Help me make my risotto softer!
February 27, 2008 11:56 AM   Subscribe

I love risotto. I've tried to cook it a number of times, and always manage to get the creamy texture and flavour that I expect - however, the rice itself doesn't seem to absorb the liquid as much as I would like it to, and ends up being hard/crunchy. I tried a few different recipes+methods and always end up with hard rice.

A couple of facts:

1. I'm not very good at planning things, so the rice I use is usually just what I have lying around (ie. long-grain, not short-grain as recommended)
2. I don't really understand what to do when the recipe tells me to ladle broth onto the rice and stir until it's absorbed. Should it just be a light amount of broth or enough to soak the rice?
3. I usually end up taking 15-20 minutes longer in the broth-stirring phase than the recipe says, just because the rice is really hard.
posted by mebibyte to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
1. You're using the wrong rice.
posted by rhizome at 12:02 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hmm. I think you're not using enough liquid.

Here's a tip: Keep your broth (or whatever liquid you're using) on another burner, and keep it just below a simmer.

Your ladle -- it's probably 1/2 cup, right? That's good. So you saute the rice and onions/aromatics until the rice is translucent, right? Good. When it gets to that point, add about a cup of liquid. That's one measuring cup of wine, if you're using it, or two ladles-full of your warm stock. Stir stir stir until there's just the slightest bit of moisture left on the bottom of the pan. Add another ladle -- maybe a ladle and a half -- of stock. Stir stir stir until there's just the slightest bit of moisture left on the bottom of the pan. See the pattern?

Repeat until the rice is at the texture you want it -- not for the prescribed 22 minutes. Fresher rice will cook up faster. Stuff that's been on the shelf or in the bin for longer will take a little longer. You're going for texture, not rice.

If you run out of warm stock along the way, add a bunch of water (or more stock) to your stock pan. But keep adding *warm* liquid to the risotto so that you don't slow down the cooking process.

At the end, when you've got the texture you want, add another ladle-full of stock and a big knob of butter to get the creamy thing going.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:02 PM on February 27, 2008

Oh, duh. On preview -- didn't even see the thing about the rice.

You want to be using short-grain arborio rice, specifically.

If you only have long-grain rice, don't make a risotto -- make a pilaf.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:04 PM on February 27, 2008

If you are not using arborio rice you are not really making risotto. And really, it's not done of the rice is still crunchy, no matter what the recipe says. I make a lot of risotto, here is what works for me. It has somewhat less stirring than traditional recipes.

- saute rice in olive oil with some onion while you simmer chicken stock or equivalent
- add rice/onion to 50% measure of boiling stock. Simmer until liquid is abosrobed, don't worry about stirring.
- after liquid is abosorbed, add wine and continue to add remaining liquid a half cup at a time, stirring regularly. Add more liquid when liquid is mostly abosorbed.
- You are done when rice isn't crunchy. If you run out of liquid, add water or more stock until rice isn't crunchy

Mine takes 40 minutes. Arborio is different because it has more starch that washes off into the solution and so the texture is extra-creamy even as the rice is cooked.
posted by jessamyn at 12:10 PM on February 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Use the right rice and add stock/liquid gradually.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 12:21 PM on February 27, 2008

Okay, number 1 is definitely a problem. Certain strains just won't work for risotto purposes. You pretty much need arborio rice (available at most half-decent groceries nowadays). Varietals such as basmasti and other long grains just don't release their starches well enough to make the dish (though you can get a nice pilaf out of them, it's just not risotto).

2. You should put just enough broth in to cover the rice. When it absorbs, ladle some more in, but, again, just to cover. Make sure to keep stirring. Those grains need to bump into each other.

3. I've found that the time-frames found in recipes is usually an approximation (and are oftentimes bullshit). Cook it until it's done. Anyway, using arborio should take care of this problem.

Keep in mind, risotto should be a little al dente. Not crispy though.
posted by converge at 12:21 PM on February 27, 2008

What everyone else said above. I'd add the wine just after the onions/garlic have sweated a bit and let it reduce a bit. Then start your adding of liquid.. slowly. Risotto takes time. Enjoy it. Have a glass of the same wine, talk to folks while you cook, etc. Personally I like to add a cup or so of chopped fresh spinach and Gorgonzola cheese just as the rice gets done. Mix, add fresh ground pepper, serve with a spring salad and lemon vinaigrette and your ready to go!
posted by elendil71 at 12:28 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

What everyone else said. But I'll also add that occasionally, my risotto has come out "crunchy". And I'm not sure why. My guess is that it did not absorb enough oil/butter in the initial stage.

And what jessamyn said - you don't need to stir the whole time. I've heard that from Alton and Rachel as well, so it must be true!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 12:38 PM on February 27, 2008

I make risotto about once a week. Nthing that you won't get the creamy texture unless you use arborio rice.
posted by desuetude at 12:57 PM on February 27, 2008

I agree with everyone comments. I have used Texarborio without any problems, but I like the creaminess of arborio better. I would ignore what the recipe says, and cook it until done. Make sure that whatever liquid you add is warm and that the heat under the pot is low. I top it with a handful of grated parmesan cheese when done, cover and let sit 5 minutes.
posted by francesca too at 1:33 PM on February 27, 2008

Nthing the above and adding that Cook's Illustrated master recipe that I use to base my variations on have you front loading the rice with about 1/3 - 1/2 of the total expected liquid and stirring that occasionally. After that, you can add the liquid by ladefuls and stir. A good indication that its time to add more liquid is if you can drag the rice across the bottom and you can see the pan for a few moments before the liquids cover it. The longer you are able to see the pan before it is covered, the more indication that its time to add liquid.
posted by mmascolino at 1:34 PM on February 27, 2008

I like the similar carnaroli even better than arborio, if you can find it.
posted by transona5 at 2:01 PM on February 27, 2008

2. I don't really understand what to do when the recipe tells me to ladle broth onto the rice and stir until it's absorbed. Should it just be a light amount of broth or enough to soak the rice?

I saw a chef on TV recently say that this traditional way of making risotto is pretty much pointless - you get the same results just tipping all the stock (broth) in at the beginning and simmering until absorbed (and adding more at the end if rice isn't cooked). I tried it, and it seems to work. I don't really get why the traditional way would be better either.

In the past when I've had my rice not quite cooked when I've used up the stock, I just keep cooking and add more water.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:30 PM on February 27, 2008

All good advice above. This is a super-simple basic risotto recipe, and the one that got me started. And it probably takes 25 minutes to make two portions (It seems to me that bigger batches take longer).

Personally, I like the stirring - mainly because I'm a fiend for the starch, and I want to make sure as much as possible of it gets worked out. The more starch you get out of the rice, the creamier the risotto.
posted by tiny crocodile at 3:33 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nthing the need for arborio.

If you don't plan very well in advance, then, when you *DO* buy some arborio, buy 2-3 bags and store them in mason jars. That way you'll not be scrambling at the last minute and dumping "whatever you have on hand" into the pot. This is what I do and it makes it much easier for to appease the sudden risotto cravings.
posted by aedra at 3:52 PM on February 27, 2008

Yep, you need arborio rice. And add Bittman to the list of authorities who say you can add the liquid in big batches and stir occasionally. (Source: one of his Minimalist columns from the NY Times.)
posted by brianogilvie at 5:03 PM on February 27, 2008

Wrong rice. Plan better or make something else.
posted by beerbajay at 5:08 PM on February 27, 2008

Yeah, rice and all that. But also, make sure that whatever rice you are using has 'cracked' before you start adding the stock. That is, the kernel should split and, if you take a few grains out to look at closely, you should see the pearlescent appearance, especially towards the ends of the grains. If that doesn't happen before the stock addition, you're gonna be stirring for a long time waiting for the grains to get soft.

Also, especially if you are using the wrong rice, the more you stir, the more you are likely to promote the release of the starch that makes the risotto creamy.
posted by Jakey at 5:47 PM on February 27, 2008

Be patient. With the right rice (Arborio), this will go much easier for you.

You can cook orzo, risotto style, by the way, but then it's not really risotto.
posted by thivaia at 6:18 PM on February 27, 2008

So...yeah, like everyone says: it's about the rice. I'm a lousy planner, too, so the tricks I've picked up are:
1. when picking up arborio rice, buy lots and stash it so it's handy on a whim -- that's what staples are for!
2. then compensate for poor meal planning skills by making amazing risotto in about 10 minutes' total time in a pressure cooker. This book showed me the light.
posted by shelbaroo at 7:08 PM on February 27, 2008

Living in Korea, I've never found any rice but the standard, sticky, shortgrain rice that is preferred here (with variationw in how much it's been milled, and some coloured variations). I'm not sure how that correlates with arborio (not even sure what arborio rice is, exactly), but the same kind of sticky rice that you expect to see in NE Asia works just dandy for risottos.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:18 PM on February 27, 2008

Jakey - Great tip! I have read about the "pearlescent appearance", but wasn't sure. Thanks!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:44 AM on February 28, 2008

1. Use arborio rice. You can get it anywhere, really.

2. Ladle on your broth about a ladle at a time, wait until it is pretty much absorbed, repeat the process again and again.

3. Don't cook the risotto for the duration specified in the recipe, cook it until it is cooked. Taste it every so often to check. If you run out of broth, use some water or mix up some water with bouillon to substitute.

Risotto is really the easiest thing in the world to cook if you don't stress out about it and keep going til it's done, even if that seems like longer than it should be.
posted by Lleyam at 10:42 AM on February 28, 2008

« Older Fun date outings for a native NYCer?   |   Is it worth it to take singing lessons if I am a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.