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Creamy Risotto

Risotto is a dish that escapes me. Its something that i cant seem to even approximate restaurant-quality at home. I have a deep suspicion that the Chef's are plowing in way more butter or cream or something to get that creamy texture.

I have decent recipe's from Marcella Hazan, Biba , Jamie Oliver et. al.

I admit, I am using packaged broth and an average quality arborio rice (not canaroli etc etc). I cannot cook it in 18 minutes, its more like 22 mins. Even with lots of aggressive pushing and rolling there is no big "releasing" of starch. I will stir in a decent amount of butter and some Reggiano to finish.

So tell me - what is the REAL secret to getting creamy risotto?

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  1. I get good results from Calrose medium grain rice. It has a lot of starch. It also makes a real creamy rice pudding. I've tried Trader Joe's arborio rice and was disappointed in the risotto and rice pudding that it made.

    1. 1. Packaged broth contains almost no collagen/gelatin. Gelatin may not provide creaminess, exactly, but it will contribute to a more unctuous mouthfeel. When all is said and done, packaged broth is pretty much colored water with lots of salt. If you want restaurant quality risotto, you have to put the time in and make stock. Nothing else will do.

      2. Don't get hung up on the quality of the arborio. Most restaurants lack the budget for specialty arborio. Just make sure you get it from a place with half decent turnover. Rice, like other dried products such as beans, isn't immortal. The older it gets, the more moisture it loses and the harder it is for moisture to penetrate (think about flash flooding after droughts).

      3. Don't get caught up on time. It's done when it's done. I can pretty much guarantee you that you're worrying so much about it being al dente, you're undercooking it. Unless you're rice is very fresh, it takes at least a half hour for risotto. I've had very old rice that took 50 minutes to cook, but that's the exception. The longer you cook rice, the more starch it releases, the creamier the consistency.

      Summing up, make your own stock, use fresh rice, and, most importantly, cook it longer.

      1. Classic risotto does not have any butter or cream. Cheese is only used as a garnish, not mixed into the rice. As others mentioned, the quality of the stock is key. Buying the right rice is important too, it's worth spending a few dollars more to get high quality arborio. Also, make sure you are adding the liquid a little at a time, if you put too much in at once (especially towards the end) you can mess up the texture. You have to develop a feel for when it's ready more than following a set amount of minutes.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Shane Greenwood

          No butter in a classic risotto? Most Italian cooks make the soffrito by sauteing the onion in butter and they add a tablespoon or so of butter at the end (the "mantecare" step) to give the dish an even creamier texture. So do I and I wouldn't think of omitting the butter, unless I'm making risotto with a creamy cheese like fontina or gorgonzola dolce.

          Without knowing the exact steps that marcharry (the OP) followed, it's hard to pinpoint what went wrong. I agree that old rice can take longer to soften. If it only took 22 minutes, that's not unusually long. I don't think that using store-bought broth is the problem. You could make risotto with plain water, although it wouldn't be very tasty. Did you cook the rice in the butter for a couple of minutes before you started adding broth? I don't think you need to resort to "aggressive pushing and rolling," which can have the undesirable effect of breaking some of the grains and also push some grains up the sides of the pan where they are not cooking int he liquid. You just need to stir the rice constantly and gently. Also, the next time you buy rice, try carnaroli instead of arborio, which is less forgiving and can go from undercooked to mush fairly quickly. Don't give up. Risotto is a dish that takes a little practice, but the end result is worth it!

          1. re: cheesemaestro

            There are as many risotto recipes as there are cooks in Italy. Butter is not always included, but yes, you will find lots of recipes that call for it. The point is that the creamy texture doesn't come from the butter, cream, or cheese.

            1. re: cheesemaestro

              Don't forget that marrow is also a classic fat addition in Milanese risotti.

          2. An ad on another site for this recipe is actually the first thing that got me to visit Chow: http://www.chow.com/stories/11492/10?...

            I made it last spring, and it turned out wonderfully--creamy and flavorful. I'm looking forward to trying some other variations of risotto this winter.

            1. I have done it 20+ times its not about practice.

              Are you folks telling me that you can create restaurant quality risotto with those tips? Really? I have tried it with Carnaroli, my grains are not breaking from stirring. The risotto world generally falls somewhere 18 and 25 minutes.

              Fresh rice - could be a factor

              There has to be something else

              8 Replies
              1. re: marcharry

                Wasn't there a recent-ish ep. of No Reservations in which Tony had the ULTIMATE risotto? The trick in that was that the chef stirred and tossed and shook the living hell out of the stuff, off the stove -- kind of like emulsifying it, I guess? Anyway, it was creamy as could be. I tried it and was pleased with the results.

                But the thing that made a big difference for me was using WATER instead of most of the stock. I was using gorgeous gelatinized homemade stock and ending up with sticky, soupy, weird risotto. Talk about a "WTF?" experience! When I switched to using water, suddenly I had perfectly cooked, sexy, unctuous risotto, with just as much flavor as when I had used stock. I won't go back. Part of the magic of risotto is that it's more than the sum of its parts. So I use a splash of white wine, a splash of stock, and the rest, just plain water.

                1. re: LauraGrace

                  The Cooks-Illustrated version calls for wine, and then a mixture of half water-half stock. I found this to be just right.

                2. re: marcharry

                  One other aspect occurred to me. How much liquid are you adding at a time? You might want to try adding less, so it's generally a little bit dryer as it cooks. It's been a while, but I think I add a half a ladle at a time.

                  I have few holes in my food science and risotto is one of them, but I thnk it would be common sense that less 'free' water should result in less lubrication for the grains, which should release more. Maybe :)

                  1. re: scott123

                    You add liquid (a combo of stock/wine/even vermouth) "just to cover the rice" and slow cooking with frequent (constant is not necessary) stirring will result in release of starch.
                    "Most restaurants lack the budget for specialty arborio." but if restaurants are going to make risotto, I don't see why they would not fit a speciality rice into the food cost.
                    Compared to the cost of seafood, meat and dairy products, even at wholesale, arborio or carnaroli is cheaper with higher yield/less waste.

                    1. re: bushwickgirl

                      Last time I checked the price difference between arborio and carnaroli was pretty drastic on the retail level. I'm sure that when you get into wholesale that margin narrows, but... with the razor thin margins in the restaurant industry, I just can't see most chefs shelling out those extra few cents. Some, sure, but not most.

                    2. re: scott123

                      It's interesting, isn't it, that, from the standpoint of technique, there are so many diametrically opposed instructions, each claiming to yield the perfect risotto. For example:

                      - You recommend adding less liquid each time (1/2 a ladleful), while RetiredChef below states that in his restaurant and in most other restaurants, all of the liquid is added at once.

                      - Stir the rice in the butter/oil for 1 minute vs. 2-3 minutes vs. 3-5 minutes vs. 5-7 minutes (Alton Brown) before adding the wine and broth.

                      - Stir constantly and gently vs. stir vigorously vs. stir occasionally (again, Alton Brown).

                      - Add the wine at room temperature or even heat it up first, so as not to shock the rice, which causes the grains to resist softening. Many sources advise this, yet a chef who owns a well-known restaurant in Italy insists that the wine must be cold, because the rice needs to be shocked! That advice appears in Saveur magazine #25 and can also be found on Saveur's website.

                      These contradictory methods can't all be right, can they? It would seem that some of them should be dead wrong and following them will result in a subpar risotto. Or should the counterintuitive conclusion rather be that they all work and it doesn't really matter?


                      1. re: cheesemaestro

                        "- You recommend adding less liquid each time (1/2 a ladleful), while RetiredChef below states that in his restaurant and in most other restaurants, all of the liquid is added at once."

                        In all fairness, my recommendation to add less liquid was based on a theory. I think it's worth trying both ways- all the liquid at once (or heavy on the liquid) or a little at a time. One should produce superior results.

                        And 2-7 minutes, I wouldn't necessarily call that contradictory.

                        Lastly, if Alton Brown's recommendations are on the outskirts, I would probably rule them out, regardless of his scientific background. At least on risotto. On mayo, I'd differ to him completely. But not on risotto.

                    3. Paul Prudhomme Risotto’s were legendary in creaminess, his secret; he added cream, butter and cheese.

                      The way I made Risotto in the restaurant; it will probably have the purist’s wanting me banned from Chowhound but here it goes.

                      We would sauté ahead of time the onion, garlic, shallots, etc – whatever you are using. At home sauté them in the pot and then REMOVE them.

                      Then when an order was called in a pot with olive oil (not butter) was gotten hot and the portion of rice (arborio is all we used) was added. It was than cooked in the oil over medium high heat stiring constantly for about 5-7 minutes (If you rush this step you will not get creamy, they rice should turn translucent in nature.)

                      When it’s translucent toss back in your aormatics give it a quick stir and add your wine/acid ingredient. Reduce 90%. Then are you ready for it add in ALL of the hot stock to the pan, it should boil immediately, reduce to simmer.

                      Hate to burst everyone’s bubble but adding one ladle of stock at a time, stirting till it reduces then adding the next ladle is too time consuming in a real commercial kitchen. Plus you get distracted, you burn the rissotto. Do it at home if you like but this is how we did it and got great reveiws and the creamy consistency that the OP wants.

                      (NOTE: don’t complain that this isn’t the “risotto” method, I know, but I would bet 90-95% of all restaurants in the country cook it it this way.)

                      When it is 98% done, turn off stove, we added some butter and pecorino romano stired and then covered and LET SIT for 2 minutes – stired again and plated. Easy, creamy nice. With this method it took us about 30 minutes from the time the rice hit the oil till it was plated.

                      FWIW – We knew the exact amount of liquid needed to cook the exact amount of rice so there was no guess work. For me to tell you is pointless because different rice, storage of rice, age, etc will change the amounts. Also if you are looking for a nice arborio rice, costco’s is very good.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: RetiredChef

                        EXACTLY! I knew something was going on. In part because what chef is standing there stirring risotto! thanks for the admission

                      2. Alton Brown did an episode where he gets into the food science behind risotto. Here's a link to a video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWXwEQ...

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Shane Greenwood

                          Many years ago I found a recipe from one of the Hotel restaurants in Paris known for its' Risotto, (can't remember which one) added a couple of tbls. of 35% cream to finish .
                          Purist or not, I he been using this method ever since, and my Risotto is amazingly creamy.

                        2. I use a pressure cooker, and it takes about 7 minutes without any stirring. Just throw the ingredients in and make sure the pressure stays as it should. The method is good, but not mind-blowing. Still, much better than most things you can have on the table in less than 15 minutes.
                          That said, I think the secret really is cream, butter and cheese.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: suby

                            Yes, for such a quick method it makes pretty good risotto. For regular dinners it is perfect. Do follow the steps above by RetiredChef regarding frying the rice for a bit first.

                          2. I'm with you--i can never make risotto at home that's as good as what i get in restaurants--in Italy. (restaurants in the USA are another matter. Most of the risotto I get here is terrible, with a few exceptions. But I'm always an optimist and order it because i love risotto) Here's a few observations:

                            1) I don't think it's the stock. I've had great risotto at restaurants in italy that i guarantee were using broth made from bouillon cubes.

                            2) the closest i've ever come is following jamie oliver's instructions to add in some butter and cheese, stir briskly and then cover and let sit for two minutes. the sitting for two minutes seems to do something.

                            3) also, i get best results if i add a little stock at a time and cook it until it really does disappear almost completely, over medium heat. Too much stock, or too low heat, and i find things get gummy.

                            4) It's my understanding that a lot of restaurants parcook their risotto, then spread it out on sheet pans and chill it, then take an order's worth and finish cooking it when an order comes in. Perhaps this does something to the texture which i prefer to actual homemade risotto.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: missmasala

                              Oh, and most recipes omit something restaurants and professionals assume any idiot would know to do: serve it on a properly warmed plate/bowl. Serving risotto in a tepid or cold plate is a great way to turn something excellent into something that is merely good or mediocre. Ditto for many pasta and other dishes.

                            2. I'm a line cook at a great local restaurant and have made over 200 servings of risotto in a single night. I've also done a stint at culinary school. That being said, I probably forget all the science behind cooking risotto. Anyway, compared to the restaurant environment, the only real differences to making risotto at home are volume and heat. You can get all the same ingredients for home. Volume probably only matters in terms of familiarity with the process but other than that, we're left with heat as the difference between home and restaurant risotto. In the restaurant we're basically cooking everything with the highest possible temperature appropriate for the dish because of timing for service. We don't know low heat. It seems the heat helps the risotto release the starch and result in the creamy texture of the finished dish.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Den

                                Ya - thats why i noted the cooking time. Lat time i pushed the heat to get to around 25 mins.

                                Higher the heat - the faster the absorbtion presumably - how long to cook your R.?

                                Are you saying that you followed the classic method otherwise.

                              2. The real secret is to loosen the outer layer of starch that is on each grain of Arborio rice during the cooking process through constant stirring over low heat, rather than cooking it like regular rice.

                                All white rice has a starch layer that remains on the outside of the kernal after the hull is ground off, making it "white" rice instead of "brown". By stirring constantly, and not adding too much warm broth or water at once, you release the kernal's starchy layer and suspend the starch in the liquid. This is why instructions usually call for adding one ladle of cooking liquid at a time -- you don't want cold liquid or too much liquid to interrupt that process. It is a very labor intensive dish. This is why I don't make it that often, but do make lots and lots of other rice dishes that can cook unattended in a rice cooker or on the stovetop with minimal attention.

                                That said, lots of chefs add cream or Parmesan cheese at the end in order to flavor the rice, so you may be seeing some of the creaminess due to the add-ins, rather than the rice itself.

                                Don't give up on it. Alton Brown suggests using an electric kettle to keep your chicken stock warm for the 45 minutes it will take to cook. Also, be sure to use Arborio rice. Basmati and Cal Rose are okay, but Jasmine won't work and will absolutely affect the final outcome.

                                Good luck.

                                1. I've always been lucky with risotto-boiling rice different story. I always toast the rice for a few minutes before I add the stock. I don't know if that makes a difference.

                                  I don't add butter or any dairy. I add the rest of the flavouring ingredients in the last two minutes of cooking. Don't know if this will help or if I was just lucky.

                                  1. A cruise line executive chef taught me to make risotto and his *secret* is to glide a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan and to only add in more broth when the liquid did not fill in the void left by the gliding spoon. That way you get just the right ratio of rice to broth.