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Marcella Hazan uses only meat broth for risotto. I don't really get that.

I have her "Essentials" book out and am fixing a risotto tomorrow. Since she has a chapter on that I gave it a glance and every recipe call for "meat broth." In the intro to the chapter she states "Pure chicken broth becomes distractingly sharp, and so does stock produced in the French manner. Neither is a desirable vehicle for cooking risotto." I admit to being rather taken aback by that. I've only made risotto a half dozen times or so but have only ever used chicken broth. I believe I've read here that some use water. But I'd not heard of meat broth (she doesn't use bones just beef and veal and a very little chicken). She's one of my heroes. I was about to take some of my precious homemade chicken stock out of the freezer but she's gotten me to wondering. Does anyone have any opinions or experience along these lines. Thanks.

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  1. I believe, by the words "pure chicken broth", she means that a broth (stock) used in risotto needs to be mildly flavored and not overpowering. I dilute my chicken stock and/or meat stock by about 1 part stock to two parts water. But I think it's better to do this separately and taste it before introducing it to the risotto.

    1 Reply
    1. re: todao

      That's a really excellent thought. Mine has no seasoning in it but it IS quite chickeny. I DO want it to taste like risotto not chicken. Thanks so much.

    2. I do about the same as todao, if I use stock at all! I too find the "chickeny" taste unpleasant and overpowering if I use it full strength -- imagine my surprise the first time I made risotto with my homemade chicken stock, expecting a rich, wonderful flavor and ending up with porridgey, tasteless glop. Very disappointing.

      1. I cut my stock (chicken, shrimp, lobster, beef, veal, lamb, pork, or roasted veg) 50/50 with water when making risotto. I think this is something you need to play around with to see what you like. I had a wonderful seafood risotto in Italy that had an intense flavor from a mixed seafood stock. I loved it.

        1. I wound up cutting it 50/50 and was pleased with the result. I'm really glad I saw her preference. Then I looked at Batali and he was totally chicken stock :) Chefs!

          1. As far as I am concerned, C. O., meat broth is the only broth. Chicken, because of its distractingly pungent aroma and sour taste has not been, for some time, in my opinion, a suitable ingredient for broth of any kind. Nor by beef broth do I mean dark stock in the French manner made with roasted meat scraps and bones. Broth should be a retiring handmaiden forwarding the flavors of the principal ingredients of the dish wherein it appears. It is just a medium, it is not the message. The only exception is a brodo ristretto, a consomme', a reduced broth in which you might serve passatelli or tortellini.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Polini

              If your chicken broth has a sour taste, you might want to try a new recipe. Something's not right.

              1. re: Polini

                Welcome to Chowhound and thanks, Polini! As you can see, this is a passionate group even about broth for risotto :) You write quite eloquently and I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

              2. I use my chicken stock and a bit of white wine for risotto. Never a sour note.

                Course, I am sixth generation Italian ...

                [insert sideways grinning idiot icon to indicate making a joke]

                1 Reply
                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  And I'm claiming you....
                  Sam's right, though. Chicken stock should absolutely not be sour. There ought to be a lovely chicken-ey essence in a clear Very pale yellow broth with slight bits of chicken fat globules merely and sparcely skimming the surface. That and white wine for the risotto is food for the gods.
                  This person of Italian heritage dating back at least to the 12th century says so.
                  [no icon need be inserted]

                2. The first 20 times or so I made risotto I made it with chicken stock. Then I finally succumbed to Hazan and tried it with homemade beef broth. I didn't care for it. I will say, however, that I didn't use veal in my meat broth b/c veal is a no-no for me, and that I use a very light chicken stock for risotto---usually the liquid from a 1-hour poaching with a few veggies. While there always seem to be extra food police around when it comes to Italian cuisine, it's your personal preference. If you try the meat broth, do report back.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: eight_inch_pestle

                    Risotto is also lovely made with a great homemade veggie stock.

                  2. Jfood is not embarassed to say he uses boxed stocks for his risotto. After he decides of the extras to the dish he grabs the appropriate box. If he is making a wild mushroom, he uses vegetable stock, scallops or shrimp, he uses either a vegetable or fish. Looking for something a little more robust, grabs the beef stock.

                    13 Replies
                    1. re: jfood

                      Is there a brand jfood prefers? While I'll almost always have chicken stock on hand, my freezer is just too small (and I'm frankly not interested) for me to consider making all the various types.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        jfood uses "kitchen basics", lots of choices including veal

                        1. re: jfood

                          will47 also likes "Kitchen Basics" brand. Since he's vegetarian, he's only tried the roasted vegetable one, which might not be as good as home made, but is really pretty good. will47 also dilutes his stock somewhat, and includes some mushroom soaking liquid if he's using dried mushrooms.

                          will47 also really likes talking about himself in the third person.

                          1. re: jfood

                            I also like Kitchen Basics. However, the vegetable stock to me has a most peculiar and unpleasant taste. Also, if I remember correctly it lists a "sweetener made from corn." Is this new-speak for High Frustose Corn Syrup (not that there is anything wrong with that.)

                            1. re: Sinicle

                              I think it was Karl S but could be having a senior moment who pretty much dismissed all store-bought vegetable stock, that water would be better. ???

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Michael Ruhlman is adamant on this:

                                "I cannot say this strongly or loudly enough: DO NOT use canned stock/broth. Use WATER instead. "


                                1. re: allgimbel

                                  I tasted a spoonful of Swanson's chicken broth recently and thought it was fine. Truly. I still would always use my homemade when the stock is playing a major role.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    I'm fine with store bought for most dishes, and homemade when I have it (which truthfully, is not very often).

                                    But when I saw the "someone said..." Ruhlman came to mind and I thought I'd pipe in.

                                    Cooking preferences and taste are all about personal experience and choice. If they weren't, what would we all talk about here?

                                    Happy for the differences among us, and the many happy hours of reading and experimenting such differences have given me here and elsewhere, on the Web and off.

                                    1. re: allgimbel

                                      I agree with you. Plenty of room for lots of things in the Chow-world.

                                  2. re: allgimbel

                                    oh my, all's those great risottos jfood has made and enjoyed with the boxes were for naught. maybe jfood will teach mr ruhlman something the next time he comes over for some home cookin'.

                                    Thankfully jfood is not a lemming and will gladly buck the trend and keep using.

                                    What's the old saying.."Give it to Mikey. Mikey eats everyting." Guess that does not include risotto with boxed broth. he doe not know what he is missing.


                            2. re: c oliver

                              Cooks Illustrated likes the Swanson broths.

                              1. re: joonjoon

                                As do I. Particularly, the organic reduced sodium. If I need to go richer, I add a teaspoon (or more) demi glace that I keep in the fridge.

                                1. re: joonjoon

                                  I used and so tasted in its bare state and I thought it was fine and dandy and like the Kitchen Basics also Thanks all.

                            3. If you like your risotto the way you make it, then make it that way. Just because Marcella says it doesn't mean you have to do it.

                              That said, Marcella's meat broth is fantastic, and it is well worth making to use for those recipes. I make it in big batches, and freeze it in 5 c. quantities so I always have some on hand.

                              13 Replies
                              1. re: Splendid Spatula

                                Good points. I'm thinking that I'll be spending a little more time in 2010 considering homemade stocks.

                                1. re: steve h.

                                  I just don't like anybody saying that THIS is the ONLY way to make anything. That person may even be correct. It just smacks too much of "nothing is authentic or great unless one uses hand-picked morels from the foothills of blahblah".

                                  Many folks don't have the money or the time to spend time gathering ingredients or cooking this or that for hours and must make do with shortcuts.

                                  I've found that some of my shortcuts turned out to be really tasty and great. I admit that homemade meat stock will produce a great risotto, but other risottos may be really good as well.

                                  End of rant.

                                  1. re: oakjoan

                                    No worries.
                                    We've recently had some good success with a homemade fish stock. Time for Deb and me to maybe try a few more. There may even be a demi-glace in my future. Time permitting, of course.
                                    Stocks/sauces may be the new frontier for us. I'm not sure we need a bunch of new recipes.

                                    1. re: oakjoan

                                      you know, now that you mention it, I love Hazen's recipes... BUT there is a strong underlying theme that if the product didn't come from Italy it is sub-par. I tend to get annoyed at times.

                                      1. re: nvcook

                                        Product is important. It burns me to spend lots of time doing things right only to be let down by inferior stuff. It kills me when it happens to my wife (she's 10x the better cook).

                                        On a related note, we spend the better part of every March in Italy. We learned how to shop, cook and eat there. Not to say that Italy is the be-all/end-all, it's not. We've lived many years in Asia and so on. My point is simple: good ingredients are a must for a good meal.

                                        1. re: steve h.

                                          Are you saying you can get good "product" in this country or not? I believe there are some products produced in the country of origin ( Italy or France or Asia) that may in fact be superior, but I don't believe the U.S. totally sucks either. All I was saying is that her cookbook has really good recipes, IF you can ignore the part about how if it's not made, grown or produced in Italy then it is automatically inferior.

                                          1. re: nvcook

                                            I can get very good products here. I insist.

                                      2. re: oakjoan

                                        Couldn't agree with oakjoan and nvcook more. Love Hazan's recipes, but half the time she derides what she concedes are necessary substitutions (since unfortunately we can't all live or summer in the appropriate micro-region of Italy to catch the right fish, trap the right shellfish, or grow the right vegetable ourselves) to the point you wonder she why bothers publishing the recipe in the States at all. Moreover, her overall tone is dictatorial and condescending, and her my-way-or-the-highway attitude is inimical to the entire nature of good home cooking. When I was a younger man and less confident cook it really contributed to her books gathering dust on the shelves. These days I roll my eyes and substitute as I please without a second thought, but I shudder to think about all the aspiring cooks she's turned off, all the young women who never enjoyed good homemade risotto because their boyfriends feared a whiskey-breathed Marcella would materialize out of thin air with a knuckle-rapping ruler if they dared use chicken stock instead of meat broth.

                                        Now, the one thing I will say in Hazan's defense is that many of her recipes were written before the food revolution in the States, at a time when tomatoes were always packaged in plastic wrap and styrofoam and only a few cities had access to decent fish. But speaking as both an editor and a regular home cook, her writing still drives me effing bananas.

                                        1. re: eight_inch_pestle

                                          But that's her personality, I think it makes her books more interesting that they have voice, even an opinionated one, than not.

                                          As an example, I share the following anecdote: I once saw her light up a cigarette during a demonstration years ago, in Boston. There were murmurings in the audience and she looked at us, and said "I smoke." It was quite something. The good old days.

                                          What was more embarrassing about that event was that I went with my mother, who had gone to Marcella's cooking school in Bologna even more years ago. During the chat time at the end, my mom went up and gushed "Marcella, I've brought you my daughter" like I was her sacrifice or something. MH was quite gracious, although I wanted to disappear!

                                      3. re: steve h.

                                        I'm leaning in that direction also. I KNOW that my chicken stock is amazing (not due to the "chef"s" skill) so why wouldn't the others be also.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          The Zuni Cafe cookbook uses chicken stock to make their beef stock. She also uses beef shank exclusively for making beef stock. That is understandable to me simply for the wonderful flavor of the meat and that big 'ole hunk of marrow in the bone. I have beef shanks in the oven as I write (I cook them similar to short ribs).

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            beef, a bit of chicken, a pork bone, pretty much whatever I have, I don't follow it precisely.

                                        2. As is true with most things you cook, it depends. For plain risotto with a mild protein counterpoint it may need to be diluted. Per the direction of a good restaurant chef, who gave me his recipe for mushroom risotto, I used full strength chicken stock. When making a risotto and venison dish he suggested full strength beef stock. Both were excellent.

                                          I usually make my own stock (beef, veal, chicken, vegetable, seafood, rabbit, etc.) from leftover bones and shells. If I need a lot, I'll buy a whole chicken or a big bag of marrow bones. Swanson broths are a fine substitute.

                                          And why do some people here refer to themselves in the third person? Cute or bizarre?

                                          1. Well, I think it might help to consider that, unlike the post-WW2 era, eating chickens was something of a luxury: the primary purpose of chickens was largely for egg-laying, not eating, so eating young chicken was at the wasteful and luxurious end of the thrift vs spendthrift pole. So the idea of chicken broth or stock being universally the default kind of animal-based broth is not something found as typically in old homestyle cooking.

                                            I favor a 50-50 balance of chicken and beef broth, and diluted. Chicken alone is just not right for risotto - makes it too much like arroz con pollo or chicken and rice soup. (Of course, Marcella does not acknowledge that Italian home cooks themselves might take half a cube each of chicken and beef bouillon and use them at half strength for making risotto....).

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: Karl S

                                              Good points. Do you prefer reconstituted cubes to canned broth?

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                The cubes are much easier to keep in my risotto travelling kit....

                                                1. re: Karl S

                                                  So it's like PPaladin, "Have risotto, will travel"?

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    It's just something I can easily bring to make elsewhere, something that other people feel they cannot do as easily.

                                                    1. re: Karl S

                                                      It does always seem special, doesn't it? I'm remembering one I made last spring with black trumpet mushrooms from our growers market. So wonderful.

                                            2. I find that any pure stock or broth that I like as is can make some kind of good risotto, provided I watch the sodium levels. Maybe not always the BEST risotto, though. I have not tried veggie stocks. One of my favorite risotto stocks is made from leftover crab and/or shrimp shells. Delicate but delicious.

                                              For store-bought: Swanson's has a chicken "cooking stock" now in a carton, which Cooks Illustrated says is better than their normal products for applications with evaporation. (The idea, I guess, is that Swanson's normal canned stock is aiming to be a ready-to-go soup base for chicken noodle soups. etc.) I tried it once and it was fine. Not dramatically better than low salt regular Swanson's stock, but seemingly a bit better.

                                              I even mix stock types. For instance, I LOVE to saute some shrimp or squid