two cheese risotto with walnuts, apple and cucumber

Making (lazy) risotto – science of risotto rice

Masterchef Australia is by far my favourite tv show, it’s a great show on cooking, chefs, restaurants, etc. I’d love to go to Australia once and visit the restaurants from the show! Somehow it’s also better than all the other versions (USA, UK, Dutch, …) I’ve tried.

One of the most challenging dishes on this show is risotto. It’s also been called the ‘death dish’ since most of the time it just doesn’t work out. I always find that interesting, because I really enjoy making risotto and don’t necessarily have the idea it always fails. I guess time pressure on a tv show does influence the chance of success for a risotto, but still, why is it considered so hard to make? And is there such a thing as risotto rice?

Rice & risotto – risotto rice

There exist a lot of varieties of rice, all differing in structure, shape and composition. An important property of rice varieties is the ratio of amylose and amylopectin in the rice. These two components make up the starch in rice (as they do in flour as well). Amylopectin is a large complex chain of sugars and is a pretty bulky molecule. Amylose on the other hand is one long chain of sugars and can settle in a more compact manner.

All rice varieties contain a different ratio of amylopectin and amylose, this influences the stickiness of the rice once cooked. A high amylopectin content makes the rice more sticky and gluey than a high amylose content which makes the rice more loose. This is because the amylopectin molecules can be pulled apart more easily. This is done during the gelation process of starch, which also play a role when thickening sauces with flour.

Rice varieties which match this requirement for risotto rice, are amongst others: arborio, vialone nano and carnaroli. These varieties slightly differ in amylose content, but all have an amylose content <20% and a very high amylopectin content. Personally, my supermarket just sells one variety of ‘risotto rice’ and I just use that, it works perfectly fine.

two cheese risotto with cucumber

Making a risotto

Instructions for making a risotto often include a long process of adding small amounts of water at a time, limited amount of stirring and several more do’s and don’ts. Unfortunately, I’m a lazy and efficient cook and don’t like following long complex instructions if I don’t see a reason to.

I’ve did some testing in the kitchen and read a great post from the Food Lab and came to the conclusion that most of these can be skipped, especially, if, like me, you don’t necessarily want an extermely creamy risotto. So, no need to add water in small batches, just make sure that all rice is covered with water (else the bottom will cook faster), use a lid (to keep the top warmer) and stir it around once in a while).

I prefer a risotto which don’t flow, but can be placed in a little pile. Chefs might say it’s no proper risotto, but for me it is. So for those also not minding a ‘not perfect’ and slightly lazy risotto, don’t worry too much about all those instructions! You can make a jummy risotto without all the stirring, adding water and constant attention!

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Making (lazy) risotto – a real science?

  • Author: Science Chef
  • Prep Time: 10 mins
  • Cook Time: 45 mins
  • Total Time: 55 mins
  • Yield: 2-3 servings
  • Cuisine: Italian

Ingredients

  • 150g risotto rice (don’t use basmati or anothe rlong grain rice, it won’t turn out nice)
  • some butter
  • 1 onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • a little pour of wine (anywhere between 50 – 200ml)
  • stock (whichever type you like, I use chicken stock), prep about half a liter, you might not need all
  • 250g of mushrooms (I prefer using regular and brown mushrooms, firm mushrooms work best, so don’t try things like shiitake)
  • 1 small apple (preferably a sour one)
  • 8 walnuts
  • parmezan cheese (about 50g, or as much as you like)
  • blue cheese (about 50g, or as much as you like)
  • goats cheese (about 50g, or as much as you like)
  • cucumber

Instructions

  1. Heat some butter in a pan and saute your onion and garlic until they’re glazy.
  2. Add the rice and stir it for a little until it starts getting glazy as well (add some additional butter if all butter is gone after sauteing the onion and garlic)
  3. Pour in the wine and leave to boil until most moisture is gone.
  4. Add the mushrooms and mix them in.
  5. Add stock until all rice is covered by liquid and then add a little extra so it’s well under, most water will disappear again, so don’t be worried if it looks a little soupy now.
  6. Place a lid on the pot and keep simmering on a low heat.
  7. Check regularly to see whether the rice isn’t burning at the bottom (if it is and it’s not yet cooked, add extra water).
  8. Keep on cooking and adding water when it starts to burn until the rice tastes soft and tender. After you’ve made it a few times you will get a feel for the amount of moisture you’ll have to use. Try to add quite a bit at the start, that will make the rest of the cooking less tedious.
  9. In the meantime, brown of the walnuts in a cooking pan and cut the apple in little pieces.
  10. Mix in the cheeses with the rice (I would advise to use at least the parmezan and play around with other cheeses you like/have in your fridge).
  11. It will become all nice and creamy now! Add the browned walnuts and apple.
  12. Cut some cucumber in small pieces to serve on the side and freshen the dish up.

This recipe was inspired by Jamie Oliver, I think I found it in one of his books more than 4 years ago. In the meantime, it has become a favorite, varying with cheese, preparation method (making it easier and easier over time) and optimizing flavour.

Sources

I’m not the only one being interested in making a great risotto. If you’d like to learn more, read this article from The Kitchn, the BBC or the article from the Food Lab, also referred to in the article.

 

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