender. Other Italian varieties, including carnaroli rice, make excellent risotto, but don’t try to use other types of rice in this uniquely Italian recipe.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
To keep stirring to a minimum, flood the rice with most of the liquid at the outset and then use the lid to help the rice cook evenly. (But be sure to measure the liquid with care; success is dependent on the correct ratios and volumes.) Don’t rinse the rice; you’ll want that extra starch to help make the risotto creamy. Traditionally, it’s the stirring that causes the rice to release its starch and create the creamy “sauce.” Stirring also prevents sticking or scorching, but by flooding the rice and then bringing that liquid to a boil, you’re letting the natural agitation of the rice take the place of stirring—the rice doesn’t burn, and you’ll get a great creamy sauce.
Use a Dutch Oven
Swap out the saucepan for a Dutch oven, which has a thick, heavy bottom, deep sides, and tight-fitting lid—perfect for trapping and distributing heat as evenly as possible. Also, its wider surface area means there’s less differential in cooking rates between top and bottom; the rice is spread out in a thinner layer in the pot.
Cook with Residual Heat
Stir the rice twice in the first 16 to 19 minutes of cooking to help release some starch and build the sauce. After a second addition of broth, stir the pot constantly until the risotto is creamy, which will take just 3 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, throw on the cover, and wait for 5 minutes. Without sitting over a direct flame, the heavy Dutch oven maintains enough residual heat to finish off the rice to a perfect al dente—thickened, velvety, and just barely chewy. Adding the Parmesan cheese before the off-heat “cooking” helps to build this creamy sauce.
Finish with Flavor
Just before serving, stir in extra butter to make the sauce velvety and add herbs and a squeeze of lemon for brightness.
Risotto can be cooked undisturbed as long as you finish with extra broth and gentle stirring.
Almost Hands-Free Risotto with Parmesan
- 10 minutes to prepare ingredients (heat broth and water at same time)
- 10 minutes to start risotto (hands-on)
- 18 minutes to cook rice in broth (hands-off)
- 3 minutes to finish cooking rice (hands-on)
- 5 minutes to let risotto stand off heat (hands-off)
- Dutch oven with tight-fitting lid
Substitutions & Variations
- Use vegetable broth to make this recipe vegetarian. Adding some water to the broth reduces the chance that the final dish will be overly salty.
- This basic formula can be varied almost endlessly. Vegetables that can withstand a fair amount of cooking should be added to the pot at the outset, along with the onion. This includes leeks, radicchio, and squash. Very delicate vegetables (such as spinach or asparagus) as well as seafood should be added to the nearly finished risotto.
This more hands-off method requires precise timing, so we strongly recommend using a timer.
- 5 cups chicken broth
- 1½ cups water
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 large onion, chopped fine
- Salt and pepper
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- Bring broth and water to boil in large saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low to maintain gentle simmer.
- Melt 2 tablespoons butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and ¾ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add rice and cook, stirring frequently, until grains are translucent around edges, about 3 minutes.
- Add wine and cook, stirring constantly, until fully absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir 5 cups hot broth mixture into rice; reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until almost all liquid has been absorbed and rice is just al dente, 16 to 19 minutes, stirring twice during cooking.
- Add ¾ cup hot broth mixture and stir gently and constantly until risotto becomes creamy, about 3 minutes. Stir in Parmesan. Remove pot from heat, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter and lemon juice. To loosen texture of risotto, add remaining broth mixture as needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.
ALMOST HANDS-FREE RISOTTO WITH HERBS
Stir in 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley and 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives before serving.
ALMOST HANDS-FREE RISOTTO WITH PORCINI
Add ¼ ounce rinsed and minced porcini mushrooms to pot with garlic. Substitute soy sauce for lemon juice.
ALMOST HANDS-FREE RISOTTO WITH FENNEL AND SAFFRON
Add 1 fennel bulb, cored and chopped fine, to pot with onion and cook until softened, about 12 minutes. Add ¼ teaspoon ground coriander and large pinch saffron threads to pot with garlic.
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