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What's wrong with my risotto?

I just tried cooking risotto in a slow-cooker. I understand that method makes the texture a bit mushy, but that wasn't the problem. Problem: it had zero flavor. I've never cooked risotto before and so figured it was the recipe. I've gone through several recipes online, and the basics were the same. I'd assumed I'd find a lot of spices to make the difference, but there really weren't any. Any suggestions? This recently happened to me with an epicurious.com recipe for tequilia shrimp, which was as basic as it gets and which got near-universal raves. Only two people - now, including me, three - found it totally bland. I'm guessing I'm the common denominator here and wonder if anybody knows of any common mistakes made when making risotto (or, for that matter, tequilia shrimp?!)?
Many thanks.

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  1. The only thing I know for certain is that your slow cooker is not responsible for the lack of flavor. Without knowing what herbs, spices, liquids (and their relative quantities) you used it's difficult to offer a possibility for the outcome you describe.

    1. ... maybe its you? this is totally presumptuous but maybe if you're a smoker or are using a nasal allergy spray or something like that, it would alter your tasting experience... it just seems weird that the epicurious recipe was basic and universally loved....

      1. It's a good idea to taste the broth that you use, and while it shouldnt taste salty, it should have a good balanced flavour. I have used all kinds of things for broth, from home-made chicken, to organic bouillon cubes, to canned organic broth...and each one has a different flavour - sometimes i've had to add more salt to them, and other times, dilute them with more water. Let your own taste be your guide.

        But having said all of that, I have still had some risottos that were on the bland side...and the best way to correct this, is to add lots of fresh grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese to the final product. Works like a charm everytime!

        1 Reply
        1. re: msmarabini

          Was going to say the same,. when it is done stir in a whack of cheese, a pad of butter and some freshly minced parsley. Also don't listen to the recipe when it comes to salt and pepper amounts correct yourself.

          I have 't actually ever made it in the slow cooker but I do make risotto all the time.

        2. Take every opportunity to add flavor even when the recipe does not indicate to do so: for the risotto, brown it in bacon fat first, use a little bit of wine before you add the broth, squeeze some lemon into it before serving and grate some zest as well....

          1 Reply
          1. re: foodie4444

            I was going to say the same thing. Maybe add some thyme sprigs.

          2. I am gonna ask, since you never cooked it before, maybe it is you? depending on where you have eaten it before..it could be the way they season that makes it seem better?
            I am also going to say that if you have only eaten it commercially ; you might be so used to a heavily salted (or MSG'd) product, that without this it seems bland.

            yes, the slow cooker woudl not influence the taste, just texture. But next time..if you make a recipe and find it bland, experiment. Take some of it aside, to a porion add more salt let sit about 5 minutes (I think salt does need a bit of time to develop) and see if that portion tastes better. If not, but closer..add a bit more to a potion of that portion (so you can compare) try again. Try with some other spices, pepper, garlic etc. Hey you had a bland dish, so use it to experiment help you know your palate better!

            1. The most important seasoning for rice- which is what risotto is- is salt and pepper and plenty of it. When you first add the rice you should stir it for about 3 minutes in the oil or butter to add flavor to the rice as well and then liberally season with s and p- then as you are almost done - taste it and if it is bland add more salt and pepper.
              it is that simple!

              1. I think you might be undersalting your dishes. You'd be surprised at how much difference a little salt can make in a dish.

                1. You probably just need to add more butter or salt, or both.

                  1. Your risotto should taste principally of rice, so if you are not using a top-quality rice, start there. Obviously, the rice flavor is subtle, so don't expect to be hit in the face. Risotti are usually pretty delicate. After the rice comes the broth, which should be of good quality and sufficiently salted. Spices aren't going to help, and they could overwhelm the rice, but you can get lots of flavor and depth from sautéing a chopped onion in the butter at the very beginning and adding lots of freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano near the end.

                    1. i gotta disagree with everyone and say that part of the problem *is* the slow cooker. for a proper risotto you need to heat the oil/butter/fat (usually with onion/shallot and aromatics) in a pan, then add the rice and toast the rice kernels. the heating/flavoring of the oils, and the toasting of the rice kernels are essentials, then you need a good broth, then other good ingredients to achieve the full flavor profile of the dish. just dumping everything into a slow cooker and expecting a great dish isn't going to work when it comes to risotto. why don't you try a traditional risotto method and compare the two results?

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: soupkitten

                        I have to agree with this and couldn't have put it better myself.

                        1. re: berbadeerface

                          Absolutely true. A slow cooker is not meant for risotto. You won't get the right texture or creamy mouthfeel and the flavors won't blend properly.

                        2. re: soupkitten

                          yes. as i was scrolling thru the responses, i was contemplating a response much like yours. there are serious limits to what a slow cooker can do. let me rephrase that--there are serious limits to what a slow cooker can do well. i think this risotto rigamarole is only one more example. risotto requires not only some initial heat but also some bit of stirring along the way.

                            1. re: soupkitten

                              Absolutely. I've never even seen a slow cooker, so I sort of forgot the OP was starting at an insuperable disadvantage. As you say, the method is essential to the flavor.

                            2. One of the reasons I love to make risotto is that it is a good excuse to stand at the stove, have a glass or two of wine and stir. I think it needs that kind of TLC and is therefore not suited to a slowcooker ( whereas a stew or soup suited for a slow cooker). Risotto does not really take that long, so if you alot some time, I would just try it the old fashioned way.

                              1. Agree, agree, agree. I'm assuming you've had risotto prepared the old-fashioned way and you're comparing it to what you prepared in a slow cooker. The latter will never taste as good.
                                Risotto is not that hard, and it doesn't take that long. But good ingredients are key. I once saw a friend do everything as directed by tradition and at the end dump a cup of green can "parmesan" into the dish. It was not very tasty.
                                I make risotto all the time and never add spices other than salt and pepper. Basic recipe: butter and/or olive oil, chopped onion, arborio rice, wine or white vermouth, stock or broth, good parmesan, salt, pepper, a little patience (25-30 minutes), a lot of TLC.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: nomadchowwoman

                                  Not only is the taste better but the texture is too. In order to achieve that wonderful creamy texture you not only have to start with the right variety of rice, but you have to cook it using proper technique. Stirring and pressing the rice to coax out the starch.

                                  "You imagine every rice is like a soldier and full of starch and you want to ooze all that out,'' Jamie Oliver

                                2. i'd say the most likely culprits are the broth and/or undersalting

                                  1. Risotto is simply not made in a slow cooker. Given that the basics of risotto are, well, very basic, it's clear that technique is as important as decent quality ingredients. I agree that you should start with a decent quality rice and well seasoned broth, take all opportunities to inject a little flavour but at the heart of the problem is the slow cooker.

                                    1. Another vote for the traditional approach over using the slow cooker, but...

                                      I'm surprised no one has asked for the basic outline of your recipes. The most common type of recipe I find includes a healthy dose of Parmesan or grated cheese, and if that is the style of risotto you are cooking, make sure your cheese is zesty and fresh. If you're using the remains of some shaker of tired, dried out Parmesan then you will be disappointed. And if you are making more of a clear broth style without the cheesiness, make sure you are using enough salt and that your ingredients have enough pungency to spare -- and if you're making a seafood risotto make sure you use a pungent, fresh fumet.

                                      1. Everyone who is blaming the cooking method (slow cooker) is right on. Thinking about it more, heating the broth before adding and adding bit-by-bit is crucial to achieving the right consistency AND flavor. In a slow cooker, the broth is added cold (I'm sure) and all at once. This is a mistake where consistency is concerned. It probably causes the flavors to become muddled as well.

                                        1. Thanks for all of the responses. I think the salt may be a big factor. I used low-sodium chicken broth, and don't tend to salt much as it is. I did use a lot of parmigiano-reggiano, and it was fresh, but I think next time I'll look for a recipe with more interesting flavors (I threw out the recipe and so can't tell you what was in it, but, as I said, it was about as basic as most I've seen). I do smoke, and admit my taste runs toward the spicy/richly flavored, but my husband was also disappointed with both this and the epicurious recipe. After such an experience I hesitate to take the time to make it the old-fashioned way, but I think I'll take all advice into consideration and give it a shot anyway.
                                          Thanks again to all of you, it's much appreciated.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: frankiecrawford

                                            Question: did you cut the salt on the tequila shrimp recipe?

                                            As for the risotto, I personally didn't focus on the method of cooking as some others did in my response, as while I think you would have achieved a better texture with the risotto cooking it the traditional way, I don't think that was the reason your outcome lacked flavor. You *WILL* like risotto better if you make it by the traditional method, btw. With the right rice, and the slow addition of liquid, you will achieve a very nice texture that makes it comparable to any cooked pasta dish as a satisfying main course. The texture is all in the method. The flavor, however, is all in the seasonings.

                                            A dish like risotto, like any rice or potato or pasta dish, needs a lot of seasoning, including and probably most importantly salt, to taste good. Pasta, you usually don't focus on seasoning the noodles themselves, because the sauce is where the flavor is. Mashed potatoes, you have to add a LOT of salt to have them stand up on their own. Typically, they are a side so you don't have to season them overly as they are not the center of the dish. Risotto *is* usually the center of the plate, and it doesn't have a sauce to cover it, so you have to season it well, which includes probably more salt than you are used to adding to a dish. If you used low sodium broth, even with the parmesan, you probably just had a bland dish that could have been made fantastic with a shake of the salt shaker. Salt has traditionally been one of the most valued spices in the universe, precisely because it brings out the flavor in otherwise bland food. Try it next time you find a dish that you've prepared tastes bland. And do try risotto again, on the stovetop!

                                            Thanks for reporting back!

                                          2. I have the same problem. They say add flavor any chance you get, but I disagree... it doesn't work except at the end.

                                            Here is what I do:

                                            Heat to Smoke 4 Table spoons of EVOO the reduce heat (Usually from 10 to 7 on Electric Stoves -- everyone has their own science)
                                            Add something to infuse with it (Garlic, Shallots, Rosemary.. Etc)
                                            Heat it until edges start to brown then removed from heat and strain into measuring cup.
                                            Clean skillet and re-add "infused EVOO". Add Short/Mid Grain Rice.
                                            Coat evenly with oil and heat for about 3 to 5 mins while stirring. -- This adds no flavor... thought it word but doesn't.

                                            During this you should have a pot of broth mixture (For Seafood Risotto I use Chicken Broth, Clam Juice, Water from can of Crab, and Some more Water) brought to a steam but not boiling. -- Adds a small amount of flavor, but the starch is over powering.

                                            Take a large measuring cup and put at least 1 cup of good white wine (Sauvignon Blanc) and place the measuring cup with wine into the broth mixture (I don't mean pour the wine in, I mean put the measuring up into the hot broth) This heats the wine to the same Temp. -- Can't taste the wine, but this makes a difference in texture for sure. If done cold the rice will just turn out like.. rice... no cream texture will occure. Broth and Wine must be hot or else it stops the cooking process and never lets the starch release.

                                            Once the rice is nice and toasty add the wine and let it reduce, once its smooth and creamy smell the vapor to make sure it doesn't smell of alcohol. The smell of alcohol should only be faint and not take your breath away, the rest will cook out throughout the process.

                                            Then ladle in about 1 and a half ladle of broth mix and simmer until creamy and continue to add more in the same fission. You should have had about 2 cups at least of broth mix, otherwise your rice will not get done.

                                            Once broth is gone and almost boiled down, I had parsley, Butter, and graded cheese, (for the seafood risotto I also add shrimp, crab meat, and blanched snap peas)

                                            After all that.. even this taste bland... The only thing I could do to add flavor anytime was at the end by adding pepper and garlic powder.. maybe some lemon juice.

                                            So... it just goes to show that once you get the technique down, adding flavor is the next part. Maybe I have to much rice, maybe its not the right kind. I guess I need to experiment more, but if you ask me the starch is the culprit to the blandness. My best bet for others as well as myself... play around with different types of rice. Add broth differently.. All the way... little by little... or more and more.

                                            Anyone have a better idea let me know. Thanks!

                                            1. I have never tried to make risotto in a slow cooker, but I have made risotto and used a slow cooker. Slow cooker recipes generally reduce the amount of liquid added to account for the lack of evaporation in the slow cooker. A traditional risotto concentrates flavors, first by adding wine and letting it almost entirely "cook off" and then by adding broth and constantly stirring while the broth is both absorbed and concentrated through evaporation. If the recipe simply cut the amount of broth called for, but did not account for the concentrating of flavors due to evaporation, I am not surprised that it came out a bit bland. I think you could counteract this by adding a stronger broth to the slow cooker (i.e. "pre-evaporate" the broth by boiling it on the stove until reduced a bit, or by adding less water if using a time-saving broth substitute), but this will not do anything for the texture.