You need five things to make a decent risotto: good risotto rice; to know when the rice is cooked enough; a flavourful stock kept at a rolling boil while you make the risotto, ‘mantecare‘, the final process of beating butter and Parmesan to finish the dish and add creaminess and time and patience.
– We use carnaroli or arborio rice because they are best suited to making really fantastic risotto.
– Use a decent stock to make risotto, preferably home-made but if not made from a good quality stock cube. It needs to be full of flavour.
– Make sure the stock is kept hot in another saucepan while you make the risotto. It needs to be at a rolling boil when you add it to the rice. Don’t add the stock all at once – you need to add a ladle at a time – so the rice has time to absorb it, and not get swamped.
– Don’t forego the mantecare, or ‘aftercare’ of the risotto: beating butter and Parmesan into the finished risotto really makes a difference – it’s essential to the final creaminess of the dish and it’s what makes risotto so special.
– Many chefs mistake the Italian adage that risotto should not be overcooked and they leave a bit of crunch in the risotto rice when they serve it. This is not correct. The finished risotto should be good to eat, the texture of the grains should be soft with only a hint of ‘al dente‘ texture in the rice: the reason you have to take the rice off the heat while it is a little under-cooked is because the risotto will continue to cook for a while afterwards. It is not intended that the risotto you receive to eat is ‘al dente‘. This timing issue is what makes risotto hard to get right sometimes and it can take a bit of practice before you master it exactly. The best way to understand how the risotto rice should feel in your mouth is to eat a good risotto in a good restaurant and remember how the rice feels to eat, then match that in your cooking at home.
How do the best restaurants get risotto right? Do the chefs really stand over the risotto pan stirring it for 20 minutes?
No. Some restaurants part-cook the risotto and leave it to cool in one layer on sheet pans, ready to finish the cooking at service time.
Why do restaurants charge so much for risotto then?
The myth surrounding risotto and how hard it can be to get right at home means that restaurants often charge a fortune for risotto. In reality, it is a bowl of rice and once you learn how to make it skilfully at home, you won’t have to pay a heavy price for it in a restaurant.
Do you really have to stand over a risotto pan for up to half an hour?
You need to watch a risotto carefully for the first ten minutes of cooking. You add the hot stock or water in small ladles at first until the rice absorbs it but you can add more liquid during the last ten minutes of cooking which technically leaves you a few minutes free at a time. However, you do need to stir the risotto frequently to release the starch from the rice which gives risotto its unmistakeably creamy texture. And you need to be there for the last few minutes of cooking to judge the grains to see are they cooked perfectly.
How many people can you cook risotto for at home?
Realistically, you can cook risotto for up to 4 people at home. Any more and the pan would have to be too big and it just wouldn’t work properly. For 4 people you need to use about 1200ml of liquid for 400g risotto rice.
How do I make a vegetarian risotto?
Parmesan is traditionally made with animal rennet so it’s not strictly vegetarian. If you want to make risotto vegetarian, replace the Parmesan with a vegetarian equivalent. You may find a vegetarian Grana Padano which you could use instead. You need to use a vegetarian stock when making the risotto.