Thursday, December 1, 2011

Butternut Squash Risotto and Risotto Technique

I really enjoy good risotto and, at the risk of sounding a little inflated, I feel I've pretty well mastered the technique of both making and serving it.  Part of the problem I find with ordering risotto at a restaurant is not so much that the flavor is bad, rather they often seem to have no concept of the proper consistency which is then further complicated by the fact they don't know how to serve it.

Risotto should be a very creamy rice dish (nothing like rice pilaf) and is made using an Italian rice called Aborio, which has just the right starch content to create a creamy sauce when cooked by gradually adding a hot liquid like stock.  Risotto can be varied in endless ways using diced or pureed vegetables, herbs, spices, cheeses, flavored oils, etc.

A basic risotto usually begins with finely diced onions softened over a low heat in olive oil.  This usually takes a bit of time as the onions should be very tender. Then the heat is increased to medium/medium high and fresh finely diced garlic is added.  After about 30 seconds, the dry rice is added to the pan without liquid to lightly coat each rice grain with hot oil to prevent them from sticking and to lock in the starches.  Then the pan is deglazed to release the starch with a cup of dry white wine and stirred vigorously.  Once the liquid is mostly absorbed, the stock is integrated one cup at a time with very frequent (not quite constant) stirring.  The friction of the rice grains against each other causes the starch to mix with the liquid to form a creamy sauce.  The risotto is finished when rice is cooked through and still has a bit of bite to it - it should not be mushy; herbs, Parmesan Reggiano, salt, pepper, and a little butter are stirred in to finish.  Some recipes call for cream but if you use proper technique, this is totally unnecessary and can even be detracting. 

In addition to this basic risotto technique, the one dish above is varied using roasted butternut squash puree with fresh thyme, a little diced rosemary, a small amount of grated ginger, grated nutmeg, and a dash of cinnamon.  It smells and tastes like this time of year.

Now for the important part: the consistency of risotto.  It should be very creamy.  When plated, it should not stand in a heap (too thick) but rather flatten out on the plate when moved shifted side to side just once.  It should be served on a hot plate, which will help prevent it from congealing.  Also, the sauce should not separate on the plate from the rice (too runny).  Risotto does not keep well and should be served immediately.  If any of the considerations above are ignored, the risotto will not be as good.

It's really not as intimidating as it sounds, you just have to pay attention.  If you've never had risotto, it may sound crazy but making it yourself is likely the best way to try it the first time.  It will be cheaper than going to a restaurant that knows how to make it and yours will likely turn out nearly as good, if not every bit as good, if you follow this advice.  Cheers.

No comments:

Post a Comment