The Italian rice dish known as risotto is one of those foods that, like soufflés and puff pastry, can strike fear in the hearts of even the most stalwart cooks. But while some of these anxieties are well founded—soufflés can fall, puff pastry can fail to rise—not much can really go wrong with risotto. After all, it’s just rice.
Add liquid gradually and stir, stir, stir
The main difference between the risotto technique and other rice cooking techniques is that for risotto, the liquid is added gradually and the rice is stirred often during cooking, as opposed to adding all the liquid at once and not stirring. The frequent stirring is what helps release the starch from the rice to give risotto its creamy texture.
To make risotto: First, cook aromatic ingredients such as onion and garlic in a little fat, and then add the rice. Stir the rice for a few minutes in the fat to toast it a little. Next, pour in your cooking liquid—usually broth—one or two cups at a time (depending on how much risotto you’re making) and stir often (not constantly) until the rice feels cooked but not mushy when you nibble a grain. It takes about twenty minutes from the first addition of liquid to reach this stage. Keeping the liquid hot in a separate pot aids the process because the temperature of the risotto doesn’t drop every time you add more liquid. Once the rice is fully cooked, fold in whatever finishing ingredients you like. It’s that simple.
Choose the right rice for risotto
To achieve the proper texture and consistency of a risotto, use one of several medium- to short-grain Italian rice varieties. These rices have a different starch composition than longgrain rice, and it’s mainly the starch that determines the texture of the cooked rice. Long-grain rice cooks up light and fluffy with separate grains (the reason why it isn’t right for risotto). The Italian rices give off lots of glutinous starch as they cook, resulting in the creamy, thick, saucy consistency that’s the trademark of risotto, but they also remain slightly “toothy” in the center when cooked, making for an interesting textural contrast with the sauce.