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Aug 14, 2013 09:59 AM

Risotto -- can I make it ahead?

I'm planning a meal for company where the entree will include grilled veal chops and risotto Milanese. Can I prepare the risotto, or even partially prepare it -- maybe not adding the Parmesan cheese until serving -- earlier in the day and then reheat it at serving time without sacrificing the quality of the finished dish? Thanks!

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  1. I've never had much luck with reheating risotto and keeping that "risotto" like texture. It's still good, but it's different and not like freshly done risotto.

    What about doing a baked risotto that way you can still have risotto without having to give it tons of attention? I've used this method with great success:

    1. Yes, you can parcook the risotto and finish it just before serving. It's commonly done in restaurants. I would not make it fully and reheat it. Using the method below, the key is to cool the parcooked risotto quickly to stop the cooking.

      Here's a CH thread on how to do it, with some added discussion:

      In short:
      Cook about 75% of done. Do not add Cheese or other finishing ingredients.
      Spread out on a sheet pan to cool quickly.
      To finish add Risotto to some of the hot stock stirring do one more addition of stock
      Then add Butter, Cheese etc... to finish
      Though not traditional, I like a little Lemon Juice at the end to brighten up the flavor.

      There's also the suggestion of using carnaroli rice instead of arborrio as carnaroli is more forgiving when parcooking.

      Many folks say that the final product isn't as good as making it in the traditional way, but I've had some excellent risottos at restaurants where they clearly don't make it per order from scratch (I've also had some bad ones).

      2 Replies
      1. re: foreverhungry

        Anne Burrell recommends getting as far as the second addition of liquid before pulling. Before serving, do the third addition and finish. Her instructions should be on that foodnetwork site.

        1. re: foreverhungry

          Similar to the method we use at home often. Totally fine. Definitely cool quickly after the first steps. My mom is not from Italy, but we do "know rice."
          Or, you could enlist your guests to each do a little stirring "shift". Depending upon who the company is, of course.

        2. If it's worth cooking, it's worth cooking correctly. Par-cooked risotto is sub-par, it doesn't have the same texture and you lose some of the starch that makes it creamy. IF all you have ever had is restaurant risotto and you like it then you will be okay with the par-cooked method but personally I wouldn't really enjoy it. YMMV

          14 Replies
          1. re: RetiredChef

            Agree with RetiredChef. I never really got the point of risotto till I learned to make it at home. I love that you can get it to the exact point of creaminess that you love. But that is also why I don't usually make it for company. I'll do it when it's family members who don't care if I'm hanging out stirring for half an hour or more :-).

            1. re: grayelf

              My recommendation is to use pearl barley instead of rice. You don't have to add liquid by the ladle while cooking. It takes about 50 minutes to cook, but aside from a occasional gentle stir, it requires little attention. You can hold it for hours then reheat, add a knob of butter or a drizzle of good oil, stir and finish with fresh herbs or cheese or whatever your final seasoning is.

            2. re: RetiredChef

              I agree that in general par-coooked risotto isn't as good as risotto done traditionally. I've never par-cooked risotto, and make it at home regularly. When I make it, it's knowing that I'll be at the stove for 40 minutes or so, and the rest of the meal is planned around the risotto.

              All of that said, I've had very good risotto in restaurants, including in Italy, and I didn't wait 40 minutes for it. So it is possible to short-cut it. Like most things, there's likely a methodology to follow to get the most out of par-cooked risotto. It's not my thing, but I also won't knock it because it appears some restaurants can do it well. I'd be hard pressed to believe that no restaurant in the world can make an excellent risotto without having to take the 40 minutes or so it takes to make it the traditional way. Is that what you're implying, that there is no restaurant version that's high quality without making the customer wait 40 minutes for their dish?

              1. re: foreverhungry

                Here is the short answer - par-cooked risottos can range from terrible to excellent for a par-cooked product but they never match the same creaminess, texture or taste of the real thing. I will also say that most people couldn't tell the difference because so few have had true risotto so par-cooking is fine for most people.

                As far as restaurants serving risotto, I have been to two different risotto restaurants in Italy during a culinary tour. When you arrived you were given a choice of the risottos that would be available in the next 0-15 minutes. When you eat this risotto and then compare it to par-cooked restaurant risotto you will have a hard time going back. As someone said on another forum, ignorance is bliss, before this experience I was OK with par-cooked risotto, after this, not-so-much.

                1. re: RetiredChef

                  "...most people couldn't tell the difference because so few have had true risotto "

                  How would I know if I've ever had "true risotto"?

                  1. re: CindyJ

                    "How would I know if I've ever had "true risotto"?"

                    IMO, this i like folks proclaiming they've had the best steak, best paella, best bouillabaisse, best etc. Yes, there are classic versions. And yes,many people claim to be able to make the best. In its essence, risotto is a peasant dish, like many dishes are. So the "it can only be done one way" is bull. Yes, there are superb versions, but that doesn't mean that a home version, with whatever stock you have, added however you want, isn't a great risotto.

                    Two general comments about risotto that are sure to draw reactions:

                    1. Most folks draw towards risotto Milanese as the gold standard. Which uses saffron as a main ingredient. Which is interesting, being that saffron isn't native to anywhere in Italy.

                    2. Most folks say the stock is the most important ingredient. I disagree. The rice is the most important. Flavored stock takes the place of good rice, just like with pasta sauce flavors mediocre pasta. A solid risotto can be made with excellent rice, water, and a small quantity of excellent butter and cheese. I've had it at my grandmother's, and for her making "risotto" was an easy side dish, and still the best I've ever had.

                    1. re: foreverhungry

                      Appreciate your comments, foreverhungry, especially about the peasant origins of so many classic dishes. Karen Hess once wrote that the history of cooking is largely one of housewives creating something interesting from ingredients the gentry wouldn't touch.

                      However this is a red herring IMO: "Most folks draw towards risotto Milanese as the gold standard. ... Which is interesting, being that saffron isn't native to anywhere in Italy."

                      Tomatoes aren't native to Italy either, nor corn (maize), as in polenta. Potatoes aren't native to Germany or Ireland. Hot peppers aren't native to Goa or Sichuan, whose cuisines are famous for using them. Paprika peppers not only aren't native to Hungary, but are even (among all these examples) a comparatively recent arrival there, mid-1800s.

                      Spain ruled Milan for two centuries from 1535. Spain had gotten saffron from Arabs in AD 960 (acc. to Alan Davidson in the authoritative OCF -- I don't bother with online sources for food history since so many of them, Wikipedia for instance, are often badly wrong). In Spain, saffron is the traditional seasoning for most rice dishes such as paella and arroz con pollo. Root in "The Food of Italy" calls Milanese risotto a descendant of paella, adding that Saffron, once discovered in Milan, became "almost too popular" there; one cook used it so obsessively he was nicknamed Zafferano, and at his wedding dinner, joking friends slipped saffron into everything served.

                      So saffron does have considerable history in Latin Europe, much longer, actually, than all those new-world plants I just mentioned, which largely spread through Europe in the 1600s and 1700s.

                      I make Risotto Milanese less because anyone thinks of it as a gold standard, than because it can be one if the most exquisite dishes I've ever tasted.

                      1. re: eatzalot

                        Thanks for the history of saffron in Italy. Interesting stuff! I'll have to look into the sources you quoted, the history of food is rich indeed, and I should know more about it.

                        Great point about it not really mattering whether saffron is native to Italy or not. I admittedly overstepped there.

                        But I do get a bit feisty when I hear (read) folks say that a good quality risotto can't be made using the par-cooking method. I'd be willing to bet that a skilled individual can make a better par-cooked risotto than many folks do making it the traditional way. I've had some excellent risottos in restaurants, and some bad risottos made the traditional way.

                        Yes, a risotto Milanese is sublime, and a true one can't be par-cooked.

                        1. re: foreverhungry

                          I suggest that you take time to re-read my comments - Once again I have always said that par-cooked risotto ranges from crap to very good. . . FOR par-cooked risotto. The same is true for risotto from scratch. But when you comparing is the BEST made from scratch risotto with the best par-cooked risotto they are worlds apart.

                          This has a lot to do with the science of par-cooking rice grains, i.e., the release of amylopectin and it's retrogradation and the loss of some of the starch during cooling. While being stored the conversion of amylose to sugar and the resultant increase in acrylamide levels. And finally when reheated the resultant overcooking of the outer part of the grain resulting in the mushy outside that is so prevalent in par-cooked risotto.

                          The bottom line is science tells us that par-cooking rice and then reheating it changes not only it's texture, but it will have a different taste, albeit very small but most importantly it will lose some of its starch which is critical in making a truly excellent risotto.

                          1. re: RetiredChef

                            I agree 100% with you that the best traditional risotto will be better than the best par-cooked risotto, and I believe I said as much above. But that's not really the comparison at issue here.

                            Here, we're not talking about an expert risotto maker, who's made hundreds of dishes, and has access to top quality ingredients. We're talking about a home cook - at least I'm assuming the OP to be a reasonably skilled home cook rather than an expert risotto maker with access to top quality ingredients (if I'm mistaken, apologies to the OP).

                            Because we're talking home-cook version of risotto (and likely not a home cook that hass made hundreds of risottos), then the comparison becomes average home cook traditional v average home cook par-cooked. And the question is, Is there a significant difference between those two?

                            I'm not sure why risotto Milanese made by master risotto makers or fresh rice whose moisture content varies by region come into this question. It's interesting information, yes, but this home cook is likely being arborio at the local supermarket, as many of us do. Those that are importing small batches from specific regions likely won't be asking about par-cooked risotto here. So let's keep the context of the OP in mind.

                            1. re: foreverhungry

                              Simply put a fresh made risotto will be better than a par-cooked risotto made by the same person using the same ingredients.

                              1. re: RetiredChef

                                Interesting. I'll have to run the experiment some day soon and have guests do a taste test. My hypothesis is that for average home cook skills using basic risotto ingredients, there would be little to no noticable difference.

                                But hey, that's what spirited discussion and experimenting is all about!

                    2. re: CindyJ

                      I think the easiest way would be to eat it at true risotto style restaurant in Italy where they prepare risotto in small batches and you get to choose from a few choices that will be ready in the next 15 minutes or so. You can also make it at your home using one of the many Risotto Techniques that are out there. The biggest problem that home cooks have is getting fresh rice, the fresher the rice is the more water content it still has. It will release its starch better and cook quicker, giving an even texture through 70-80% of the rice kernel.

                      How moist or all'onda the risotto is varies by region in Italy, a basic outline would be more liquid up north less down south. But perhaps the biggest surprise to people who eat risotto prepared to order is how creamy it is. Many people think cream is added because there is no way to make this rich creamy rice dish (NOTE: Many par-cooked risotto's do have added cream to try to emulate the creaminess that is lost when it's cooled.)

                      1. re: CindyJ

                        Your question belies you haven't. It is a matter of texture so well as flavor. True risotto is labor intensive. You have never had it in a restaurant unless very expensive.

                        Faux risotto is a type of pilaff or oatmeal; those who think that is the real thing do not know the real thing.

                2. There is risotto and then there is transcendental risotto. If you have never experienced the difference between the two, then you will likely be satisfied with risotto interruptus.....or resurrectous and should feel fine serving it to family or guests.

                  On the other hand if you grew up in the Po valley or your mother-in-law is from Milan, there are no acceptable shortcuts for traditional techniques including having your guests waiting table side during the last 10 minutes of cook time to avoid missing out on the window of perfection.

                  1. In a word, no. Of all the last minute dishes, risotto is about the last minutest. Along with tempura.