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May 5, 2009 05:50 PM

Perfect Risotto Techniques

I love risotto, I don't find it diffucult to make, but I'm not thrilled with the flavor that I get from my recipes. My risotto always comes out with an odd tang to it, sometimes almost metalic. It just doesn't have that creamy silky taste that I find in a restaurant. I think part of the issue may be the kind of wine I use (chardonnay) and possible the parmesan reggiano.

So, is this just me? Or have others experienced this and found ways to correct it?

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  1. I can't speak to the metallic tang- or to perfection for that matter -- but I will say that I used to make my risotto with chard/sauv blanc or other wines I enjoy... Until I had a party and had some leftover sweet wine that was going down the drain unless I figured out how to cook with it. Put it in a risotto and have never looked back. Something magical happens with those onions, that rice and a bit of sweet wine before the onslaught of broth. No matter what kind of risotto I'm making. Don't know if this helps your situ or not, but it transformed my risotto. (Or would that be risotti?)

    4 Replies
    1. re: miss louella

      I recently fixed a Batali wild mushroom risotto that called for a cup of vin santo to be added very close to the end rather than early on. I didn't have any vin santo and at that price I'm not sure I could have forced myself to use it :) But even adding an SB at the end was awesome. I'll have something sweet for next time. Good call, ml.

      1. re: miss louella

        Sweet wine? Like a riesling? Or sweeter?

        1. re: FoodChic

          Riesling is pretty much as sweet as I've gone -- haven't bought sweet wine specifically for risotto (though I would if I didn't have friends/family that preferred sweet over dry). I don't know enough about the world of sweet wines to steer you anywhere else.

          1. re: miss louella

   either. But I'll give the riseling a shot.

      2. It all comes down to the stock you use . . . and a couple of other pointers

        - Use homemade broth or stock - the canned stuffed only concentrates when cooked so the metalics and saltiness come forward
        - Use a balance between stock and hot water - otherwise it becomes too rich to eat
        - The stock and wine must be warm before putting in the pan - if you can drink the wine, it's likely it's fine for the risotto - but don't 'shock' the rice with a cold liquid
        - Use a decent parm - if you are using a real parm reg then that's not an issue
        - Stir fairly constantly (and in one direction) until the liquid has just been absorbed before adding more liquid
        - Use a good rice

        1 Reply
        1. re: alwayscooking

          Thank you for calling out the stirring only in one direction! I learned to make risotto while living with Italian students during a study abroad. They taught me that it's bad luck to stir the risotto in both directions, and I believe with or without a recipe we can all use a little luck in the kitchen!

        2. Another problem could arise if the wine is too oaky, that will only get concentrated in the risotto.

          3 Replies
          1. re: rockfish42

            Your post made me think about the OP's recipe - how MUCH wine is the OP using? It should be just enough to cover the rice (~1/4c?) and give it a tang without overpowering - it is one of the key flavors of the dish (rice, wine, stock, cheese - everything else is secondary).

            1. re: alwayscooking

              It depends on the recipe I'm using, but some require up to a 1/2 cup.
              Rockfish may have hit on something, as our chardonnay always leans toward heavy oak.

              1. re: FoodChic

                Perhaps it's time to give up the recipe since this is a dish probably best made without - it is about the ingredients at harnd.

                Saute the aromatics in enough oil to just barely cover the next addition of rice, add the rice and cook until the pearl begins to show and toast, and add warm wine to barely cover. Start the stock/water absorbtion process and stop just before you think its done - it will absorb and cook more.

                Love risotto!

          2. I've made risotto many times using Marcella Hazan's recipes, and they don't regularly call for wine in the dish at all. Her basic recipe is meat broth, butter, vegetable oil, chopped onion, arborio rice, fresh parsesan and salt.

            If you are using good parmesan, I would not suspect that as your culprit. The wine might be, however. In the 12 recipes for risotto in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, only 4 of the 12 call for wine. Two of those call for red italian wines specified by region (good piedmontese red, barorlo). The two that call for white wine, call for a "dry white" and are with strong ingredients, one with clams and one with sausage, where it seems like the wine flavor wouldn't come through as much.

            In the recipes that do call for white wine, I would try a pinot grigio or other Italian white rather than a chardonnay in any event. But I'd first try making risotto without the wine altogether. A good broth should give you the silky component you are looking for without the metallic taste that some white wines can bring. And if you are set on using wine, then by all means sample the wine first and make sure it is one that is balanced, and doesn't have any strong oak or other flavors, like mineraly flavors, which white wines can have.

            17 Replies
            1. re: DanaB

              totally agree with DanaB. that off/metallic taste is almost certainly your white wine. Try making without, or with a very light italian white like pinot grigio. I learned this lesson the hard way. too many overly winey/metallic/off sauces.

              it's not the parmesan--that just adds nuttiness.

              1. re: DanaB

                The quality of my parm is outstanding. The reason I suspected it due to it's extremely sharp taste. I was beginning to wonder if that sharpness was transfering into my dish.

                1. re: FoodChic

                  If your parmesan is outstanding, it should be perfect in a risotto. Even if strong, the nutty taste should compliment the blandness of the rice perfectly (assuming you are not adding too much -- the Marcella recipe I cited above calls for a 1/3 cup grated).

                  I think you would really enjoy the risotto recipes in Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I'm sure you could get it from your library if you don't want to buy it. It's never failed me on the risotto front. And while others here seem to think wine is an essential ingredient in risotto, I don't think I've ever made one where I added it, and everyone I've cooked risotto for has enjoyed it in the past. The key components are (1) sauteeing the aromatics such as onion, etc., in butter/oil; (2) adding the rice and sauteeing it in the fat; and (3) adding broth/liquid at a slow rate, stirring all the while; then (4) finishing with parmesan/fresh herbs/etc.

                  I'd love to hear back the next time you make it, to see what you changed and how it worked for you :-)

                  1. re: DanaB

                    I have the book and I've tried it, but it's been many years. I'll give it another shot.
                    I wanted a lovely mushroom risotto to compliment her veal in parchment w/ asparagus and fontina.

                    1. re: FoodChic

                      >>I wanted a lovely mushroom risotto to compliment her veal in parchment w/ asparagus and fontina.<<

                      Check out the recipe on page 247 for Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms -- sounds like just what you were looking for :-).

                    2. re: DanaB

                      I personally never used Hazan's and probably won't. I just don't like recipes that much but I'm sure it is very good. Any basic risotto works and yes wine is not necessary, but I like the flavor it offers but definitely not required. I have made mine with stock (homemade), stock from the store, broth just Swanson and even water. All with wine usually but not always. Well some cream which I like to add, fresh butter, good parm and seasoning and good pasta. Honestly, all were good and easy. I just use a generic recipe which has always worked. I add mushrooms at time, sometimes onions and other veggies or addittions. I don't measure or get specific, I like to add what I have in the fridge or what looks good at the store.

                      No offense to anyone please, just my thoughts :)

                      1. re: kchurchill5

                        I've really never understood not using recipes. Hazan is at least a queen and for some a goddess :) I feel arrogant to think that I know beter than the real pros. No offense to anyone please; just my thoughts :) So when you say fresh butter, is that the butter that you make yourself? What other vegetables and/or additions do you use?

                        1. re: c oliver

                          I never said I know better, I certainly don't, I will be the first to admit that. It is just that I rarely use recipes. Now baking is different. I definitely follow recipes on that. I usually look at a recipe and use parts and do the rest myself. I have kept some recipes from those which friends gave me, but quite often I change things as well. I am sure Hazan is great and have a lot of respect, but I just wouldn't use the recipe. I may look at it, but still change things. My mom and grandma both cooked like that and I learned from them and then rest just trial and error.

                          I have made some recipes and they were very good, but I enjoy changing or doing things my own way, have of the fun.

                          By the way ... yes, in a good rich dish like risotto that I would probably use some of my butter if I had some plain. Sometimes I only have my honey butter or my herbed so it would depend what I have on hand. I like onions in some, garlic, I make a great butternut recipe, parm Mushrooms, wild mushrooms using some of the juice, I used fine diced carrots once which I really liked, not sure if it was parm or marscapone one or the other. Pretty normal in the ingredients but I improvise alot depending what I have on hand is all. Fennel is a recent favorite which I really like in the risotto. Even made a red wine risotto. Pancetta is good, scallions always and I love adding some nuts for textures.

                          No offense taken, I am sure I am in the minority with recipes, but it just how I cook, but admire those that come up with them ... I guess that is why I have fun coming up with recipes as well. Some I love to follow the same every time but at times I just have to improvise and I don't mind.

                          1. re: kchurchill5

                            I think you perhaps misunderstood what I wrote. I said *I* would feel arrogant if I thought I knew better than the "masters." Not you.

                            I think perhaps I have also finally *broken the code* regarding recipes. You USE recipes (whether written or verbal) and then tweak them to suit your taste. That's what we ALL do most of the time. So, no, you're NOT in the minority at all. You are in the majority. We take a recipe or a concept (which is a recipe) and vary it according to our tastes, what we have on hand, etc.. So you're right here in the mainstream with most cooks. No reason to feel different. Glad I finally figured out what you've been saying.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              Sorry I misunderstood, my apologies on that., guess not enough coffee this am. Yep, glad we are on the same page, I may have different methods, but don't we all.

                              Tweaked up and semi altered recipes I guess. It is half the fun.

                              Thanks, and sorry for the misunderstanding. I was in bed at 12, up at 3 and at work by 11, I was definitely a bit tired. Can I use that excuse please?

                        2. re: kchurchill5

                          How did you learn to cook, kchurchill? If you were lucky enough to learn how to make risotto at an expert's knee, I can see eschewing recipes, but for the rest of us, they provide a good benchmark. I can make risotto without a recipe now, but as I'm a mostly self-taught cook, I've always really appreciated the guidance of a well-written cookbook. My favorites are by authors who are good at explanation, but also provide foundation and understanding of the cuisine/method, so one can feel free to experiment in the future. Hazan is one of those.

                          1. re: DanaB

                            I agree DanaB, recipes most people follow and I totally respect those who are trained, I just don't use them. I do have cookbooks, usually like to look at dishes I may not make but seeing the end product helps me. I enjoy reading up on some of the herbs, spices and various pastas and sauces which I like to read. I do look at the recipe itself to get ideas but usually use bits and pieces.

                            Learning to cook ... true story. When I was 5, my mom said I had to be in the kitchen with her all the time. I used to bake pies and cakes and jellos, all different kinds. My mom showed me how to make pie crust, but she said I never followed her recipe, I would just add stuff until I thought it was right. When I was 12 I made turkey dinner for my family and relatives 10 of us ... by myself, although Mom helped me get the turkey in the oven. We are talking homemade dressing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, turkey and ham, 5 salads, green beans, homemade bread and homemade shaken butter which I learned in 3rd grade, and 3 pies. The menu hasn't changed in 35 years. Although less family, smaller amounts. In college I made pots of soup and homemade bread for the guys that lived on the floor below us. They paid me to cook for them. So I am self taught for sure. My methods may be different that others but the end result is excellent. I also have an art degree and worked in a floral shop, so catering and entertaining is fun, because I make the plates look like art and the table is like the canvas.

                            The first time I made risotto, I was at a small Italian restaurant in Lake Tahoe, the kitchen was open and we sat at the bar counter and talked to the chef. He ended up telling me what he was making and how, he actually joined us for a drink after he was finished. I went home and a few days later risotto. No recipe, but remembered what he did. My lesson. I am definitely a hands on learner, not ones who reads.

                            So, I do appreciate the method and the cuisine itself, but for me the hands on works best.

                    3. re: DanaB

                      Goodness . . .

                      I regularly use chardonnay (I'll confess that it's most frequently found in the ref or a leftover red - I never understood the posting about keeping the remainder of a bottle?!). But risotto can be made without [sad face inserted here just because of the flavor].

                      Remember that recipes are only a guide to average ingredients - and these change. For risotto perhaps even more. Happily, I learned this from many people cooking this daily in Italy (although this means truly nothing) so i just learned to relax when cooking this dish.

                      Happy cooking!

                      So the basics still apply - rice, wine, stock, parm - and any aromatics and additions as wanted. This is a dish about technique as well as ingredients.

                      1. re: alwayscooking

                        Thanks for your input, alwayscooking. I'm going to blend some of the suggestions with my dish next week. I'll report back.

                        1. re: alwayscooking

                          Read the recent thread re risotto adding stock or just water. Many just add water, some stock. I don't think stock is completely necessary, however I do like it, warmed before adding. Chardonnay I always used, parm, yes good parm and I like a little cream and butter and fresh herbs. I think I use about 1/2 cup or a bit more of wine, but use it in the beginning so it cooks down. Also I love onions in mine but there are many good recipes out there.

                          1. re: kchurchill5

                            Interesting. Of all the permutations, don't think I've ever heard of adding cream to risotto.

                      2. After looking over this thread I made the perfect risotto last night. I made a shrimp risotto used the sweet wine which I have never done before and also a bit of heavy cream at the end which I almost always do just to give it that creamy texture. the recipe is below
                        1large onion which I sweat in some olive oil and also 2 pieces of chopped applesmoked bacon. then add the risotto to toast a bit then I used about 1 cup of a Riesling once that was soaked up I used lobster stock. I added fresh shelled shrimp and frozen baby green peas at the very end along with fresh basil and a couple of spoons of heavy cream. It was outstanding.