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The Science of Express Risotto
Photo courtesy The Modernist Cuisine

The Science of Express Risotto

Do you strictly need half an hour to prepare a tasty risotto? Discover how to cook a perfect risotto in two steps and a few minutes.

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According to an unwritten rule, the success of a risotto is proportionate to the amount of time spent making it. It would therefore seem impossible to achieve a creamy risotto with well separated rice grains, without having to slave over a hot stove for at least half an hour. So, how on earth do they manage in restaurants? Some do serve it freshly cooked to order and, in this case, you have to wait quite a while, but many others do part of the preparation beforehand.

The secret obviously lies in the pre-cooking phase which, nevertheless, has to be done according to a few simple scientific principles. So, it is simply not enough to make the risotto ahead of time and heat it up: you have to prepare it so that it can be kept and used when required.

How to make an express risotto

It all starts out from the traditional risotto recipe. Rinse the rice thoroughly to get rid of some of the starch. Then melt the butter over a medium heat and gently fry the chopped onion and garlic. Add the rice and continue to stir until it starts to toast. Now you can begin adding a good meat stock, kept constantly on the boil, one ladleful at a time as you continue to stir. Do not add the condiment. Do nothing but concentrate on cooking the rice. According to the variety of rice you are using, the entire process takes from fifteen to twenty minutes. In the case of a risotto we intend to “set aside”, on the other hand, we have to suspend the process earlier. Exactly: our risotto must NOT be entirely cooked.

Express risotto, a question of timing

This is where a bit of experience comes in handy: if you know your risotto will be ready in about fifteen minutes, stop when ten minutes are up. There is no precise rule but tasting is the best way to judge: you have to suspend the cooking process when the rice grain is hard in the centre when you chew it. At this point, remove from the heat and immediately pour the risotto into a wide dish, spreading it out evenly. In this way, the cooking process will be immediately suspended. When the risotto is cool, transfer it to hermetic plastic boxes and pop them into the refrigerator.

Reviving the risotto

The critical moment comes when it is time to use the risotto, so be sure to follow these instructions carefully. Put the risotto in a saucepan together with a ladleful of water, broth or full-fat milk. Then add the condiment of your choice, whether mushroom sauce, chicken livers, saffron, herbs or whatever. It is important, however, to keep the risotto nice and thick. If you are using delicate ingredients such as fresh seafood and shellfish, or vegetables that tend to disintegrate rapidly, and you wish to keep them whole, add them when you have almost finished cooking the rice.

Place over a medium heat and start to stir gently. Do not calculate the cooking time based on the time “left over” previously. In the fridge, the rice will have absorbed moisture so it will need less time to cook. Consider that, if the estimated cooking time is 15 minutes, and you have pre-cooked the rice for 10 minutes, two minutes will be sufficient. Enough time for it to start boiling and this is why it is important not to exaggerate with the quantity. This process, widely used in restaurants, works well when cooking portions for two to four people (calculate 70 grams of rice per person).

How to serve risotto

Obviously, once cooked, do not forget to add a little butter and plenty of parmesan cheese, stirring it gently. If you watch your timing carefully, this method will enable you to prepare excellent risottos for serving “almost freshly cooked”. It will taste no different. After all, it is a restaurant-proof method.


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