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To stir or not to stir

This article was first published on CIBUS magazine / April 2012.

It’s easy to get it wrong and end up with a messy, mushy mass on your plate. But if you learn about the three decisive elements of how to make the perfect risotto then you can enjoy the versatility of this Italian dish.

Risotto was not frequently on my menu. The necessity for 20 minutes of continuous stirring, adding a ladle of stock at a time until all the liquid has absorbed, came as a deterrent. It was only when my brother headed to the Po Valley, in Italy, after falling in love with a risotteria in New York, that I got dominated by the risotto vibe.

My determination to learn how to cook a perfect risotto made me wander after the Italian rice master chef Gabriele Ferron. His close acquaintance with rice and risotto introduced me to the unknown and heightened my curiosity. I also ended up visiting the annual Fiera del Riso in Isola della Scala, Verona. After extensive reading and testing I have now accomplished what in my unpretentious opinion makes a proper risotto.

The rice variety

Riso Vialone Nano & Riso Carnaroli

Move on from Arborio, the most popular variety. I choose the Vialone Nano and the Superfino Carnaroli varieties for my risotto. The Vialone Nano variety with its rounded, shorter kernels creates a soft, creamy risotto with a firm texture. The Carnaroli excellently retains its shape and produces a looser risotto. I pick the Vialone Nano for a hearty risotto with meat or vegetables and combine the Carnaroli with seafood or prestigious ingredients like scallops or saffron.

The broth

Forget the stock cube. The rice will absorb broth whilst cooking, so it stands to reason that a genuinely prepared broth will give the rice a superior taste. My preference is for vegetable broth since I find that its delicate taste does not override the flavours of the other ingredients. It’s easy to prepare – you need 1 onion, 2 carrots, 3 celery stalks, 1 bay leaf and salt. Add all the ingredients in 2 litres of cold water, bring to boil and leave to simmer for 30 minutes. Alternatively you can prepare chicken or fish broth depending on the accompanying ingredients of your risotto. Any remaining broth can be frozen.

The technique

Do not stir continuously. Kitchen gourmets may find this a fat heresy, but I learnt to prepare my risotto using Gabriele Ferron’s technique, and that means no stirring. The rice is stirred only as soon as the broth is added and in the final stage for the mantecatura.  I find this method a guarantee for no-gluey risotto dishes: (quantities are for 4 servings)

  1. Heat some extra virgin olive oil,
    add a finely chopped onion and cook until the onion is transparent making sure that it does not burn
  2. Add 400g of rice and toast it on a moderate heat for a couple of minutes to seal the starch
  3. Pour 900ml boiling broth at one go and stir delicately with a flat wooden spoon
  4. Cover the pan and put on a very low heat for 10 minutes
  5. Prepare the condiment separately and add to the rice cooking for another 2 minutes without stirring
  6. Turn off the heat and amalgamate a knob of butter and 40g grated parmesan cheese
  7. You can add more boiling broth if the rice is not as creamy as you desire
  8. Season with salt & pepper
  9. Leave to rest for a couple of minutes covered with a damp cloth and serve immediately

The recipes

For more recipes click here.


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