Risotto is a Soup

There is a basic problem with risotto: It’s a soup! If you’re aiming for a rice dish, you’ll definitely get it wrong. Think of it as a soup and chances are you’ll get it right. Now before all of Italy starts screaming bloody murder, let me explain. I assume we are all agreed that risotto should be creamy, smooth, almost flowing and not a lump of rice that can be sliced with a knife. And yet, that block of glued together rice grains is what you often get served and the reason is that the correct consistency was achieved at high heat inside the pot it was cooked in. Once it got to you, it had already started to congeal and your last spoonful was as luscious as a mouthful of plaster of Paris.

So the long and short of it is; if you think it’s much too liquid in your pot, it will be fine on the plate. If you serve it very hot, your guests might even think it is really to liquid, but at the last mouthful, they will be silently thanking you.

The correct texture of risotto in the pot

In the video above, you can see the texture of the risotto just before I served it up into the plates. Yes, it really IS a soup! And if you think this is surely not going to be right when you serve it up, below is the evidence to the contrary:

Delicious to the last spoonful!

There you go!

There are as many recipes for risotto as there are housewives in Italy, so i really rather reluctantly add mine to it. Risotto Milanese is traditionally made with beef stock and bone marrow, but having a fair quantity of chicken stock and no bone marrow to hand, I made it with the former and without the latter. But I had confit garlic in the chiller, which made a great addition.

Risotto Milanese my way

  • 200g Arborio rice
  • 50ml white wine
  • 800ml chicken stock
  • 50g-60g branch celery
  • 100g brown onion
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp saffron strands
  • 50g butter, cold, cut into cubes
  • 50g grated Parmesan
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • generous black pepper

Start be cutting the celery and onion into very small dice, about the size of a grain of rice. If that’s too much bother, chuck it into a food processor and whizz it around until you’re more or less at the correct size. Try not to turn it to pulp, though!
Heat up your stock and leave it to simmer gently. Put the saffron into a little bowl and moisten it with some hot stock.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy cast iron pot and fry the onion without browning until it is very soft, about 10 minutes. About halfway through, you can add the celery. When it’s all nice and hot, add the rice and stir it to coat. Keep frying for about 3 minutes, again without browning anything. If there is a danger of it taking colour, pour in the wine immediately.

Pour in the wine, if you haven’t already done that and stir to evaporate completely. Most recipes will tell you to use dry white, but I’m actually happier with a fruity white (I’m saying fruity, not sweet!) and the juice of half a lemon added right at the end. Add in hot stock, bit by bit, stirring all the time. I’m going to say something very controversial now:

It doesn’t matter whether you add the stock bit by bit, or all at once.

Except that if you add it all at once, you better be damn sure the quantity is correct, or you’re making porridge. I know it doesn’t matter because I tried it both ways and could not taste any difference at all. The stirring is the important thing and of course it is so much more fun to be adding little by little and watch these grains remain coated with stock that becomes creamier and creamier. So do as you please, but keep stirring.

Taste your rice every now and again and continue to adjust the salt level, but keep in mind that there is a lot of reduction happening and your stock will naturally have salt in it already, and you will be adding quite a bit of salty Parmesan, so be careful. Add you saffron together with the stock you soaked it in after about 10 minutes of cooking. You will be stirring for about 20-25 minutes, depending on how soft or hard you want your rice. It should by right still have a little bite to it, but you’re making for for yourself, so you’re the boss. One piece of advice, though. When you taste for doneness, don’t taste a grain or two, take a half a spoonful. Two or three grains will feel fine, if they are a bit hard, but if you have a whole plateful of it, it’s not going to be pleasant.

Your rice is cooked to a wonderful soup, you turn off the heat and now you add your handfuls of cheese and stir like a maniac. Add the cold butter and don’t let up with the stirring. Once it all looks like risotto, you can ladle it into plates, grind pepper onto it and serve.

P.S.: Listening to opera is obligatory when making risotto, singing along is optional.

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