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Risotto: Information, Preparation and Tips

Updated on May 31, 2011

Risotto. The word strikes fear into the inexperienced chef and it looms like a giant on the menu. When cooked well, it is simply amazing. When cooked poorly, it is a complete disaster. Well cooked risotto is firm  yet with a unique creamy sauce at makes it irresistible.

What exactly is Risotto? Well, quite simply it is a type of rice. Specifically a short grained Italian style rice that when cooked properly releases the starches of the outer layers of the rice while maintaining the inner core with a wonderful firm texture.

Arborio style rice
Arborio style rice

There are 4 main types of Risotto. Vialone Nano, Caranoli Origiaro and Arborio.

Vialone Nano is large, round and used for both soups and main dish preparations

Caranoli is a medium round, meaty, firm and excellent for main dishes

Originario is small, round and used for soups, or desserts.

Arborio is large oblong and the typical risotto you find used as a main dish at a restaurant

Based on what you want, you can chose one of the above for your dish. Decide what you want to make, how it should look and feel on the pallate before moving on. Should the rice be round or oblong, small or large?

A good risotto will have its own creamy sauce, but still remain firm
A good risotto will have its own creamy sauce, but still remain firm

Cooking risotto is what separates the men from the boys. Rather, it separates the patient and knowledgeable from those who assume risotto is just another rice.

Regular rice, such as basmati requires a ratio of 1 cup rice to 1.5 to 2 cups of water. Risotto requires a ratio of 1 cup rice to 3.5 cups (approximate) of water. Big difference, and to make it properly we need to establish a few fundamental rules.

1. Use a wide pot, very large 3 to 5 quarts, with a thick bottom.

2. The approximate amount of time you want to cook risotto to completion is 16- 20 minutes after you add the first liquid. Or cook 10 to 12 minutes if you want to prepare it for restaurant service later.

3. The liquid you cook risotto with must be at room temperature or warmer....DO NOT.... add cold stock, wine or water.Adding cold stock will lenghten the cooking process and relase too much starch

4. Stir, stir, stir, and PAY ATTENTION.

5. If in doubt, undercook. Overcooked Risotto is mush. Think about eating rice oatmeal. Overcooking risotto it is why restaurants get a bad reputation.

The first step to cooking risotto is to take the unwashed rice and cook it in fat. Take your rice and brown it slightly, in butter or olive oil (extra virgin preferably) until is 'goldeny' in color. You will have to exercise some personal judgement here. You can do this at a medium to high heat, but you should be able to hear the sizzle as you cook the rice.

Next slowly add your liquid. This should not be just plain water. A mix of water and wine (white), or stock is appropriate, but plain water will create a bland and flavorless dish. In my experience, a 50/50 mix of stock and wine is used for great results. The stock is usually vegetable in the restaurants I have worked in to allow for a vegetarian option, but if it's a personal dish and you aren't veggie then any meat stock will work well.

Add 1/3 or so of the liquid at first. Stir often, and add liquid when stirring reveals the bottom of the pot. Make sure the liquid you add is not cold, and that the risotto is kept at a simmer, not a hard boil. This is actually easier than you would expect, just keep your risotto at a medium low heat. Taste frequently (the best part!) and add salt and spice accordingly. Don't be shy, its amazing how much salt risotto can soak up.

If you are looking for restaurant service remove the rice from the heat after 10-12 minutes spread on a sheet pan and put into the fridge ASAP.

Otherwise cook for 16-20 minutes and serve immediately.

OK so you want ..not plain risotto, but risotto with...whatever.

This is not very complicated, and once you have the basic timing understood you can create amazing dishes.

For instance, you ant to add shrimp which take 5-6 minutes to cook at a simmer. You would simply add the shrimp 5-6 minutes before serving a dish to friends and family. For a restaurant , simply add them at the start of the risotto dish which should take 5-6 minutes to finish. This is where you have to understand your ingredients and experiment a little. You can't go wrong as long as the risotto comes out beautiful, it will be the star, no matter what you add to the dish.


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    • charlesspock profile image

      charlesspock 6 years ago from Vermont

      Thanks for the positive feedback Teresa I appreciate it!

    • eventsyoudesign profile image

      eventsyoudesign 6 years ago from Nashville, Tennessee

      I love risotto. Thanks for the useful info. If you want to move in and cook for me daily I don't think my husband would mind. Ha! Ha! Ha! Thanks for some great hubs! Teresa

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks so much for clear instructions with encouragement to experiment.

    • charlesspock profile image

      charlesspock 6 years ago from Vermont

      that means too much starch from the risotto released into the water. Cooking the raw rice in oil or butter, and adding hotter water should help you a lot.

    • mama_em profile image

      mama_em 6 years ago

      Texture, it was very gelatinous.

    • charlesspock profile image

      charlesspock 6 years ago from Vermont

      Thanks for the positive comments!

      Mama_em, what was it that made your risotto terrible?

    • mama_em profile image

      mama_em 6 years ago

      I made terrible risotto for supper yesterday. I am going to try this. Thanks for the detailed info, I think I had my ratio wrong!

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Very useful hub. It has just the right amount of detail and is well laid out