Despite being the most widely consumed food in the world and cooked in thousands of different ways, rice in the form of risotto is a truly Italian dish. Few people know the difference: whilst boiling is a universally adopted method, toasting and creaming are the two fundamental steps that makes rice into a risotto.
So what is risotto and what are the secrets for preparing one in perfect Italian style? Here are some tips from Fine Dining Lovers.
Where and which rice to use
The most versatile and suitable rice cultivar for making risotto is Carnaroli, the king of rice, with its slightly elongated grain, which is now sold on all world markets. It is the most suitable rice for this cooking method, also owing to its higher starch content, essential for the creaminess of this dish when cooked. Today, there are some excellent qualities of rice brought to maturity in silos, which gives them their pronounced aromatic flavour. This is why rice should never be washed before proceeding to make a good risotto. If, on the other hand, you need your rice to be well separated, as in a summery rice salad, then do wash it by all means.
80 g make a good portion of risotto, especially if it is made with other ingredients such as fish and vegetables, which should always be cooked aside and added towards the end. Risotto is a dish for eating in company: it is difficult to prepare a good risotto for one person, so always calculate an amount of about 3-4 centimetres from the bottom of the pan.
A lightly fried base?
Of all the dishes of Italian cuisine, the contemporary risotto is probably the one to have been “lightened” most by chefs, who have gradually reduced its fat content. Italian chef Claudio Sadler, on the other hand, defends the idea of a “strong” fried base of garlic, oil and shallot. Many chefs prefer to skip this phase altogether or even to remove the fried ingredients which are then blended and added halfway through the cooking process.
Sprinkling with wine
Let it evaporate serves the purpose of adjusting the acidity of the dish to compensate for the fat content. A step that has almost become obsolete, now being replaced by the final addition of acidulated butter, meaning butter mixed with a vinegar reduction.
This step, lasting on average 3/4 minutes, consists in cooking the rice grains in very little fat at a high temperature, and constitutes the basis of an authentic Italian-style risotto. It also serves to keep the rice grains crisp so that they release the right amount of starch. Many starred chefs start from here and skip the other steps: here are 5 tips for the perfect risotto from Italian chef Francesco Apreda.
Stock or water?
Until very recently, a good stock was believed to be essential but today many chefs see it as being superfluous: Carlo Cracco, for instance, recommends the use of water. They all agree, however, that the rice must be barely covered with a boiling hot liquid added a little at a time.
I find chef Andrea Berton’s 13+3 formula ideal: that is, 13 minutes to cook the risotto and 3 minutes for leaving it to rest. The ideal grain should still have some bite in it, and the finished dish should create a “wave” effect, in other words, it should move slowly in the plate like volcano lava down a slope. Choose a pan in aluminium or copper rather than stainless steel.
Final creaming phase
This is the last and essential step that takes place away from the hob following 13 minutes cooking. A fatty component is added, acidulated butter or creamy cheese and/or parmesan (Parmigiano or Grana Padano), according to the recipe. The risotto must be mixed for 50 seconds and then covered with a lid.
Serve the risotto in a cold plate to prevent it from cooking any further. Finally, do not overestimate your prowess in the kitchen: it takes a certain amount of experience to make a risotto ‘al dente’ for anything like a dozen people.