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Why can't I make Risotto?

I give up.

Here is basically what I do:

Cook onion in olive oil, add arbiorio rice and cook until it turns translucent, deglaze with white wine, when wine evaporates, add hot stock a little at a time, waiting until it almost evaporates before adding more, until the rice is done. Once rice is done, add your other flavoring ingredients such as cheese, veg, etc.

EVERYTIME I end up with a gross mess of sticky, clumpy rice that doesn't taste good at all. I took a class recently where the instructor said the trick was not to let the stock cook all the way out before adding more. I watched him carefully and otherwise he didn't seem to do anything different than I usually do, and yet his risotto was nice and cramy, with a sauce instead of something that looks like cold oatmeal.

Can anyone fill me in on the subtle nuainces that I am missing here?

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  1. Many possible issues here, although your basic technique seems sound. If it does not taste good, I suggest you think first about salt--there needs to be enough, but not too much, in the hot stock. Another possible issue: it is true that you need to add more stock before the previous amount has been absorbed or evaporated. In my experience, a crucial stage for risotto involves taking it to pretty much "done," in terms of bite texture, and then : (1) making sure it has some extra moisture from the stock, and (2) covering it off of heat for about ten minutes, when it can absorb the extra moisture. After that step, I sometimes add some parmesan and a tablespoon or two of butter or cream, but the texture should already be close to what you're wanting.

    1. I took a class twice, one by myself and the second time with my wife so we could get an extra set of ears, eyes and hands on the project.

      I use a wooden spoon and a rounded bottom and edges caphelon pot.

      Do not over mix it, and when you do mix it, do it gently. You could also be over cooking it.

      Good luck.

      1. You didn't mention stirring in your post; I assume you are but? Gentle, constant stirring is the technique you want. The finished rice grains should have some tooth, be creamy and have a slight resistant. They should not stick together, as in your sticky, clumpy rice. I think you might be overcooking the risotto by a few feet.

        Risotto take a bit pf practice, practice, practice and concentration when cooking. Keep at it and you'll get the technique down; success will be yours.

        That said, I defer to Bada Bing's advice for finishing the dish.

        1. Definitely finish with butter. Take it off the heat before it absorbs all the final addition of liquid.

          When judging when to add liquid, keep in mind you want to maintain a somewhat fluid consistency at all times. It should never be either runny or sticky.

          What really improved my risotto was learning that the stock not only has to be hot, but hot enough that the risotto never loses the simmer when the stock is added. For years I had been making risotto that had a mushy outer texture when the inside of the grain was just cooked through, and I could never figure out why -- I'm convinced it was my stock being too cold.

          Definitely make sure you're not overcooking. If you cut into the grain, it should offer a little resistance, and be just past the point where there is still white in the centre of the kernel.

          Good luck!

          5 Replies
          1. re: Whats_For_Dinner

            I agree that you need to keep the stock hot enough, keep the rice moving gently etc... I add more stock when I pull the spoon across the bottom of the pan and the bottom isn't immediately covered up by stock, I find that as a foolproof indicator. Also, I hate to ask but, are you using the right kind of rice?

            1. re: Lenox637

              That was my question, maybe it's not, but OP did say arborio. I think you can also make it w/carnale(sp?) as well. Short grained, but make sure it's not sushi rice.

              Also, what about your pot or your heat, maybe heat is up too high, or your pot conducts it so well, is it Cast iron? I use le creuset, which is CI, but note that I usually have to turn the heat way down, or even switch to a smaller burner. Also, you should only be adding a 1/2 cup of stock at a time, too much may make it cook longer, thereby overcooking it.

              Lastly, have you looked into some of the oven recipes? Maybe one of those will work for you, and bonus is no stirring ;). Hope that helps, good luck!!

              1. re: Phurstluv

                It's Carnaroli, which some peple think is actually a better risotto rice choice than the traditional arborio.

                Here's a link with a little info on and explanation of various rices that may be used for risotto, among other dishes:

                http://www.finecooking.com/articles/o...

            2. re: Whats_For_Dinner

              This method (What's_For_Dinner's ) works for me.
              I think the OP is letting the final addition of stock cook through to a moist but not dry stage. If removed while the risotto is still creamy, the additions can go in and it will be good. But the additions themselves do not add creaminess, that has to be there first.

            3. Why bother? Someone gave me Barbara Kafka's recipe for microwave risotto <duck, avoid flames> and it worked beautifully. Would we expect less from her?
              Yes, I had initial reservations about throwing centuries of tradition out the window, but why not go with a winner? I've been making it this way ever since.
              http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/mem...
              There are other recipes that allow you to make it in a closed vessel in the oven. Try those too.
              Time marches on. There's nothing really sacred about all that stirring - unless you're getting your kicks and have the time and patience. No one will know the difference.
              Kafka's recipe makes beautiful risotto. Just buy the right variety of rice and you'll be fine.

              3 Replies
              1. re: MakingSense

                Dear God, you've changed my life, Making Sense! I am embarrassed to admit that while I know (and like) Barbara Kafka, have cooked from her MICROWAVE book forever, I completely missed the MW risotto. It's never too late for an Epiphany. Thank you.

                Many years ago, with the MIL-from-Hell, I always chose to serve either risotto or polenta when she visited because that would keep her out of my hair for a good 30 minutes while she stirred, stirred, stirred at the stove wearing her best martyr grimace. I could disappear, have a stiff drink and reappear in a much better frame of mind...... all in the name of family harmony.

                1. re: Sherri

                  LOL. I can't solve the MIL-from-hell problem, but, Good Lord! look at this thread! It's just damned rice.
                  Barbara Kafka is an eminently sensible woman and a great cook. Her MW recipe works. I got sick of the big fat hairy deal and tried her method. It worked. Why screw with success? Try it. Life changing? Maybe not. But it makes it easier.
                  Relax and have that drinkie.

                2. re: MakingSense

                  Ok, I'm a little late to party but I agree that the traditional stand over the stovetop and constantly stir technique isn't the only way to make a tasty risotto. While I haven't tried the microwave method, I have made it before in the pressure cooker where you simply saute the aromatics and rice then dump the stock into the PC and let it go. In about 7 minutes you have a perfect, creamy risotto that no one can tell is any different than one made in the traditional manner.

                  Personally, I enjoy the traditional method of making risotto but when I'm short on time or cooking for a large group, the PC short cut works beautifully.

                3. The only thing I do differently than you is I have a magic battery run device called a "StirChef" that sits on top of the saucepan and stirs with full-width thermo-plastic blades the entire time. When I try to make risotto by stirring myself, well... forgedaboudid! I got better things to do. My guess is that constant stirring is the trick. I HAVE seen OTHER PEOPLE make "decent" risottos without stirring every single second until the dish is done, but I'm unable to do that so I bought myself this magic little machine, and now I make good risotto!

                  In case you're interested, I think they've stopped making StirChefs, but I have seen them on eBay. And there is a new product that stirs for you on the market, but I forget what it's called. Same idea, different body style, as I recall.

                  No guarantee your problem is in your stirring technique, but who knows?

                  1. Two things:

                    1. You're almost certainly cooking it too hot. Try turning your heat down by at least a third and see if that does it. Risotto takes a long time -- at least 30-35 minutes. Sometimes up to an hour.

                    2. Don't "deglaze" with wine. Your first addition of liquid should be WARMED wine, which you cook with the rice till it's just absorbed. If you're truly deglazing it to a dry state, that's a big part of the problem.

                    You'll get it -- I promise. Just take your time and above all else, don't stress out. Even though I don't believe in anything supernatural, I still like to say food can taste your fear. Conquer that rice, dangit!

                    1. Everything was going along swimmingly until you said this:

                      Once rice is done, add your other flavoring ingredients such as cheese, veg, etc.

                      *ding*

                      Add veg, that's fine, hopefully it's blanched, depending on the veg.

                      But the reason that you end up with a clump is that you add cheese over heat. Get everything together to your liking, remove from burner/heat for about a minute, and then add cheese- wait- what cheese are you adding? and stir. Should be a hard grating cheese, preferably parmigiano reggiano in a fine grate, but if you are adding something softer, that will bind up.

                      I deglaze with the white wine every time, that's not your problem.

                      1. I think that Marcella Hazan's technique for making risotto is pretty much no fail. If you don't have her book or don't want to own it, try your local library. As an aside, I find that when it's time to add the cheese, the rice needs to have more liquid than you might think is correct. The cheese thickens the rice, and as the rice is very hot at this point, liquid will continue to evaporate, thus thickening it even more.

                        1. Hows the flavor/quality of your stock? That can be the source of your flavor issues. Is it homemade?

                          Are you adding enough salt? Finishing with butter/cream after its taken off the stove also improves flavor and texture.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: QSheba

                            You certainly do have to add HOMEMADE stock every time, I never do.

                              1. re: pikawicca

                                Mistyped, meant to say adding homemade stock is NOT necessary. Sorry for any confusion.

                                1. re: Phurstluv

                                  Whew, Phurstluv, thanks for the clarification... the 87 y.o. Italian Mother who taught me how to make risotto only uses College Inn stock from the can...

                          2. Risotto stays very hot for much longer than most foods so basically it's going to keep cooking after you take it off the heat. You're probably not adding enough liquids at the end and then cooking it too long.

                            If it tastes bad then ditch the recipe you're using and use something else.

                            1. IMHO, one crucial stage of risotto making is not to let too much liquid evaporate/absorb before adding more. Your goal is to have enough liquid that it will absorb into the rice while simultaneously coaxing starch out of it, which will give you the creamy texture. If too much liquid evaporates or absorbs into the grain, then there is not enough liquid in the pan for the starch to go, causing it to coagulate on the grains and you will get the clumpy mess you described.

                              Try adding more liquid before it is all gone, there should always be some in the pan, when the grains taste done (al dente) the remaining liquid will absorb into the grains in the bowl.

                              Good luck!

                              1. Sounds like you didn't stir enough. The only part of your procedure that sounds awry is your language about waiting for things to evaporate. I don't ever feel like I'm waiting when I'm making risotto. My ceaseless stirring helps soften the rice and create a creamy texture.

                                1. I agree with Bada Bing that the outlines of what you're doing seem fine.

                                  For the texture part of taste:
                                  Ditto the above-posters' concerns about stirring while waiting and temperature. I stir gently and very often and use medium-low temperature (using cast-iron pan.) It takes a while.

                                  If the rice ends up sticky/clumpy when "done," that suggests to me "overdone," as it does to others. As "done" doesn't necessarily mean "when you've added all the stock the recipe calls for," perhaps your particular brand/bag/box of rice doesn't require as much liquid as the recipe suggests in order to achieve the final firmness that you'd want? Rice can be very variable.

                                  I remove the risotto from the heat when the rice is done to my desired firmness and with enough liquid left for it to be a bit saucy, rather than evaporating all the liquid at the end. If it's going to rest before being consumed, per Bada Bing, I'll make sure it has relatively more liquid -- but also that the grains aren't really soft when I remove the pan from the heat.

                                  As for the flavor part of tasting good:
                                  The quality of the stock matters. Would you enjoy drinking it on its own? I don't use stock with very much salt and I salt the final dish if wanted.
                                  The wine also matters. Do you like to drink the wine you use in the cooking?
                                  Also, I don't use olive oil at all, as for me it adds bitterness. So I sweat the onion in butter.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: pericolosa

                                    I realize this is an old thread, but I think one of the keys is a proper pan. I'm a big fan of Le Creuset for making risotto. I made a larger batch of risotto recently for company in a good-quality Cuisinart pan and had difficulty managing the temperature. The risotto was fine in the end but took much longer than I expected. The second key is the stock. I think you're better using water than canned broth. I usually use chicken stock or occasionally a shrimp stock, depending on the type of risotto, but I frequently dilute the stock with water. For example, a delicate lemon risotto will be overpowered if the stock is too strong. I think the toughest part is determining just when it's done, which is really just about tasting and practice. My husband learned to make very good risotti from friends in Italy and he is NOT a big cook. If he can learn, I think anyone can.