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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: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-baked...

    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: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8973...

      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.

                    1. So for all you nay sayers - what do you recommend Cindy do? Grill the chops ahead of time? Juggle both the chops and a risotto at the last minute, while ignoring her guests? Or choose a different menu?

                      My suggestion? practice making 7 minute pressure cooker risotto :)

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: paulj

                        Grill the chops to just north of rare and let them rest in a warm place. While you're making the risotto, also make a morel demi sauce to serve over the veal.

                        NB: when in doubt, ignore the guests and focus on the food.

                        1. re: rjbh20

                          How do I make a morel demi sauce?

                        2. re: paulj

                          Great question. Personally if I am serving Risotto I will either have it as a starter (primi) OR as a standalone entrée OR as a side dish where the main entrée does not require my attention i.e. Osso Buco Milanese.

                          Pressure Cooker Risotto - hmmmm, sounds like I need to try something new.

                          1. re: RetiredChef

                            My main dish won't require my attention because my husband will tend to the grilling. Osso buco and risotto Milanese are a match made in heaven, but I generally save the braising for the cold winter months.

                        3. Okay, so I've "heard" all of you and here's my take -- while it may be possible to begin the cooking ahead, it won't come without a sacrifice in quality, AND I'm not convinced I'd save much time, either. It normally takes me about 25 minutes of continuous attention to make risotto from start to finish. If I begin the cooking, let it cool, and then pick it up again later ("risotto interruptus" -- good one, ThanksVille!), I'll actually be adding time to bring it back up to cooking temp before continuing. In the end I save, what, 10 minutes or so. Not worth it, I say.

                          So now I have to decide whether to stand stoveside while my guests are otherwise occupied, or change the side dish. Thanks to everyone for your input!

                          (BTW - thanks for that link, foreverhungry.)

                          1. Before addressing your original question, Cindy, a couple of salient details about risottos (which I've made frequently for 30 years) and especially risotto Milanese, which IMO can be an amazing dish when made from scrupulous ingredients -- almost in a separate class from risottos in general:

                            1. There are numerous Italian recipe variations for it -- some include a little cream or milk, for instance, though I don't, after experimenting with that option. I do use good ingredients including homemade meat stock, fresh shallots, and of course quality Reggiano and Spanish saffron (available most economically from Indian markets here in California, which sell it in great volume -- of course, know your saffron, and look for quality -- but US supermarket prices like $10 a gram are absurd.) I include a little white wine; and a trick that touches up the flavor in a subtly vegetal direction (picked up by reverse-engineering a commercial Italian version once), a little chopped celery or celery heart, leaves, etc. added with the broth.

                            2. Rice, technique, and dogma: Yes, Arborio or similar rices produce a certain texture and sauciness; but in improvising, I find that many short-grain rices can yield delightful risottos, of slightly different texture and maybe not formally "authentic," yet everyone (whoever they are) always wants more. The most dogmatic point in standard recipes is the ritual of adding broth gradually. Look, I'm a scientist by background and interested in food science as well as flavor: that ritual seems to've evolved to let cooks adjust to differences in rice. Yet if you have a large or consistent supply of the rice, you can soon figure out how much broth it ultimately needs -- around 3 to 4 times the rice's volume -- then forget the dogma, add the simmering broth all at once, and cook it like any other rice dish with SPLENDID results.

                            3. To the original question, I both re-heat risotto (gently, by microwave, until bubbling) and even freeze it. Risotto Milanese takes especially well to re-heating, maybe since its flavors are robust. Of course the texture changes a little, but still, it's delicious. One way I make it and keep it ready for an hour or two is in a common Asian home rice cooker, which automatically changes to keep-warm mode and serves as a home equivalent of a steam table.

                            Some of these improvisations may be a little unorthodox; but quoth Julia Child in 1975, "now you are really cooking."

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: eatzalot

                              For a long time I was intimidated by the process of making risotto. I was under the impression that it was one of those things that could only be properly prepared by a chef or home cook with years of experience and technical know-how. Then one day my sister-in-law, who I would describe as an average home/family cook, served us risotto that I considered to be much better than just okay, and I told myself that if she could do it, so could I.

                              Yes, of course there was a learning curve, but soon enough I had gained enough confidence to make a very decent risotto -- mushroom, lobster, Milanese, and others. I've always used imported arborio rice and other good quality ingredients and it's been just fine. I add about 1/2-3/4 cup of dry white wine for the first liquid addition, and homemade stock -- it might be chicken stock, lobster stock, the strained liquid from rehydrated porcini mushrooms, or some other, depending on the ingredients I'm adding -- for the rest of the liquid. I add the almost-simmering liquid to the risotto a ladleful or two at a time, and keep stirring and adding it until it's the consistency I'm looking for. For now, I'd rather do it that way than add all the liquid at once; I feel I have much better control of the outcome that way.

                              Maybe one of these days when I'm feeling adventurous I'll try it in my rice cooker. But with company coming, I think I'll stick to the techniques that have worked well for me in the past.

                              1. re: CindyJ

                                Of course. I recommended those points only because I already have used them successfully many times.

                                But do try the all-at-once broth before long. As long as it cooks in liquid, the rice doesn't "know" the difference, until it has absorbed most of it, at which point the question only is how much liquid overall is needed, to achieve the texture you want -- and risottos (risotti?) can even tolerate some range of textures, yet still be heavenly.

                                At this point I'm confident enough to use almost a fixed ratio of liquid to rice, but I check once or twice as it's cooking, and sometimes add a little more.

                                The recipe world is burdened by a certain number of traditional rigid dogmas with unexplained, even if legitimate, basis, but they yield to experiment if you are content to judge by the results.

                              2. re: eatzalot

                                One thing I've noticed is that people go on about constant stirring. I can't get it to cook through with constant stirring. I stir every few minutes, and gasp, leave it on the stove and set a timer. It comes out vey rich and creamy with a nice bite that way. It's the only way I have been successful. I add my broth in three batches. I'm tempted to try it all at once for fun.

                              3. I've been cooking for many many decades now, and risotto is one of my "go to" dishes. To the best of my knowledge, there is absolutely NO way to cook ahead any part of a risotto. At least not if you have active taste buds you'd like to make happy.

                                What I do do that does make risotto a piece of cake is I have an electric "stirrer" that stirs the pot for me. All I have to do is add more hot stock at the appropriate time. LAZY? You betcha! But it works like a dream. The brand name of my stirrer is "Stir Chef," but I don't know if they make them anymore. IF they don't, you might find one on eBay or such. If you like risotto, a like or similar appliance is a great way to fill the cooking with pleasure and obliterate the drudge!

                                1. I love risotto and I make arancini with cold leftover risotto. Maybe you could make bigger ones? You could fry them right before guests arrive then heat them up in the oven. I am a sucker for crispy fried food..

                                  1. I saw a wonderful looking recipe for corn farrotto from Bon appetit that looks delicious and would be a great and seasonal accompaniment to your veal chop. A veal chop is my most favorite grilled meat...it deserves a spectacular side.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Gloriaa

                                      We enjoy farrotto much more than risotto. Corn farrotto sounds delicious!

                                    2. No.

                                      But you can make risotto cakes, or switch dishes.

                                      1. you've already been lectured extensively in the art and science of risotto and par-cooking downfalls. :)

                                        with other moving parts to a dinner, i don't like serving anything that will require my attention for 25+ minutes on the stove. love the suggestion of arancini, as those can be made a day before and either fried or reheated day of. another option would be oven-baked polenta, the slow-cook way.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                          If you do par cook the rice, please dear God, make sure you hold it in the fridge. Misheld rice can cause a bad type of food poisoning. I've had it. Don't ask....

                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                            "oven-baked polenta, the slow-cook way"

                                            Okay... I'll admit it -- I've never cooked polenta, slow-cooked or otherwise. Can you offer a detailed recipe (or a link to one)?

                                            1. re: CindyJ


                                              proportions are utterly adjustable, can be made a day ahead and is fool-proof. i have not made polenta on the stove in at least 10 years.

                                          2. To answer the question you asked: No, you cannot do without sacrificing the quality of the finished dish. I suspect you already know that. You can do it and have a tasty dish, but it will not be as wonderful. It's one reason I no longer bother with risotto as a main dish in a restaurant where I am not sure it's not prepared from scratch (which is most places). I've made it enough at home to know.

                                            Btw, the most forgiving risotto rice is carnaroli; you can slow down the cooking a lot and it will still retain its toothsomeness.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: Karl S

                                              Good tip on the carnaroli! When I first started making risotto I used the more common arborio. Carnaroli is much more forgiving indeed.

                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                I'm curious... Have you tried vialone nano variety of rice?

                                              2. Have you considered a baked rice dish? It might be the creamy rice side you're looking for to pair with your chops.

                                                1. So I made the risotto Milanese and it was wonderful. I cooked it the only way that made sense -- by standing stoveside and giving it my complete and undivided attention for 25 minutes. I wasn't looking for a "quasi" risotto, or a stand-in, or a "good enough" version. And it was very clear to me from all of your replies that there really is no good substitute for the tried-and-proven technique if quality and deliciosity are the goals. My thanks to everyone!

                                                  3 Replies
                                                    1. re: CindyJ

                                                      Now, as an experiment, you can try to pre-cook it another time (sooner rather than later), and then see if you detect any difference in quality.

                                                      1. re: CindyJ

                                                        Well done, and congrats on the singlemindedness -- I'm often tempted to do dishes that require my full attention but the way our house is laid out that is a recipe for disaster as I will end up getting into risotto-destroying confabs with my guests : -)

                                                      2. Forgive my ignorance, but what exactly is so bad about a 'made-ahead' risotto?

                                                        I've never been to Italy, or had an Italian grandmother. I've only had risotto that I've made myself. And I've never had Wolfgang Puck judge it and take me back to kitchen to show how it is really done.

                                                        Apparently there is something magical about the rice texture, something like that special Italian pasta 'a dent'. But I grew up on fluffy Latin American style rice.

                                                        Also why is it ok to substitute barley or farro? Those will produce an entirely different texture.

                                                        142 Replies
                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                          The OP asked if it could be made ahead without sacrificing quality. She got honest answers to that question. Forgive my ignorance, but what's so bad about that?

                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                            <<Forgive my ignorance, but what exactly is so bad about a 'made-ahead' risotto?>>

                                                            The entire thread answered your question -- don't know if you had time to read the posts already written.

                                                            The real key to great risotto is the starchy "gravy" it makes, IMO. That "sauce" completely disappears when it's make ahead of time -- it get absorbs by the rice. Instead of gloopy and wonderful, made-head risotto is clumpy and dry.

                                                            Nope, not OK to substitute barley or farro. I've had it that way in Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (in Italy) -- where risotto is made that way, and it's nowhere as good or as satisfying or even true risotto.

                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                              I have a couple of recipes for "farrotto" that are pretty tasty but agree they are not at all the same as true risotto. It's the starch that ml talks about that makes the dish.

                                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                I'd agree that farro or barley doesn't give the same consistency and texture as does rice, and that it's not really risotto. Just like zucchini "pasta" isn't pasta, and ravioli made using mandolined eggplant isn't really ravioli.

                                                                Yet all those dishes - cooking farro or barley with additions of stock; thin cut zucchini topped with a fresh tomato sauce; mandolined eggplant stuffed with a filling, lightly fried, and topped with a light sauce - can all be delicious.

                                                                Using farro instead of rice wouldn't be a traditional risotto, but then I'm not sure what to call it other than "farro risotto"?

                                                                1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                  I first ran across it as "farrotto" and rather like that nomenclature.

                                                                  1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                    It's not risotto.

                                                                    It's called farrotto. It's merely a different grain cooked in the same style .

                                                                  2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                    Maria, my particular interest in this thread, as a longtime scrupulous home risotto cook, hasn't been the suggestion of "par" or partial cooking that preoccupies some respondents here, but rather, the variations and improvisations possible to canonical risotto-Milanese technique, and how well they work in practice.

                                                                    To your particular comment above, I've several times made good traditional batches and later microwave-reheated portions, with excellent success. Not identical, but neither would anyone I know characterize them as "clumpy and dry" -- the result, if not conforming to the Italian Risotto Standards Associazione, was delicious because the original batch was delicious, and adequately hydrated, cheesed, etc. Not to say I would serve it to esteemed friends that way by choice; rather, that it was still a serviceable satisfying dish.

                                                                    I wonder how many of the people here disparaging the very prospect of successfully reheating risottos would say that if they had tasted my examples.

                                                                    I've also successfully made it not "par-cooked" nor reheated, but in an Asian rice cooker with occasional stirring. The keep-warm mode that takes over once the rice is cooked is good for a while, and then with power completely off, the vessel will retain the heat for a good hour or two longer for service. This is a handy trick when cooking and transporting, to a dinner party for instance.

                                                                    I virtually never stand over the batch adding liquid incrementally, as every standard source from Ada Boni on down instructs -- having learned from experience that what matters is the final adjustment of liquid content to suit the rice batch, which can be done, if needed, in just the latter part of the cooking.

                                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                                      <<I virtually never stand over the batch adding liquid incrementally, as every standard source from Ada Boni on down instructs>>

                                                                      It's that very technique that results in excellent risotto.

                                                                      Risotto is defined by a certain texture -- "a web of pale blond kernels steeped in rich, mellow cream that is nudged, coddled and spun together into glory by a subversively clever cooking technique that overturns everything anyone else in the world has done with rice."

                                                                      [Elizabeth Sahatjian in Esquire]

                                                                      Only by adding splash after splash of broth, and stirring after each addition, does the specific emulsion or gravy emerge.

                                                                      Add all the liquid at once, or even most of it, and the gravy or emulsion is not at all the same. I couldn't even call it risotto.

                                                                      I've attempted risotto in a pressure cooker, my Zojirushi rice cooker as you have described, with farro, with barley as in Friuli, par-boiled as described here, and none of these methods result in the taste or texture of excellent risotto.

                                                                      Those methods result in a nice rice dish, but none of them are risotto.

                                                                      So, I just urge people to take the time to stand at the stove and stir, and even *get into* the rhythm of stirring -- almost like one is rowing, or swaying or rocking a baby-- since that is the only way that risotto emerges, coddled as it were.

                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                        Well, I strongly dissent, and this too is based on abundant experience.

                                                                        I do not add the liquid literally all at once, but most of it, and revert to the traditional stirring addition near the end, as needed.

                                                                        The rice kernels simmer gently meantime, which agitates and circulates them. They truly cannot "know" whether they are being cooked in liquid and gently moved by the bubbling or by someone stirring. The RESULTS have been entirely satisfactory; I am not trying to run a restaurant in Milan; perhaps I'm a lead-palate philistine; but some of my friends have serious gastronomic creds; to us, the result certainly IS risotto. I don't know what happened in your case, but I do know you too have not tasted mine. So I urge anyone who is really open-minded about this point, and willing for the results to work, to try it a few times.

                                                                        In any event, when I see the little-at-a-time dogma insisted upon in print, it is usually by people evidently taking it on faith and passing it on as such, because they have always done it that way -- like many other rigid formulas in cooking.

                                                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                                                          <<In any event, when I see the little-at-a-time dogma insisted upon in print, it is usually by people evidently taking it on faith and passing it on as such, because they have always done it that way -- like many other rigid formulas in cooking.>>

                                                                          But that's not me.

                                                                          I have an open mind. I eschew dogma. I love shortcuts when they yield excellent results.

                                                                          I've made risotto for 30+ years. I've had it all through Italy. I've tried all the shortcuts, including the method you describe, as well as the risotto of others cooked via the method you describe. The result was never excellent risotto, and possibly not risotto at all, since the gravy or milky/starchy emulsion was not at all the same.

                                                                          My food chemistry guess: Something happens to the rice grain when it simmers in too much liquid that prevents it from exuding its milky starch. Perhaps the grain seals itself off.

                                                                          There are some dishes in cooking that must employ a certain technique to achieve excellent results. Risotto is one of them.

                                                                            1. re: Karl S


                                                                              The stirring and massaging of the rice is vital to making a good risotto

                                                                              1. re: C. Hamster

                                                                                Agreed! Because that's where the LOOOOOOVE gets added.

                                                                                1. re: C. Hamster

                                                                                  By all means stir it to add love, I'm all for that.

                                                                                  But I already addressed Hamster's point upthread: the way I make it, the rice grains are, indeed, stirred and massaged -- but most of that happens anyway, from simmering. Maria then advanced a different theory, that rice grains end up harder when there's more liquid -- a novel take on grain cooking, but anyway not my experience.

                                                                                  As I write this, I'm gearing up ingredients for a batch of r. Milanese -- inspired a couple days ago by this thread (inspirations are one reason I read CH!) Just a pragmatic, workaday batch, which I would never put forward as world-class risotto. Unusual even to the novel source of meat stock, mentioned in a separate thread today:


                                                                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                    "Maria then advanced a different theory, that rice grains end up harder when there's more liquid -- a novel take on grain cooking, but anyway not my experience."

                                                                                    That's quite different from what I said.

                                                                                    The difference in technique that we're discussing is adding stock incrementally vs. adding most or all of the stock so that the rice is submerged in liquid.

                                                                                    1. What I said was that the liquid-y milky starch (that forms the gravy that characterizes excellent risotto) does not emerge from the rice grain in the same way when it is submerged in liquid.

                                                                                    Just a scientific guess why that is so: The bubbling stock -- the less viscous liquid -- can enter the grain, but the milky starchy liquid inside the rice grain -- the thicker liquid -- cannot diffuse into the thinner stock [diffusion, osmosis]. But it's that diffusion -- that oozing -- that creates the characteristic milky risotto gravy.

                                                                                    And/Or, the bubbling liquid may swell the starch molecules on the surface of the rice grain, preventing the liquid-y milky starch inside the grain from oozing out.

                                                                                    2. There's also a *flavor* reason for adding the stock incrementally: it changes the temperature of the risotto to above the boiling point -- creating a "mash" like when you make beer -- so that the rice grains caramelize slightly. That increases flavor. http://cooking.stackexchange.com/ques...

                                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                      " but the milky starchy liquid inside the rice grain -- the thicker liquid"

                                                                                      Starch is not a liquid.

                                                                                      "There's also a *flavor* reason for adding the stock incrementally: it changes the temperature of the risotto to above the boiling point --"

                                                                                      How, exactly, does adding liquid incrementally to a pot on a burner increase the temperature above boiling? (when water goes above the boiling point, it enters a phase transition. How is the water getting hotter than boiling unders standard atmospheric question?)

                                                                                      1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                        <<How, exactly, does adding liquid incrementally to a pot on a burner increase the temperature above boiling?>>

                                                                                        I provided a link that has the explanation. There are other websites as well that also have the food chemistry explanation, if you're interested in learning about this.

                                                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                          I did look at the link, but it didn't provide any explanation to how water at normal atmospheric pressure can get hotter than the boiling point. That would seem to violate the laws of chemistry.

                                                                                          1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                            If you really want to learn about this, research caramelization of starches and the word "mash," as used in beer-making.

                                                                                            You might also research Maillard reaction.

                                                                                            1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                              Much in the same way that simple syrup can be turned into caramel, even though that doesn't happen until it reaches 300 deg f.

                                                                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                But that temperature is achieved only well after the water has boiled off. By the time you have caramel whatever water you started with is long gone.

                                                                                                1. re: Soul Vole

                                                                                                  Yes and no. By the time syrup becomes caramel, it has essentially no water left. But the intermediate stages... not so. Soft ball stage candy, for example, is cooked to 240 deg f and still has 15% water.

                                                                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                    Let me rephrase: By the time you have 300° caramel, the water is nearly all long gone.

                                                                                                    Solutes like salt and sugar can raise the boiling point of water but not to any significant extent in cooking terms. We're talking a few degrees at most. To my knowledge anyway.

                                                                                                    1. re: Soul Vole

                                                                                                      As candy-making goes to show, a solute can raise the boiling point of water significantly, provided that the percentage of water is fairly low.

                                                                                                      And, well, that's kind of the point. Adding all the stock to the rice at once, and you're going to have a very high % of water in the liquid until the rice is done cooking, and the temp will never rise more than a tiny bit above the boiling point. Add the stock in batches and cook it out until the 'sauce' is quite reduced before adding the next small batch of stock, and some of the cooking will likely happen at a temp more significantly above the normal boiling point. Exactly how much of an effect this has is debatable, but it's fairly plausible that it could affect the texture (or even taste) of the finished risotto.

                                                                                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                        Well, I don't know. Can we get a reference on this? All it would take is somebody sticking a thermometer in a risotto and showing a temperature more than a fraction of a degree above boiling.

                                                                                                        I'm betting against it.

                                                                                                        1. re: Soul Vole

                                                                                                          I'll clarify a bit - I doubt the temperature of most of the risotto is ever much over the 212, even when stock is added in small amounts and cooked until absorbed before adding more. Since you're cooking on low temperature and adding more liquid frequently, I doubt there's enough time for the risotto as a whole to get especially hot, even though there's a relatively low percentage of water at times.

                                                                                                          What I think is more likely: the rice on the bottom of the pot gets hotter when the liquid level is low, at least in between stirs (this is easy to demonstrate - add stock to the risotto, cook it off, don't add more - before long you'll have burnt rice on the bottom, even though the rice on top is somewhat moist still). This could affect the flavor and texture of a risotto, and account for SOME of the fairly obvious differences between a risotto and a pilaf made with the same rice.

                                                                                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                            That's my understanding as well, and similar to what's described in the link above in reference to the additional flavor created by the method of adding stock incrementally.

                                                                                                            "[Risotto] instructions normally suggest that each batch of the stock needs to be absorbed by rice. In reality, something else is happening.

                                                                                                            "Most of the water actually evaporates. The remaining “mash” gets warmer than boiling point. This speeds up the chemical processes, which create the intense taste of the risotto. These chemical processes are essentially the same as when browning meat.

                                                                                                            'Other reason for pouring the stock in small batches and stirring constantly is to let loose starch from the rice kernels. Starch makes the mixture creamy. So the tedious process of adding stock in small batches and stirring constantly is the key to having tasty and creamy risotto."

                                                                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                              Sure, boil off most of the water and the temperature will go higher than the boiling point. Like in any recipe that warns against scorching. You're cooking the water off and eliminating the temperature barrier that it represents.

                                                                                                              I don't think the starches are changing the boiling point of the water to any significant extent. That's all I'm saying.

                                                                                                              1. re: Soul Vole

                                                                                                                Like cooking a mash for beer. The mash pan is hot enough to caramelize the sugars in the hops (and other grains), but stirring with a mash rake prevents scorching from happening.

                                                                                                                Same deal with risotto -- the temp at the bottom of the pan is high enough to caramelize the rice starches, but the stirring and additions of stock prevent scorching from happening. Stirring also exposes new rice grains to the intense heat at the bottom of the pan, caramelizing those grains as well, and increasing flavor.

                                                                                                                I don't know about a higher boiling point of the stock because the mixture and pan are hotter than 212F. Most of the stock evaporates or is absorbed via the mash method.

                                                                                                                When you add the liquid all at once, the temp is too low -- that of a simmer or boil -- for the rice starches to caramelize and increase in flavor.

                                                                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                  I agree completely, and I'm failing to see the relevance to my comment.

                                                                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                    If there is carrmelzation of the Sugars in either case there will color changes even if only against the metal of the pan.
                                                                                                                    This is a actively avoided in both Brewing and Rissoto. There is also no Maillard reaction taking place when making Rissoto once the Rice is added.

                                                                                                                    1. re: chefj

                                                                                                                      Quite a few beermakers and food scientists would disagree.

                                                                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                        Really? Who?
                                                                                                                        I have been Brewing for a very long time have never seen or heard of anyone getting Caramelization during Mashing or Boiling. How could you with that much Water present?
                                                                                                                        Rissoto is not normally colored.

                                                                                                                        1. re: chefj

                                                                                                                          Have already linked to and copied text on caramelization during mashing and its parallel to cooking risotto. Checked beer-making sites, too, on caramelization and Maillard reactions during mash. Don't want to go more OT, tho, with beermaking on a risotto thread.

                                                                                                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                            You are talking about Decoction Mashing(which is a very advanced method and used by Home Brewers much. The way it happens is that the Sugars are so concentrated that they Caramelize on the bottom of the pot. The Sugars settle out so that very small layer in contact with the bottom of the Pot actually has no Water in it at all.
                                                                                                                            If you did this with a Rissoto it would be scorched and would have a lovely shade of tan or darker.

                                                                                                                            1. re: chefj

                                                                                                                              There's a very slight color change. The technique is similar to mashing [though without as much a color change, you're right], according to the food chemistry link.

                                                                                                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                Maria, I've been reading and enjoying your discussion with eatzalot and others. I accumulated a few comments and questions:

                                                                                                                                1. You've mentioned that the key to good risotto is getting the rice grains to exude starch from the inside of the kernel. Is it known for sure that the creaminess in risotto comes from the starch inside, rather than the stuff on the surface? A simple test would be to try to make risotto after rinsing off the surface starch; if more starch exudes to make a creamy gravy, then the 'exude starch' hypothesis holds water. On the other hand, if a risotto without the surface starch is totally uncreamy, then 'exuding starch' is irrelevant, and there's no reason to believe adding liquid in small batches affects the creaminess of the gravy.

                                                                                                                                Kenji from Serious Eats actually performed this test, and found that the rinsed rice produced a negligibly creamy risotto. This suggests that the surface starch is key, and we don't have to worry about drawing more starch out of the rice. It's an informal test, so it's not the last word, but it's the only actual side-by-side test I've seen.

                                                                                                                                2. I am skeptical about significant flavor changes from small additions of liquid, because caramelization and Maillard reaction are both accompanied by color change. If there is a flavor change, it is very subtle, and likely dominated by changes to the other ingredients (stock, aromatics, vegetables).

                                                                                                                                3. "Tests were performed to see if initial toasting/saute-ing in oil of risotto rice grains resulted in creamier risottos, and the conclusions were it did." -- could you point me to some of these tests? Kenji's tests, again, got the opposite result: long-toasted risotto is noticeably less creamy, perhaps because the starch is being broken down into dextrins.

                                                                                                                                4. All these discussions ignore the fact that you can make the gravy exactly as starchy as you want by adding the desired amount of starch as a slurry. For some reason the idea of adding starch horrifies people when you suggest it in the context of risotto, though the same people will often starch up a stew without a second thought. One isn't cheatier than the other.

                                                                                                                                Putting it all together, my current risotto method is to toast the rice thoroughly (losing creaminess but gaining flavor), add most of the liquid at once, adjust the liquid towards the end, and add a little corn starch in a slurry a couple of minutes before the end of cooking (restoring creaminess lost by toasting). It is extremely sacrilegious, but I like the result more than the traditional method. It's totally plausible that I just don't have a good reference point for risotto, and this stuff I make could be completely different from what they serve up in Milan. But whatever this rice dish of mine is, it's good, so I'll keep making it.

                                                                                                                                Link to Kenji's tests, and the method he came up with:

                                                                                                                                1. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                  I had always read that pilaf rice was toasted (fried in the flavored oil) to keep the grains distinct and separate, quite different from the creaminess of a risotto. So I was surprised about the claims in this thread that toasting promoted creaminess.

                                                                                                                                  I suspect long v short grain rice, and not-stirring v stirring have a greater influence on the loose v creamy consistency. Paella combines the two, a short grain, but without stirring, with an intermediate result.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                    <<It's totally plausible that I just don't have a good reference point for risotto, and this stuff I make could be completely different from what they serve up in Milan>>

                                                                                                                                    I think the lack of reference point is a huge error, for both you and Kenji.

                                                                                                                                    My first impression after reading Kenji's writeup was that he had not eaten plate after plate of risotto in Italy, and hadn't spent time in Italian kitchens, or hadn't even eaten great risotto in the US, so he didn't know what the goal was -- he didn't know what great risotto was, and so his entire effort was misinformed. I'm all for experimentation and de-bunking myths, but I found his assumptions and explanations erroneous.

                                                                                                                                    I've tried the same methods espoused by Kenji many times over the decades when I tried to cut corners, forgot something, or foolishly added too much stock at one time, and found the final dish fell far short of great risotto. That's why it seemed obvious to me that Kenji didn't understand what great risotto was, or his version would never measure up in his own mind. For the *best texture and best flavor* I keep coming back to nearly all the methods of great Italian cooks when making risotto. I stir slightly less than they do, but any other variance from Italian technique produces truly inferior results.

                                                                                                                                    My advice to everyone: Stick with the classic Italian method until you can execute that perfectly. Taste risotto freshly made by Italian cooks, in restaurants and in homes, preferably in Italy, over and over so you know what risotto is supposed to be like, in texture, creaminess -- and most importantly -- flavor. Find out what great Italian cooks do, and do that.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                      In other words, real risotto is only for the jet-set. The rest of us have to settle for something we mistakenly imagine is risotto.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                        Kenji claims risotto should be loose enough to flow like lava. A comment (after his article) from someone claiming to Italian (or to know how it really should be) claimed that was totally wrong. But then I was reminded of the time on NFNS when Wolfgang Puck took a contestant 'to the woodshed' to show how a real risotto should be made (soupy)


                                                                                                                                        Then there's the Venetian Risotto all'Onda

                                                                                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                          Probably a regional thing. I looked at photos or videos of risottos prepared at a few reputable restaurants in Italy, and many of them were pretty lava-ey.

                                                                                                                                          Here's Gualtiero Marchesi's version, for example:

                                                                                                                                        2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                          Hey, Kenji here!

                                                                                                                                          I first learned how to make risotto when I was working at No.9 Park in Boston, which is one of (if not the) best Northern Italian fine-dining restaurants in Boston. Barbara Lynch is very highly respected for her knowledge of pasta and risotto. I made risotto every day, plate after plate for about a year in a half. I've also traveled extensively through Italy.

                                                                                                                                          Perhaps none of that qualifies me to understand that great risotto is, but I believe it does. Exactly what part of my description of good risotto did you take issue with?

                                                                                                                                          As for the technique, if you have a technique that works for you, stick with it. My goal was to simplify and improve. I believe I accomplished that. You're welcome to disagree!

                                                                                                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                              Can you address Kenji's question: "Exactly what part of [his] description of good risotto did you take issue with?"

                                                                                                                                        3. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                          There is another approach to this question, which I think would satisfy even 99% of fussy foodies (if not quite every one), without demanding super rarified personal experiences or intercontinental travel.

                                                                                                                                          Take a cooking author considered authoritative and widely accepted in our culture, such as Marcella Hazan. (Her seminal "Classic Italian Cookbook" is particularly strict on the traditional method of slow addition and absorption of broth.) A given cook can follow her instructions scrupulously, then try variations or simplifications, and have the results to taste and compare directly.

                                                                                                                                          (The ideal experimental technique even then -- the sort of method common in the wine world, among others, to remove suggestibility and bias -- would be to present parallel cooked samples to various judges "double-blind;" such tests can be amazingly, even embarassingly, revealing, which is even why some people shy away from them. But it would probably take a Nathan Myhrvold to invest the time and trouble for an article like risotto which, after all, is something to enjoy.)

                                                                                                                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                            When you're a writer who claims your version is better than the classic, you need to have experienced the classic dish in all its greatness, preferably at the "source." That's the reference point or due diligence required, before one asserts his version is easier or better or that there's no fall-off in flavor from your version -- you need to have eaten and have seen the classic version prepared a number of times.

                                                                                                                                            That's not necessary for everyone, only if it's your claim that your modified version is as good as or better than the classic. Or, if your attempting to credibly de-bunk any myths or unnecessary techniques in the preparation of a classic.

                                                                                                                                            I'm not suggested eating risotto in Italy is the only way for everyone to get the knowledge of what risotto is supposed to be like or taste like (see edited post). Following a classic recipe, like Hazan's, scrupulouly, as eatzalot says, or enjoying risotto prepared to order in a fine Italian restaurant both help to provide the knowledge of what risotto is supposed to be like and taste like.

                                                                                                                                            The trouble with restaurant risotto, though, is that restaurants often prepare it and "hold" it, merely reheating it to order and adding stock, thinking diners won't know the difference in texture and flavor this produces.

                                                                                                                                            If you know what risotto is supposed to be like and taste like, you won't be fooled by a restaurant who does that, or by Kenji's modified version that he claims is just as good. The traditional method for making risotto is still the best for flavor and texture.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                              I'm not claiming that Kenji's method makes a better risotto than the best in Milan. But it does make a pretty convincing argument against the specific *mechanisms* you suggested: specifically, your hypothesis that stirring and small additions of liquid exude starch, and that toasting increases creaminess. These statements are almost certainly false, and Kenji's tests are easy to reproduce at home if you doubt them.

                                                                                                                                              It's still plausible that something else is happening in the traditional method to make that risotto creamier, or drastically change the taste, but I haven't seen any plausible suggestions for what that might be.

                                                                                                                                              I'm skeptical that the difference between large and small additions of liquid is that dramatic. Heston Blumenthal went to Milan in his 'In Search of Perfection' show on risotto, ate at a bunch of reputable restaurants, and did a bunch of experimenting with this reference point in mind. He ended up adding stock a bit at a time, but says:

                                                                                                                                              "I'd love to be able to say that adding the stock a ladleful at a time is going to make all the difference, but to be quite honest, I don't know that it does. I do know, though, that this recipe does make a fantastic risotto."

                                                                                                                                              Is it *possible* that you enjoy traditionally made risotto more for psychological reasons? It is well known that expectations greatly influence how we perceive taste. I'm open to the possibility that there's some unknown chemical process that happens in the traditional recipe that greatly alters flavors and textures for some people (though some, like Blumenthal, evidently can't tell the difference). A simpler explanation, though, that your expectations are just affecting how you taste the dish. There's nothing wrong with that; nobody is immune to this effect.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                                I don't agree with you. I'm sorry.

                                                                                                                                                I've tried all the shortcuts Kenji has suggested, before Kenji ever came along, and since, and I believe his method produces an inferior result.

                                                                                                                                                I have a trained palate, and taste/judge many food and wine items blind regularly. It is my firm belief that both the flavor and the texture of risotto suffer when you use Kenji's, and others', shortcuts. Were there merit in the shortcuts, were the final dish as good as the traditionally prepared dish, I'd be all over it.

                                                                                                                                                For example, when Bittman published the Sullivan/Lahey method for bread baking in the New York Times, I was astounded at the degree of flavor obtained from this shortcut. I loved it, still love it, and think there is great merit and enormous flavor using this shortcut. I also love the more traditional bread baking methods, as well as the pre-dough methods (biga, levain, etc.). But the Bittman revised/Sullivan/Lahey bread baking shortcut is brilliant. Especially for home cooks without benefit of a bread oven.

                                                                                                                                                Were that the case here -- that a shortcut method produced the same great result, or a result so close in flavor and texture to the classic or traditionally produced item that the shortcut had merit -- I'd be all over it too. I'm open to that possibility.

                                                                                                                                                But that isn't the case here.

                                                                                                                                                Simply put: The shortcuts don't create the same depth of flavor and the texture of traditionally made risotto.

                                                                                                                                                I can immediately see and taste a risotto made with shortcuts -- it is exceedingly obvious to me whether or not I have seen the way the risotto was prepared. The differences are subtle or unnoticeable to some diners, but obvious and large enough to me to make a qualitative difference in both flavor and texture.

                                                                                                                                                That's my opinion, but it's an informed opinion, and the result of making and eating risotto both here and in Italy for decades.

                                                                                                                                                For example, the difference in adding small amounts of heated stock vs. a large amount, results in a dramatic difference in texture and flavor, to me.

                                                                                                                                                Toasting the risotto makes both a flavor and textural difference in the final dish. But how much toasting or how little, at what heat? What degree of color change to the grain, if any, is desirable for that flavor or textural difference? What other visual changes occur on the outside of the grain, and how do those affect the flavor and texture of the final dish?

                                                                                                                                                I've created and observed these subtle gradations and differences as I've cooked risotto over the decades.
                                                                                                                                                I know what the desirable end point is, and I know what techniques get me there.

                                                                                                                                                I was frankly astonished when I first read what Kenji wrote, because I thought it embarrassingly uninformed. I thought his explanations and assertions were way off, and his experiments proving this or that too few, inexact, and a bit goofy.

                                                                                                                                                <<Is it *possible* that you enjoy traditionally made risotto more for psychological reasons? It is well known that expectations greatly influence how we perceive taste.>>

                                                                                                                                                I'm well aware of this, but don't think it's operative in this case. I have too much data over the decades that refute this idea.

                                                                                                                                                I do agree that there may be some heretofore unidentified chemistry in traditional risotto cooking that may increase the depth of flavor of flavor and contribute to its unique texture. Some of the chemistry of the dish may elude me, but I do know the techniques that yield the best results, and Kenji's do not.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                  Like I said, my argument isn't that Kenji's method produces just as good results as the traditional one. I can't be sure of that, since most of the risottos I try are ones I make myself. But I think Kenji's tests, informal though they are, refute most of the usual proposed explanations for *why* the traditional methods work better than the shortcuts. I'm pretty sure it's not about exuding more starch from inside the grain, and I doubt it's about caramelization or Maillard reaction (both for reasons I've described earlier). In other words, I was just agreeing with your last paragraph:

                                                                                                                                                  <<I do agree that there may be some heretofore unidentified chemistry in traditional risotto cooking that may increase the depth of flavor of flavor and contribute to its unique texture.>>

                                                                                                                                                  If there is a difference, then I don't think its chemistry has been satisfactorily explained.

                                                                                                                                                  Out of curiosity, have you found any good risotto in restaurants in the US? Places that actually make it to order.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                                    Thanks for the reply, but it is my belief you are still incorrect and misinformed about:

                                                                                                                                                    <<I'm pretty sure it's not about exuding more starch from inside the grain, and I doubt it's about caramelization or Maillard reaction (both for reasons I've described earlier).>>

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                                      Just a few thoughts on why adding stock in small amounts creates a risotto with greater creaminess than adding it all at once. I'm not saying this is the definitive chemistry of the dish, but these are probably some pretty good guesses.

                                                                                                                                                      First, have you noticed, as I have hundreds of times, that the creaminess of risotto emerges over time? The starchy cloudy "gravy" that bathes the rice grains is not there when stock is first added, but instead appears incrementally as the dish is cooked.

                                                                                                                                                      Certainly, the small amount of starch that is on the outside of the uncooked rice grain does not cause this creaminess. If that outside starch were the only source of starch, the dish would be creamy from the start, and it's not. Instead, the creaminess only emerges as risotto is cooked.

                                                                                                                                                      By creaminess, I mean the starchy, cloudy, sometimes sticky, liquid that is part of the definition of what a properly made risotto is. It's not actually creamy -- there is no milk or cream added to this liquid. It just looks creamy, from the starch dissolved in it. For this discussion, I'm referring to the starchy liquid that is created during the cooking of risotto but *before* any butter or cheese is added to finish the dish. And when I say starch, I mean amylose and amylopectin.

                                                                                                                                                      Where does the starch in the liquid come from? The starch on the outside of the uncooked rice grain comes from abrasion, from lots of rice grains rubbing up against one another during milling, packaging, shipping and storing. So that's one source of the starch in risotto, but it cannot be the only source of starch.

                                                                                                                                                      Abrasion during cooking also causes additional starch to leech into the simmering liquid, but this time the abrasion comes from stirring. The starch from stirring then enters the simmering liquid. More stirring = more abrasion = more starch = creamier risotto.

                                                                                                                                                      Also as you stir, you stir rice and liquid off the bottom of the pan, and expose the rice grain to the bottom of the hot pan. There is certainly some minor caramelization and/or dextrinization from this. This also increases the flavor of risotto.

                                                                                                                                                      But you don't get that slight caramelization if the rice is submerged in stock. I've experimented with this quite a few times, and now always wait till the liquid from the last stock addition has fully evaporated or is absorbed, before adding a new ladle of stock. The flavor is better when I do this.

                                                                                                                                                      Why does adding the stock all at once create a less creamy risotto? It appears to me that lots of bubbling stock, from adding the stock all at once, prevents the starch inside the grain from getting out and creating creaminess.

                                                                                                                                                      Two guesses for this.

                                                                                                                                                      I don't understand all the osmotic principles at play, but my sense is that with lots of bubbling stock, the rice grain can take in liquid, but the starch inside the grain cannot flow out. Simmering stock enters the grain, and starch is dissolved into that. But that starchy liquid inside the grain is far thicker than the bubbling stock, and doesn't appear to be able to flow out. It needs to, however, to form creaminess. So with lots of stock, creaminess is reduced, and this is a possible explanation.

                                                                                                                                                      Additionally, lots of bubbling stock (from adding it all at once) exerts so great a force on the outside of the rice grain that the starch cannot leech out and remains trapped inside. That also means the creaminess doesn't form. So, adding all the stock at the beginning, or adding too much at one time, results in far less, or even no, creaminess.

                                                                                                                                                      When stock is added incrementally, though, there is quite a bit of time when the rice grains are not submerged. The starch inside the grain is able to ooze out and create creaminess.

                                                                                                                                                      So there are two possible/plausible reasons that adding the stock all at once does not produce creamy risotto.

                                                                                                                                                      I've tried adding the stock all at once 50 times. Not a single time was the final dish ever risotto. Let me say this again: It was an OK rice dish, but never was it risotto.

                                                                                                                                                      There was very little, if no, starchy liquid gravy. The grains were discrete and separate, like a nice pilaf, but not risotto. The flavor didn't taste like risotto either.

                                                                                                                                                      I've read several places that toasting the risotto heats up the interior of the grain, making it more able to take in liquid and release starch. So that also increases creaminess. But I've also noticed that too high a heat during toasting, or toasting for too long a time (adding color), and the effect is the opposite. It's almost as though the grain can't take up any liquid, then. Something must happen to the exterior of the rice grain during high heat that makes the grain less able in take in water.

                                                                                                                                                      Inherent in the dish is the technique. The dish is not the ingredient, certainly not the ingredient (rice) prepared like it normally is.

                                                                                                                                                      If your history of preparing rice has been to add all the liquid at the beginning, put on a timer, and come back to it when it's "done," I think it's best for you to not think of risotto as a rice dish at all. Look at risotto as not rice, but something more akin to porridge or oatmeal or polenta or something entirely different from rice.

                                                                                                                                                      Why? If you keep your existing rice prep ideas when you prepare risotto, they'll just hang you up. You'll keep wondering, Why can't I add all the stock at once? Or, Isn't it almost as good if I do?

                                                                                                                                                      Well, no. If you cook arborio/carnaroli/vialone like rice, it will be rice, but it won't be risotto. You cannot use typical rice preps to make risotto.

                                                                                                                                                      Inherent in the dish is the technique. Inherent in the technique is the chemistry, and the result. To prepare great risotto, you must add stock a little at a time, and stir, if not constantly, close to it. You must use great rice, good butter, great cheese, and then get into the technique of rhythmic stirring and the ladling of stock. Look upon it as a meditative exercise, like rowing, or rocking a baby, but keep at that slow rhythm to coax your risotto into being.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                        Thanks for your detailed reply! I have some thoughts, but your post deserves a non-hastily-written answer, so I'll come back to this.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                          <Certainly, the small amount of starch that is on the outside of the uncooked rice grain does not cause this creaminess. If that outside starch were the only source of starch, the dish would be creamy from the start, and it's not.>

                                                                                                                                                          When you wash rice (for non-risotto dishes), you cover it with water and agitate it to detach the starch from the surface of the grain. You use plenty of water, totally covering the rice, and then drain and repeat until the appropriate amount of starch has been removed. This would be a much slower process if you use a ladleful of water at a time instead of totally covering the rice. That's one explanation for why it takes a while for risotto to become creamy -- it takes several ladlefuls of water to get the starch off the outside. Adding water all at once is like washing rice with lots of water -- it's much easier to get the starch off with minimal stirring. There's also the fact that the viscosity of starch increases over time when heated, and then decreases, and then increases again (from what I can tell by looking at RVA diagrams); I wouldn't expect the liquid to thicken up immediately anyway.

                                                                                                                                                          If the starch on the outside is not that important, why is it so disastrous to wash the rice before making risotto? Have you ever tried doing it that way? I bet the end result would not be creamy at all, like Kenji found. (Whatever other problems his test had, it's hard to argue with that picture of the unfortunate 'risotto' he made with rinsed rice.) That's why I'm not convinced that they key to the risotto's creaminess is the starch on the inside of the grain.

                                                                                                                                                          I made two side-by-side batches of risotto today, one using my usual shortcut, and one using the traditional method, or my attempt at it. I took a few pictures (apologies for the low quality cell phone pictures):

                                                                                                                                                          There was some gravy in the pan, but it thickened up a bit too much when I added the cheese, and as it cooled down. I've put down some more detailed thoughts in my notes page (linked above), but the short version is, I didn't find either version dramatically better or worse than the other. (There's the usual caveat that I might not be implementing the traditional method correctly.


                                                                                                                                                          I did notice a slight change in flavor. There were various confounding factors that could explain that, but it could also be down to technique. Specifically, with the traditional method, the solids in the stock have a chance to undergo Maillard reaction as well. In the shortcut method, all the toasting happens before the stock gets added, so only the aromatics and rice get to caramelize or undergo Maillard reaction. So if the flavor difference is caused by technique, that's my best guess about what's going on.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                                            I haven't had a chance to read the section in 'Ideas in Food' on risotto yet, but a quick glance suggests that we need to think about two things, the hydration of the whole grain, and the gelatinization of the starches.

                                                                                                                                                            Some starch is loose on the surface to raw rice, and comes off with a quick soak (or wash). But more starch is released as the rice soaks or cooks (hydrates). I suspect most of that comes from the outer layers of the grain, not deep inside (which will have barely hydrated in al-dent risotto).

                                                                                                                                                            Determining where (and when) the starch is coming from would require a more detailed study of the rice as it cooks. For example, take samples of the rice at various stages, separate intact grains from the liquid (which will contain gelatinizing starch), and examine them separately. I suspect each grain changes in 2 ways - it gains weight/size as it hydrates (absorbs water), and looses mass as some of the hydrated starch is released.

                                                                                                                                                            I wonder what would happen if I soaked rice, and cooked the rice and soaking liquid separately. Will the cloudy liquid thicken right away (like a corn starch slurry), or will that take time?

                                                                                                                                                            Maybe I'll do some experiments with Calrose rice. That's short enough to make a creamy dish, and not as expensive as imported Italian rice. I should even experiment with broken Jasmine rice - it's a 'long grain', but with a larger surface area.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Scrofula


                                                                                                                                                              You add cornstarch to thicken the shortcut risotto?

                                                                                                                                                              You may be unredeemable.

                                                                                                                                                              Keep practicing and evaluating, but give the traditional method a bit more care, and use fair testing methods that systematically change only one variable at a time in simultaneous preps of both shortcut and traditional risotto.

                                                                                                                                                              Also evaluate the difference in creaminess between the various risotto rices prepared via the traditional method, since there is a difference.

                                                                                                                                                              If you must artificially thicken your risotto with cornstarch, consider grinding some of the arborio/carnaroli/vialone to a powder in a coffee grinder, and use it to thicken the risotto instead of frickin' cornstarch.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                                I use the cornstarch because I like to toast my rice extra long, which diminishes the thickening ability of the rice starch. I've made it with a shorter toast and no added cornstarch, and it turns out pretty much the same, texture-wise.

                                                                                                                                                                Why would ground rice or rice starch be different from cornstarch in the end product? Aren't cornstarch and ricestarch both just amylose and amylopectin in a 25:75 or so ratio?

                                                                                                                                                                If it's just a cheatiness issue, as I've said, I'm not too worried about that. If I'm willing to starch up a chili con carne or a coq au vin, then why not a risotto?

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                                  Another thought: have you heard of Gabriele Ferron? I stumbled upon his name while looking for recipes to compare to. He's apparently considered an authority on risotto, and advocates a no-stir method that's nearly identical to the shortcut above (with less toasting, and, of course, no sacrilegious starch slurry).

                                                                                                                                                                  Of course, an authority saying something doesn't make it so, but I'm pretty sure a fourth-generation specialty rice miller from Veneto who travels the world teaching risotto-making has at least tried the real thing at some point.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                                                    You didn't observe Farron's final dish was way off in the photos and videos? You're wasting my time with these shortcuts that don't create quality. I'm giving up on you; I can't tell you what you need to understand.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                                      You mean this? http://youtu.be/OPtnh1gY3uE?t=10m

                                                                                                                                                                      Of course it looks different from the risotto you're describing. My point is, why is your word on what makes a 'real risotto' more reliable than his? You say your credentials come from eating a bunch of risotto in Italy. But if we're just going for authenticity, I'm pretty sure this guy's experience with the dish dwarfs yours. If we're going for taste, regardless of authenticity (and I am), Thomas Keller follows the add-the-liquid-at-once recipe with minimal stirring. I've never eaten at his restaurants, but I hear the guy knows what he's doing. Modernist Cuisine claims that Gualtiero Marchesi parcooks the risotto he serves at his restaurant -- an even bigger break from tradition.

                                                                                                                                                                      Honestly, at this point, it's starting to sound like mysticism. Adding liquid a bit at a time does *something* (nobody knows what, though it's easy to come up with just-so stories) that changes the dish dramatically for you, but other sources (Blumenthal, Keller, Ferron) seem unable to detect any difference. I wonder what it is about this dish that stirs up so much dogma about how it has to be made one particular way. But the actual experts seem much more flexible; Marcella Hazan once wrote (on this exact subject), "American chefs who go to Italy suffer from a Moses complex, they are always coming down from the mount with a tablet of rules for the unlearned.".

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                                                        Go ahead, Scrofula, do it your way:

                                                                                                                                                                        Add all the stock at once, dump cornstarch into your dishes, say they're just as good, but don't expect anyone to believe you.

                                                                                                                                                                        Ferron's end result is not correctly made risotto no matter how you look at it. When you cherrypick him as some expert when he's just some blustery Italian pazzo cook seeking PR glory, it reflects on your lack of knowing.

                                                                                                                                                                        Then you cite two other chefs as expert sources that agree with you, when they don't. Blumenthal, in at least five recipes of his I checked, instructs to add the stock a little at a time. Keller also adds stock incrementally in the three recipes I've checked (I actually could ask him directly).

                                                                                                                                                                        I've got the professional culinary credentials and the decades of experience and travel to know about risotto, and have done enough testing of alternate methods to know you're full of it.

                                                                                                                                                                        You're not stirring, you're adding cornstarch, and then you scoff at the traditional method that produces the best results and call it dogma and mysticism. Pffft.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                                          I'll post that quote from Blumenthal again:
                                                                                                                                                                          "I'd love to be able to say that adding the stock a ladleful at a time is going to make all the difference, but to be quite honest, I don't know that it does. I do know, though, that this recipe [traditional] does make a fantastic risotto."
                                                                                                                                                                          (Source: http://youtu.be/NA4XUiCgrts?t=25m53s)

                                                                                                                                                                          Here's a Keller recipe:

                                                                                                                                                                          I admit, he doesn't add *all* the liquid at once. He toasts the rice for 3-4 minutes, simmers it in wine without stirring until the wine is gone, toasts it again, adds 'enough stock to cover the rice', and simmers it again till most of the liquid has gone. Only then does he revert to the traditional risotto method of adding a little liquid at a time. (Note that even my super-lazy shortcut method ends with the pan uncovered, stirring in more liquid as needed.)

                                                                                                                                                                          And here's the Modernist Cuisine page on risotto: http://modernistcuisine.com/recipes/p...
                                                                                                                                                                          It advocates boiling it for most of the cooking time, draining (?!), cooling, and then finishing in more stock, and then possibly adding a thickener. The times listed look incredibly short to me, but maybe the cooling softens up the rice?
                                                                                                                                                                          (Note that it also claims that Marchesi and Keller parcook their risotto as well.)

                                                                                                                                                                          And while I'm digging up examples, here's Raymond Blanc:
                                                                                                                                                                          He advocates stirring throughout, but adding all the liquid at once.

                                                                                                                                                                          And here's a Cook's Illustrated recipe, also very similar to the shortcut:

                                                                                                                                                                          I have no problem with the traditional method. I know it works. I have a problem with the hostility you get by questioning why it works, and whether there are more efficient ways to achieve the same effect. "You added STARCH to a starchy dish? You MONSTER!" Your arguments are what I'm calling dogmatic and mystical; not the method itself.

                                                                                                                                                                          I'm not questioning your professional experience or kitchen cred or whatever. But your arguments in this thread don't make sense, and no amount of kitchen cred can change that. I've pointed out the flaws in your argument, and instead of addressing them, you get all snappy. To refresh your memory, here are a couple of points you still haven't addressed:

                                                                                                                                                                          * If the creaminess comes from the internal starch, why does rinsing off the surface starch result in a totally non-creamy risotto?

                                                                                                                                                                          * Does cornstarch produce a different texture from rice starch? How do you know -- is this one of the many side-by-side tests you've performed? (Because, if you remember, I *have* performed this test.) And if there is a difference, what is the chemical reason for it?

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                                                            posting tip - if you add a space (or other character) after a final ')', it won't be put on the next line.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                                                              <<But your arguments in this thread don't make sense, and no amount of kitchen cred can change that. I've pointed out the flaws in your argument, and instead of addressing them, you get all snappy.>>

                                                                                                                                                                              That's not the case at all. You continue to cherrypick recipes that ostensibly prove your point (but don't really), but the conveniently overlook that thousands of recipes and expert opinions that disagree with you.

                                                                                                                                                                              Keller in five different recipes doesn't advocate what you say; most of Blumenthal's recipes are different from what you quote, even though you cherrypick one that does.

                                                                                                                                                                              The Cooks Illustrated version of risotto is terrible, yet you cite it.

                                                                                                                                                                              If you like CI's, then your benchmark for measurement is way off. I think it's terrible.

                                                                                                                                                                              I never said anything like the Monster line, so you're exaggerating there or referring to someone else.

                                                                                                                                                                              I've offered you plenty of specifics, as have others who have also chimed in. I don't believe your first question above makes any sense -- rinsing off the surface starch affects creaminess only slightly since the majority of starch comes from abrading the rice grain and that which oozes out. If you had done research and performed due diligence on cornstarch, you would have realized that its composition actually varied widely by manufacturer. But more than that, the thickening it produces is pasty rather than silky/gummy. Another qualitative difference here -- like so many -- lost on you.

                                                                                                                                                                              I feel like I could explain till the cows come home, but you wouldn't accept any input from me and would still want to argue, so why should I even try??

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                                                To your credit, you did try to address some of my arguments in this post: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9131...

                                                                                                                                                                                I did provide counter-arguments, which you did not address. I also went through all your posts again, and saw nothing addressing my two questions at the bottom of my last post. (EDIT: no longer true.)

                                                                                                                                                                                You've also insisted that par-cooking and reheating doesn't work, and produces something that won't fool a discerning risotto eater. I've pointed you to reliable sources claiming that some of the most reputable chefs in the world (including Italy) serve par-cooked risotto in their restaurants. So if you can't get a true risotto at the best restaurants in the world, I'm not sure how you're supposed to find a good reference point.

                                                                                                                                                                                EDIT (to address the points you added in your edit.)

                                                                                                                                                                                Here's another Keller recipe, from the French Laundry Cookbook:

                                                                                                                                                                                Exactly the same start, except that he then drains it, cools it, and finishes it later, in a manner that you claim produces an unacceptable risotto. Oops. Maybe you should correct him.

                                                                                                                                                                                Blumenthal: he uses the traditional method in all his recipes, as far as I've seen. Including the one I linked to. And while stirring, he admitted that he didn't know if it made a difference. He does it because it's traditional, not because he can make out a difference.

                                                                                                                                                                                The 'monster' thing was an attempt at humor; I wasn't trying to pass it off as a direct quote.

                                                                                                                                                                                Why does cornstarch give a pastier texture than rice starch? Something to do with the amylose:amylopectin ratio? The usual ratio I've found is 25:75, while risotto rices vary from 0:100 to 24:76.

                                                                                                                                                                                Have you made a risotto with the traditional method after rinsing the rice? That was one of the tests in Kenji's article. It wasn't a 'slight reduction in creaminess'. There was no gravy at all.

                                                                                                                                                                                Just because I don't blindly agree with you doesn't mean I'm not giving your points fair consideration. I performed the side-by-side test specifically because of your posts, hoping to find a difference between the shortcut and traditional methods. (I already like the shortcut; I'd have been thrilled to find the traditional method even better.) That's more due diligence than I've seen from anyone in response to a stranger's claims on a web forum.

                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                                                    In a roux thread several posters spoke up in favor a dextrins as thickeners. These are starch molecules that have been broken into shorter ones. They have less thickening power than starches, but apparently don't thicken further when cooled. I personally don't have experience with dark roux or other dextrins.

                                                                                                                                                                    What makes a dark roux less thickening is the creation of dextins. I wonder if the longer/slower risotto method also creates dextrins. Toasting the rice at the start might also do this.

                                                                                                                                                                    I believe dextrins can be made at home by slowly roasting a pure starch (e.g. cornstarch, though rice starch should also work). Toasting the rice well at the start, combined with tweaking the thickening at the end with a dextrin slurry, might give the optimal creaminess when the risotto is cooler.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                      I'm overdue to update an older thread to describe production of pure dextrin for home use, but will do so soon. (I did some work with it during recent holidays.)

                                                                                                                                                                      Dextrin is something you produce and handle often (knowingly or not) when cooking starches in absence of water. It develops on the surface of toasted bread, and gives the slightly sweeter flavor perceptible there. Or in rice grains cooked more than cursorily in fat, for a pilaf or risotto. Pure dextrin made from pure vegetable starches isn't dark, at most it's slightly off-white, but if cooked further, it breaks down like other carbohydrates and releases carbon.

                                                                                                                                                                      It was a subject more familiar, to people interested in food, in the past. Writing for professionals a century ago, Escoffier stressed its central role in roux-making and sauces (the fat in roux, he remarked, was really just a carrier, and could be recovered and re-used in a commercial kitchen). I read about dextrin in popular science books of the 1960s (which always mentioned the toast connection, and that it is used for envelope gum). Such references are scarcer in recent food writing, even where it's very relevant. When people cite "reduced thickening power of starch" that was cooked without water, they are implicitly describing dextrin.

                                                                                                                                                                      Unlike starch, dextrin is soluble, directly digestible, and mildly sweet. I find the pure stuff behaves rather like powdered gelatin or agar. It forms a gummy slurry with cold water, then gradually dissolves on standing, faster when heated. It's a milder thickener than starch, different in other ways too, giving a more syrupy, less pasty texture. I find cold dextrin-based sauces, when reheated, "melt" rather like those thickened only with gelatin.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                                        I'm not quite sure what you mean by 'directly digestible'. My understanding is that we produce enzymes that break up starches, first into dextrins and ultimately into the simple sugars, fructose and glucose. Those are the only ones that are absorbed. The enzymes that act directly on starches are found in saliva and also produced by the pancreas.

                                                                                                                                                                        So dextrins are a step closer to the final digestible product, but not all the way there.

                                                                                                                                                                        Holding a piece of bread or cracker in the mouth for a while allows the saliva to act on starches, producing a sweet taste.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                          "I'm not quite sure what you mean by 'directly digestible' "

                                                                                                                                                                          Rephrase: Unline dextrin, RAW starch -- the sense I was using there -- is quite INdigestible, until cooked in some way. (I assume at least some of you have tried at times tasting raw cornstarch, flour, rice, potatoes, etc. etc.) Breads and crackers have cooked starches, which wasn't my comparison.

                                                                                                                                                                          You could likewise argue formally that even sucrose, being a compound sugar, isn't directly digestible; but my point is it belongs to the family of nutrients metabolically accessible without further cooking.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                                            Part of the problem with that 'starch' can refer to several things - the pure molecules, the granuals, as well as cells and large plant structures containing them. Further more the molecules can be hydrated and/or gelatinized.

                                                                                                                                                                            I was reading the section in 'Ideas in Food' about precooking potatoes and rice to hydrate the starches (at around 150F). But even there I noticed some sloppiness in terminology, resulting in confusing explanations.

                                                                                                                                                        2. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                          I'd love to do this, but the problem is, recipes are never really *complete*. There are still many implicit judgment calls left to whoever is actually cooking, and these judgments could greatly affect the end result. I have tried the traditional recipe and found it no different from the shortcut versions, but that could be my fault rather than the recipe's.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                                            "recipes are never really *complete*. There are still many implicit judgment calls left to whoever is actually cooking, and these judgments could greatly affect the end result."

                                                                                                                                                            Absolutely. Yet this discussion is by and about about home cooks, who often work from recipes, and it's on a text-based internet forum. Within the constraints of such media, people retain the freedom to explore simplifications, and judge the result for themselves.

                                                                                                                                                            Of course, if the eaters judge the results equally good, the simplification is validated. Decisively. As when blind-tasting similar wines: any time you can't tell the difference in the glass between two of different prices, it makes sense to buy the cheaper.

                                                                                                                                                            You pointed out that Kenji's experiments refute some proposed "why" explanations. "Why" explanations pervade people's notions about cooking rules. Often, several people who've accepted a given "rule" will maintain different, mutually incompatible "why" explanations for it. Visible in many online food threads including this one. Cooking-rule notions can be strikingly resilient and resistant to evidence. Just like other ideas that people buy into, for example popular notions and self-diagnoses concerning effects of MSG, which endure no matter how many times the self-daignoses are discredited by objective reality tests:


                                                                                                                                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                              I don't really disagree. Like I said, I currently make my risotto the sacrilegious, easy way. But all my own experiments prove is that my attempts to make a simplified risotto are no worse than my attempts to make a traditional risotto. It doesn't say anything very compelling about the underlying recipes, cooked by more experienced people. The fact that we're working off recipes rather than the finished dishes adds one more layer of uncertainty to the test. It's like a blind wine tasting where both wines have been stored improperly.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                                                The analogy I had in mind earlier was a blind wine tasting where the taster may or may not have an expert palate. Again -- within the context of THIS Chowhound text discussion, which started with a home cook asking about one simplification -- the relevant upshot is that any simplification yielding equivalent results _to you_ (or other actual "tasters") is validated _to you._ That's incontrovertible, and central.

                                                                                                                                                                Kind of like if your wine palate is inexpert, and for that reason can't distinguish between two wines -- even if a more expert palate could. Then YOUR logical choice, not subject to anyone else's opinion, is the cheaper wine.

                                                                                                                                                                My own considerable experience with risottos, which also includes some respected European restaurant versions, and doing deliberate home experiments controlled to remove other variables such as ingredient differences, leads me to think that the large-liquid-addition shortcut is capable of yielding results indistinguishable to almost anyone (evidently including Heston Blumenthal) and possibly literally anyone, a question that would be settled only with a real blind test, not by assertions.

                                                                                                                                                                Not that there's any harm in following tradition if you choose to do so, for whatever reason. Or buying the more expensive of two wines you can't distinguish, for whatever reason.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                                  You see, I disagree with you on this large stock addition, because I've done it, many times, even inadvertently, and the risotto produced is not nearly as good as the adding stock incrementally.

                                                                                                                                                                  The differences are not all that subtle -- the risotto produced from this method has obvious differences that make it not as good.

                                                                                                                                                                  The differences include the lack of an al dente quality to the individual rice grain, to the textural and flavor difference in the starchy liquid that bathes the grains, to the loss of flavor overall in the dish.

                                                                                                                                                                  That's why I don't consider the wine-tasting metaphor to be valid, because these are quite obvious differences, not differences that only a trained taster or person with great visual acuity could detect.

                                                                                                                                                                  Really, truly, having made this dish at least 700 times (and possibly close to 1000 times), the traditional method yields the best flavor, and what I think, the dish is *supposed* to be.

                                                                                                                                                        3. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                                          Kenji's article points to a blog I should pay more attention to, Ideas in Food. http://blog.ideasinfood.com/ideas_in_...
                                                                                                                                                          They have 2 ideas for shortening the cooking time (to 6 minutes) - either sousvide or soaking.

                                                                                                                                        4. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                          "These chemical processes are essentially the same as when browning meat."

                                                                                                                                          But the maillard reaction occurs very slowly below 300F "...generally requiring many hours near the boiling point of water" to quote from the same source you cited above.

                                                                                                                                          So I'm confused here. First you said that the liquid gets above 212 due to the slow addition of the traditional method, and that it's a similar process to the Maillard. But at temperatures below 300, the Maillard takes many hours. It's unlikely that the liquid in risotto is getting significantly hotter than 212. Yes, perhaps the solids are (and it's likely that the soldis are), but not the liquid. And by significant, I mean more than a few degrees. You can throw a good decent amount of solute into water before you see any meaningful change in boiing point, something that can easily be demonstrated in the kitchen. Yes, caramel is hotter than boiliong, but then again candy at 300 contains little water. Caramel and the liquid in risotto have a fairly different consistency.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                            The quote about it being similar to browning meat is from the link, but I interpreted it to mean nothing more that browning increases flavor through chemical reactions.

                                                                                                                                            To me, the risotto cooking process is closer to cooking mash, which increases the flavor of the grains using both caramelization and Maillard reactions.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                              All the caramelization when making Beer is done when the Malt is roasted, not during the Mashing.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: chefj

                                                                                                                                                Not according to the beermakers I've talked to or to the brewing information I've read. ETA: I just re-checked the starches and enzyme chemistry lit to be sure.

                                                                                                                                  2. re: Soul Vole

                                                                                                                                    The water IS all gone. Water can not be present in its liquid form at 300 F.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: chefj

                                                                                                                                      technically speaking, there is still about 1% water left at 300 (hard crack stage).

                                                                                                                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                        You are correct, I actually was thinking of the next stage, when Caramelization begins. 315 and up

                                                                                                                            2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                              I think this discussion has gotten unnecessarily complicated. Adding small smounts of stock allows the water to evaporate more quickly and the rice to absorb more of the concentrated flavor. Adding it all at once, the rice sits in the dilutes liquid and absorbs that and hence ends up w/ less flavor. Also sitting in the extra liquid changes the texture. It's like rice when you let it sit in water before cooking. Not the same.

                                                                                                                                1. re: alkapal

                                                                                                                                  Here are the five risotto tips I've learned in order to get both creaminess and the flavor from caramelizing the grains:

                                                                                                                                  1. Add stock incrementally in rather small amounts, making sure the bottom of the pan is dry between each addition so the rice grains can caramelize and deepen in flavor.

                                                                                                                                  2. Don't let the pan get so dry the rice sticks or burns, just dry enough to lightly brown/caramelize the grains.

                                                                                                                                  3. Stir with each stock addition to expose new rice grains to the bottom of the hot pan so they too caramelize. Stay close by to tend the pan and coax out flavor.

                                                                                                                                  4. Make sure the rice isn't swimming in stock so that the milky starch can exude and make risotto "gravy."

                                                                                                                                  5. Great ingredients: good concentrated stock, the proper rice, good butter, Parmigiano Reggiano, etc.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                    That's what I do, too, only no butter. It never occurred to me to add butter but that does sounds good. I know it's heretic but I sometimes finish mine off w/ a dollop of cream. I saw it on a local cooking show decades ago and it gives it a nice creamy consistency.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                      Check, check, check, check and check! Sounds just like what I've been doing-- with wonderful results.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                        There is NO caramelizaton of the Rice in traditional Rissoto making.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                          So your risotto develops a nice deep caramel color?

                                                                                                                                          What's the difference between 'creaminess' and 'risotto gravy'?

                                                                                                                                          For some reason I thought risotto cooking was all about releasing starch from the rice.

                                                                                                                                          Paella is not stirred so as to not release the starch. Other rice dishes rinse the rice well to remove surface starch. Still others use long grain rice, and sauteing in oil, to minimized starch release, and produce light fluffy dry rice. Risotto does the opposite (with possible exception of the frying part).

                                                                                                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                            Not a deep caramel color, no. Much paler.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                              I've never encountered any caramelization technique in risotto. In fact, instructions are usually explicitly contrary (do not let the onions brown at all, eg).

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Karl S

                                                                                                                                                I've not read the technique listed as caramelization per se, but the heat at the bottom of the pan is certainly hot enough to lightly caramelize the rice grains, not necessarily to the point of adding color. That's what I've read from several food chemistry sources, and that certainly seems to be the case when cooking. Recipe instructions do say to toast the rice in the fat before the addition of stock, so the starch molecules must be affected then also.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                  It is not to take on any color at all
                                                                                                                                                  Most recipes say things like
                                                                                                                                                  "The rice shouldn't look brown or toasted, though." about.com
                                                                                                                                                  "After a minute it will look slightly translucent. Add the vermouth or wine and keep stirring" Jamie Oliver

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                    You can pick up minor incidental darkening of some rice grains (or onion/shallot) from initial cooking in oil, depending on how carefully it's done.

                                                                                                                                                    But before the raw starch caramelizes significantly in fat, it also dextrinates (as with roux, or bread being toasted). The dextrin's affinity for water will be enormous, and will contribute dissolved, clear vegetable gum to the cooked risotto, besides the water-cooked raw starch that also comes from the grains.

                                                                                                                                                    I'd guess this is one reason many rice dishes have a slightly different character when the rice is precooked in fat, before adding water.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                      In pilaf style, I thought the purpose of sauteing the rice before adding liquid was to help keep the grains separate. The idea seemed to be that the fat would coat the grains, and reduce clumping as they absorbed water. But the fat was supposed to the same with the flour in a roux.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                        A possible answer
                                                                                                                                                        "Why you sauté some rice and pasta, but not all"

                                                                                                                                                        1 - better absorb fat soluble flavors

                                                                                                                                                        2- create a crust that keeps the rice from becoming mushy

                                                                                                                                                        "When you’re sautéing, you’re also toasting the grain. You give the grain a crust-like exterior. This crust-like exterior keeps the rice from becoming too mushy (mush works great for rice pudding, but isn’t very good for a paella or risotto), makes it harder to overcook (something that is very easy to do with medium-grain rice), and keeps the grain separated, but still a little sticky (you want to feel like you’re eating rice, but don’t want individual grains to fall off your fork). It gives medium-grain rice and narrow gauge pastas some tooth."

                                                                                                                                                        Notice the mention of medium-grain rice.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                          The research I've read says that toasting the risotto rice varieties helps the grain exude more starch, so the final dish is creamier. There is a minor color change during this (beige-sh, tan-ish), but the rice grains gain more color from cooking at the bottom of the pan.

                                                                                                                                                      2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                        Also: Any mention of caramelization that distinguishes it from browning is a contradiction in terms. Starches and sugars caramelize because, and to precisely the extent that, they liberate carbon, the decomposition product. Carbon has color.

                                                                                                                                                        (It's a fixed relationship, like E = mc squared. Every chemical reaction that liberates heat also entails a tiny loss of mass -- the exact amount of mass is calculable from the heat, by the expression above.)

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                          The rice gets a slight color change during toasting, but more at the bottom of the pan just before a stock addition. That's caramelization, though it doesn't add a lot of color, just a bit.

                                                                                                                                                          My understanding of dextrination is that it must occur in dry conditions, so it may happen when the bottom of the pan is dry before the next stock addition. Interesting about the vegetable gum and water affinity. Dextrination may explain why allowing each small stock addition to mostly evaporate or be absorbed before the next stock addition may make risotto creamier.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                            Dextrination is especially associated in practice with starches either covered in fat (as in roux) or not yet exposed to water. I make bulk dextrin (for sauces) by heating powdered rice starch or cornstarch (either in a dry pan or a hot oven). You can check the degree of dextrination, because dextrin is soluble in cold water, unlike starch. And the aroma changes to one familiar if you ever handled quantities of old-fashioned postage stamps, or envelope flaps, where it's the common moisture-activated gum.

                                                                                                                                                            Dextrin is a sort of the cheapest rudimentary vegetable gum, it occurs in cooking roux (giving a more gelatinelike texture in sauces than starch does), and is used in processed foods. It can be very handy for sauces and gravies, for example if you want to assemble a roux from some type of very delicate fat that happens to possess an awkwardly low smoke point.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                              Dextrinization is pretty interesting, and doesn't have the recognition factor that caramelization does, though it's plenty operative in the kitchen. So thanks for that.

                                                                                                                                                              Checked Google Scholar and all the sources say it occurs in a dry environment, so don't know about it occurring when risotto rice grains are heated in fat initially, but fascinating nonetheless if you're into this geeky food chemistry stuff.

                                                                                                                                                              Dextrin's gummy contribution to a better risotto gravy is one I hadn't considered. Working in tandem with the starch from the rice grains. Thanks.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                                "Checked Google Scholar and all the sources say it occurs in a dry environment, so don't know about it occurring when risotto rice grains are heated in fat initially"

                                                                                                                                                                The factor of importance in dextrination is heating starch in _absence of water,_ which I take as the point also of the quoted words.

                                                                                                                                                                One place that happens is in fatty environments, such as roux, or the similar preliminary cooking of starch in fat while making traditional US-type thickened gravies from roast meat. Also, the cooking step disinguishes a French roux from a beurre manié (occasionally used also in sauces).

                                                                                                                                                                (Harold McGee's reference book has some good explanation of this IIRC; I don't know what's online. I came to rely on good print sources for most of my food info, many of which, like McGee, are under copyright. My own familiarity with dextrins came much earlier, before McGee, when studying them directly. They are available commercially from lab supply etc. but again it's so easy and cheap to make your own, I fell into the habit.)

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                                  Why do dark rouxs have a lower thickening power than light ones? Presumably dextrination has been carried further in the dark ones.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                    I know from my experience you can make essentially pure dextrin before it browns significantly. (Commercial dextrins I've seen also were just slightly off-white). Further cooking is going to basically brown the resulting carbohydrate, i.e. break it down. Louisiana cooking makes more use of that method than French.

                                                                                                                                                                    The whole subject has several subtleties that don't seem to be commonly known, though useful to know. Link below to a past CH thread that went into some of them.

                                                                                                                                                                    It is Escoffier in Guide Culinaire, not McGee, who described the role of dextrin in roux as I'd recalled. It's pretty obvious if you work much with both traditional roux and dry-roasted starch, because in both cases the heating starch first loses residual moisture, then evolves in color, in the same way; and a roux made with precooked starch behaves identically to a classic one in sauces, except the fat wasn't exposed along the way to smoking and its side effects.

                                                                                                                                                                    Escoffier also mentions (thread below touches this) that while wheat flour evolved as a common material for roux, the flour's useful component is its starch per se; the proteins just dilute it.

                                                                                                                                                                    I also noticed when I started making roux (1970s) that wheat flour contributes "dark matter," in rather discrete flecks, as roux heats on the stove, before the bulk of it has done much of its gradual browning. Same thing (different in detail) occurs if you use unclarified butter (rather as when making "brown" or "black" butter by itself). I assume those are Maillard products. Purer, refined starches have almost no protein, and they also show much less of this premature browning

                                                                                                                                                                    Thread below has much more on roux. Further questions likely belong there, as being pretty tangential to risotto, even by my standards!


                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                                      In a risotto, the question is whether dextrinization of the rice starch at the start of the recipe contributes to significantly to the creaminess, or whether it is primarily the result of gelatinization of starch released while cooking the rice in the stock.

                                                                                                                                                                      With out a lot lab equipment a home cook can only compare the creaminess of risotto made little initial saute, versus one where that step was long and careful.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                        Tests were performed to see if initial toasting/saute-ing in oil of risotto rice grains resulted in creamier risottos, and the conclusions were it did. Whether the creamier risotto is from the dextrin gel/gum or from the amylose/amylopectin starch in the rice grain, or from both sources, I don't know.

                                                                                                                                            2. re: chowser

                                                                                                                                              Some day I'll collect (and maybe publish in print!) the various claims asserted online about how it is that gradual broth addition throughout the cooking must give a different result. (This will join other, existing, lists of cooking subjects with popular competing theories -- my personal favorite being why recipes call for unsalted butter, then add salt to it, a point that has yielded many confused explanations even in PRINT and no doubt engagingly occupied some past CH threads).

                                                                                                                                              As it is, this thread already includes some (very different and competing) theories about this aspect of risotto making. My particular issue with the latest assertion above is that it doesn't consider the very wide range of flavor concentrations pre-existing in the meat broth. It isn't a narrowly constrained quantity (like the fat pecentage in butter, for instance) and in my experiences with risotto making and risotto recipes, broth flavor density (and related factors like gelatine content) vary widely -- much more widely than does the fraction of water lost to evaporation during the cooking.

                                                                                                                                              I can readily make a much stronger meat stock (and sometimes do so), which certainly shows in the finished risotto. But in my experience, it shows much more than the difference between adding all of the stock gradually vs. adding most of it at the beginning. That's a difference I have very curiously and deliberately tested, repeatedly, for many years, otherwise I would not have addressed it in this thread.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                For a simple experiment, try making Lidia's poor man's risotto and chicken. It's a great dish but different from risotto. Vastly. I don't think anyone has claimed that other factors such as quality of stock are unimportant. There are many factors to a great risotto.

                                                                                                                                          2. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                            " but the milky starchy liquid inside the rice grain -- the thicker liquid"

                                                                                                                                            Starch is not a liquid.


                                                                                                                                            I think you may not have read closely enough. I said it was a liquid.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                              "I think you may not have read closely enough. I said it was a liquid."

                                                                                                                                              Right. you said starch was a liquid. That's incorrect. Starch is not a liquid.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                                "Milky, starchy LIQUID."

                                                                                                                                                A starchy liquid is a liquid with starch in it.

                                                                                                                                                A milky liquid appears creamy or like it has milk.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                  From one of your posts above: "What I said was that the liquid-y milky starch"

                                                                                                                                                  I read that to mean that the starch was liquid. Perhaps you mis-typed.

                                                                                                                                  2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                    I agree that we disagree. (Actually I'm not even sure we do, because I can speak only to my own actual experiences, and you to yours. I learned risotto by the classic method, from Italian cooks. Maybe that influences the way I do the "shortcuts," knowing what to aim for.) But we will never be able to compare apples to apples on this unless we someday get together for some blind taste tests. Meanwhile, I assure you my experimental results continue to be popular -- which was the objective.

                                                                                                                                2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                  "Risotto is defined by a certain texture"

                                                                                                                                  It's not,actually. Risotto all Milanese has a definition. Risotto, beyond some basics, doesn't.

                                                                                                                                  And that's what's wrong, IMO, when folks here (CH) ask about how to make risotto. You'd think there is one and only only way, and every other way is crap.

                                                                                                                                  Bull. Us common folks can make very good "risotto", using our non-Milanese techniques.

                                                                                                                                  And, by the the way, adding "splash after splash" of broth doesn't result in an emulsion.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                    That's a highly emotional response, that argues against opinions that certainly aren't mine.

                                                                                                                                    <<Risotto, beyond some basics, doesn't [have a definition].>>

                                                                                                                                    It's the basics of risotto I'm speaking of, not the types of risotto, like Milanese. Just like the basics of pie dough or croissants. Texture is part of the definition of all three of these.

                                                                                                                                    Risotto's milky gravy is an emulsion, like all gravy is. In this case, it's formed by stock, fat and rice starch. An emulsion is a combination of two liquids that do not normally mix, like oil and water. I wasn't referring to an emulsion made with an egg.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                      "Risotto's milky gravy is an emulsion, like all gravy is."

                                                                                                                                      I'm not sure why you're referring to the the liquid surrounding rice grains in risotto as a gravy, nor have I ever heard of gravy's defined as emulsions.

                                                                                                                                      The liquid surrounding risotto isn't an emulsion, it's starch in liquid. Leave out any fat, and you'd have the same starch in liquid. The amount of fat in risotto (coming from olive oil) compared to the volume of liquid added is tiny. That's a lot different than an emulsion like a vinaigrette or a hot dog. The velvety feel of risotto can also come from a collagen heavy stock. Again, not an emulsion.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                        foreverhungry is technically pretty accurate here.

                                                                                                                                        However much it may be popular lately for foodies to characterize many foods as emulsions, the fat is much more a trace component in risotto recipes (than, say, vinaigrette or mayonnaise or traditional beef gravy), and the liquid's texture and mouthfeel comes more from starch -- just as in jook (congee), another wet rice specialty from a very distant region, which can also include a little fat, depending on how made.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                          Oh, I'm not saying emulsion because it's popular to do so. I don't think it is a popular thing to do.

                                                                                                                                          I said it because it's correct, and because -- back to the point -- that specific milky gravy is one of the characteristics of excellent risotto.

                                                                                                                                        2. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                          <<I'm not sure why you're referring to the the liquid surrounding rice grains in risotto as a gravy, nor have I ever heard of gravy's defined as emulsions. >>

                                                                                                                                          Gravy is quite commonly used to describe the liquid-y sauce of risotto. I've come across it many times in my reading on risotto, and have simply repeated the word here.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                            Maria, I could have taught you about colloidal matter states in the 1960s. "Gravy" is a loose colloquiallism, reasonably applied to a wide range of viscid edible liquids. But risotto liquid is an emulsion to precisely the extent that it contains fat -- which is much less than in the other examples I compared. That is the standard understanding of emulsions in the applied sciences, irrespective of any web sites. Check CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, check Merck Index. Books, not online.(NB, I have technical degrees from MIT and Berkeley and a great deal of training in physical sciences.)

                                                                                                                                            I have witnessed the term emulsion become fashionable in online foodie discussions of recent years, prompted perhaps by the likes of Ferran Adria or Nathan Myhrvold.

                                                                                                                                            Perhaps you have _practical_ experience also with jook/congee (as different parts of China call it)? Very similar situation to risotto, similar "gravy."

                                                                                                                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                              <<Maria, I could have taught you about colloidal matter states in the 1960s. >>

                                                                                                                                              And I would have been thrilled. I love stuff like that. BTW, I didn't just fall off the turnip truck here in my own knowledge of risotto served in the US and in Italy, or gastronomy/food anthropology/food history, or academics, or food/wine chemistry, or science in general.

                                                                                                                                              <<However much it may be popular lately for foodies to characterize many foods as emulsions, the fat is much more a trace component in risotto recipes compared. >>

                                                                                                                                              Risotto has a lot of fat. Add it all up and you'll easily see the gravy is an emulsion (like all gravies are): Butter/olive oil used to saute the butter/rice at the beginning, any fat that may be in the stock, the healthy amount of Parmigiano Reggiano added, and the big knob of butter used to finish risotto at the very end just before serving.

                                                                                                                                              I am slightly familiar with jook and jook joints in the SF Bay Area. Didn't get much chance to visit those in my travels through Asia. But jook's starchy liquid is a colloid or susspension -- not a "gravy" and not emulsified, unlike risotto's gravy, which is both.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                I wrote above to your words as originally written, which have since changed; so for context, the relevant quote was "Gravy is quite commonly used to describe the liquid-y sauce of risotto. It is an emulsion -- I checked many websites -- ..."

                                                                                                                                                From that, I understood you to defer to web sites re emulsions; whereas I work, since the 1960s, from the standard definition, from which the ingredients define the colloidal state. Liquid fat suspended in something water-based makes it an emulsion. But the fat is a minor and variable part of risotto, compared to many food emulsions, like Hollandaise or vinaigrette. (Of which mine, by the way, doesn't separate, ahem, thanks to crushed garlic and other ingredient emulsifiers!)

                                                                                                                                                So, with or without web sites, while you can insist on definitions legalistically (but please abjure projections about what I am estimating, I certainly considered cheese and it does not alter the following picture): foreverhungry was correct in essence. Yes, risotto will always be formally an emulsion; no, that is not very important here, because the texture and behavior of starch-thickened liquids is only a weak function of the fat content, until it gets to the substantial levels found in vinaigrettes or fatty meat gravies. Otherwise, it is basically rice-gruel broth, as in jook, the point of my reference there. Jook routinely also has small and variable fat too, from meats or stocks used in it according to the cook. Not _materially_ different from rice gruel broth without fat -- foreverhungry's point.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                  <<But the fat is a minor and variable part of risotto, compared to many food emulsions, like Hollandaise or vinaigrette.>>

                                                                                                                                                  Let's do the math, and use the article and recipe cited earlier by Elizabeth Sahatjian in Esquire, a supremely classic Italian basic risotto:

                                                                                                                                                  4 T. unsalted butter and 1 T. olive oil to sweat/saute onion and arborio

                                                                                                                                                  4 ounces authentic Parmigiano Reggiano -- 65% is fat

                                                                                                                                                  1 T. butter to finish

                                                                                                                                                  That's 6 T. fat from butter and olive oil (3 ounces), and 2.5 ounces of fat from Parm.

                                                                                                                                                  In total: 5.5 ounces of fat.

                                                                                                                                                  So, there's absolutely no way you or foreverhungry can accurately say that the amount of fat is "minor" or "tiny," as you have done.

                                                                                                                                                  You cannot accurately say, "The fat is much more a trace component in risotto recipes (than, say, vinaigrette or mayonnaise or traditional beef gravy)."

                                                                                                                                                  5.5 ounces of fat is certainly comparable to the amount of fat used in a traditional American gravy.

                                                                                                                                                  The math shows why I've said all along -- and will continue to say -- that you and foreverhungry both greatly underestimated the amount of fat in risotto.

                                                                                                                                                  Because you did so, you repeatedly dismissed the idea that risotto gravy could be an emulsion, which simply is oil and water (no quantities need be defined in the scientific definition) or two other immiscible liquids, which are then combined using an emulsifying agent.

                                                                                                                                                  The fat is the butter, olive oil and the fat in the cheese; the water component is found in the stock and in the liquid given up by whatever vegetables might be in the risotto.

                                                                                                                                                  The rice starch is the emulsifying agent, analogous to the flour in gravy, and an emulsifying agent just like egg yolk, mustard, pure lecithin or any commercial emulsifier or stabilizer.

                                                                                                                                                  So please stop all this nonsense about risotto having only a tiny amount of fat and because of that it's similar to jook or rice gruel broth.

                                                                                                                                                  It simply isn't, and this thread drift is taking way too many column inches and time to correct your recipe misperceptions and food chemistry inaccuracies.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                    If the fat content of risotto is the same as hollondaise I will never eat it again!!! I find it hard to believe that ounce for ounce they have the same fat content?

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Gloriaa

                                                                                                                                                      Why not look it up and report back?

                                                                                                                                                      There are a few comparisons to make.

                                                                                                                                                      One, related to what Eatzalot was saying above, compared the amount of fat in two emulsions: risotto gravy vs. Hollandaise or gravy.

                                                                                                                                                      You're comparing something different.

                                                                                                                                                      What you want to compare are the grams of fat per serving of both risotto and hollandaise. To do that, you add up the total grams of fat in the entire recipe, then divide that by the number of servings to get the fat grams per serving.

                                                                                                                                                      Or, you can compare fat content, but that won't help you because Hollandaise is almost all fat, and risotto is only part fat (but a higher amount than people realize).

                                                                                                                                                      And the serving size of Hollandaise is far smaller than a serving size of risotto.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                        Ok so I tried to do some research, certainly not clear cut. So for 2 tbsps(1 ounce) risotto has 44 calories and less than 2 grams of fat and hollondaise has 134 calories and 14 grams of fat. I am a bit confused by the analogy because one is a primi and the other is a sauce. I would eat 8 ounces of risotto but NEVER 8 ounces of hollondaise. Am I missing something?

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Gloriaa

                                                                                                                                                          <<I would eat 8 ounces of risotto but NEVER 8 ounces of hollondaise. Am I missing something?<<

                                                                                                                                                          Yes, that's right. You need to compare serving sizes to get the answer you're looking for.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                            Looks like there is 34 percent fat in risotto and 94 in hollondaise. I think that is quite different and in no way comparable...I think this is going way off topic and is getting ridiculous!

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Gloriaa

                                                                                                                                                              Just as long as you keep enjoying risotto. It's not an everyday dish.

                                                                                                                                                    2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                      "That's 6 T. fat from butter and olive oil (3 ounces)"

                                                                                                                                                      Butter is not 100% fat. It has a significant amount of moisture.

                                                                                                                                                      You have 5.5 ounces of fat and over 6 cups of liquid. That proportion is not a standard emulsion. Having a few percent of oil in water doesn't make it an emulsion. If that were the case, then a drop of oil dispersed in 10 liters of water would be an emulsion. I think common sense suggests it's not.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                                        It's an emulsion. It's even a standard emulsion. Have you taken the time to read some science articles about emulsions?

                                                                                                                                                        A scientifically defined emulsion does not require any minimum quantity of the two liquids that are combined.

                                                                                                                                                        It does require that the liquids be immiscible and combined by an emulsifying agent.

                                                                                                                                                        So it could be that drop of oil in 10 liters of water as long as the two were combined and interspersed using an emulsifying agent.

                                                                                                                                                        But don't take my word for it. Do some research on some credible science sites, and report on what you have learned from your reading.

                                                                                                                                            2. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                              <<The liquid surrounding risotto isn't an emulsion, it's starch in liquid. Leave out any fat, and you'd have the same starch in liquid. >>

                                                                                                                                              Were we merely talking about the starchy liquid that oozes from the rice, that's probably a colloid, though it may be a suspension. It forms an emulsion when it meets the stock and fat in the saucepan, and the emulsion becomes more established when the dish is finished with cheese and butter at the end.

                                                                                                                                              Please read about colloids, suspensions, and emulsions, if you're interested.

                                                                                                                                              <<That's a lot different than an emulsion like a vinaigrette or a hot dog. The velvety feel of risotto can also come from a collagen heavy stock. Again, not an emulsion.>>

                                                                                                                                              Hot dogs or meat or sausage are not technically emulsified, even though that word is used in sausage-making/charcuterie. The term has been misused in that food-making category for years, not because it's popular to say that term, but because the term is not understood.

                                                                                                                                              A vinaigrette is a temporary emulsion. Mayonnaise is a permanent emulsion and the egg yolk/lecithin is the emulsifying agent.

                                                                                                                                              A collagen-rich stock (yum) is mucilaginous, and a colloid because of the gelatin. Not an emulsion, as you say. When that collagen-rich mucilaginous stock combines with fat and a form of starch (the emulsifying agent), it forms an emulsion known as gravy.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                "Hot dogs or meat or sausage are not technically emulsified, even though that word is used in sausage-making/charcuterie. The term has been misused in that food-making category for years, not because it's popular to say that term, but because the term is not understood."

                                                                                                                                                I used to make hotdogs for research and development. It is most certainly an emulsion, and the result when the emulsion fails is a hot dog with a bad texture. We measured whether we had an emulsion or not for every hot dog run via conductance.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                                  Just so you know, foreverhungry:

                                                                                                                                                  "The meat is so finely subdivided that the sausage mix is a viscous mass with many characteristics of an emulsion, although in a strict sense, they are not true emulsions. They are referred to as batter-type sausages: examples are frankfurters and bologna."

                                                                                                                                                  -- "Principles of Meat Science,"
                                                                                                                                                  by Elton D. Aberle, John C. Forrest, David E. Gerrard, et al., page 118.

                                                                                                                                                  "Meat emulsion is not a true emulsion since the two phases involved are not liquids and the fat droplets in a commercial emulsion are larger than 50 m in diameter and thus do not conform to one of the requirement of a classical emulsion. The continuous phase mainly consists of water, water soluble proteins and salt soluble proteins. The dispersed phase or discontinuous phase consists of fat droplets."

                                                                                                                                                  Perhaps your company liquified the meat, separated the fat and other liquid, and then added emulsifiers in their recipe to combine the two liquids. Then the hot dogs you were making would be emulsified.

                                                                                                                                          2. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                            Reading great late-20th-c. food historians (especially Evan Jones on locally-sourced folk cooking), I learned of many fine native and adapted food specialties around North America in recent centuries. Yet when modern Americans assimilate food ideas from other cultures, a punctiliousness or stiffness can prevail, at least until the specialty ceases to seem novel, and becomes assimilated.

                                                                                                                                            I witnessed this in the 1970s and 80s as fine wines were becoming more mainstream. Without realizing it, Americans were tending to place wine on a pedestal and view it as sort of sacrosanct, in ways uncommon to older cultures where wine-drinking was far less novel.

                                                                                                                                            I saw many Americans in those days treat good (but not necessarily rare) wines as something special, to be fussed over, lengthily discussed, served almost as a course by themselves. Great store was placed on the "right" corkscrew type, which varied over time. Shame on the vulgarian who treated wine as a mere beverage and, say, added an ice cube to cool it down.

                                                                                                                                            Meanwhile, European counterparts of these Americans, having known wine at the table, and its taste, since childhood, also knew far less restraint. I noticed in periodic trips that they often drank much more water with their wine than Americans did. Adulteration of wines (not the very best wines, of course) was routine, even exuberant, as on suitable occasions they variously added water, soda water (Spritzers), fruit juices or syrups to form wine-based casual drinks. Even ice cubes.

                                                                                                                                            I suspect it's a larger and basic principle: as food traditions become more familiar, they come down to earth. Risotto is MUCH commoner in the US today than in 1980, being rather a (Northern) Italian than an Italian-American custom. No doubt in a generation or two it will evolve, as pasta recipes (themselves treated as quite exotic or "ethnic" in my US cookbooks circa 1900) did.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                              I liken risotto's evolution to croissants: It/They will be bastardized and corrupted, and their glorious qualities cheapened to produce profits, but the discerning eater will always know a true risotto or a true croissant. It's just so damn obvious. I didn't say that just to piss you off.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                Nor would I assume any such intent. I've read and greatly appreciated your Chowhound comments for years. Your defense of olive oils once (against armchair criticism) is a classic, prominent in my saved files, and I sometimes refer others to it. Though I wish you would be more careful about things like the quibbling with foreverhungry over technical terms like emulsion, which comes off as rhetorical, in the larger context of risotto.

                                                                                                                                                A dilemma implicit in stances like that above, though, is that when presented with dissenting information, it obliges you to make various assumptions (just as with the cheese, earlier) about those arguing with you. And I assure you, you really, REALLY don't know me.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                  Thanks for the nice compliment. Please look at the math of the fat in the recipe. It shows that the amount of fat is rather substantial -- just shy of 70% of the fat used in hollandaise made with 2 sticks of butter.

                                                                                                                                                  If you are not following a classic risotto recipe, then surely you would not know the true amount of fat.

                                                                                                                                                  You will see I am correct on the amount of fat, that the fat/stock/starch form a scientifically defined emulsion, with starch as the emulsifying agent. I use the scientific definitions for emulsion, colloid, suspension and solution the same as you. You have written at least twice that you think I use some web-based definition -- I think you know better than that if you've read my other writing.

                                                                                                                                                  Whenever you do the research that you surely are going to do, piqued and inspired by this thread and interminable thread drift, you will read reference after reference that the gravy of risotto is called -- gravy.

                                                                                                                                      2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                        <<The real key to great risotto is the starchy "gravy" it makes, IMO. That "sauce" completely disappears when it's make ahead of time -- it get absorbs by the rice. Instead of gloopy and wonderful, made-head risotto is clumpy and dry.>>

                                                                                                                                        That's EXACTLY what I was concerned about -- that the pre-made risotto, like pasta left sitting in sauce, would absorb the extra liquid, loose its "al dente" consistency (assuming it was properly cooked to begin with) and become starchy, soft and sticky.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                          I make really good risotto and it is fabulous leftover. Still has the creamy gravy, just a bit thicker. We love the leftovers. They are never ever dry in any way.

                                                                                                                                      3. I thought risotto was the cooking technique, not a definition of the grain to be cooked. I have heard this from a bunch of different sources, and if true, farro, rice, any other ancient grain would be equally "valid."

                                                                                                                                        6 Replies
                                                                                                                                          1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                                                                            I am going to try to track down these "memories" just because I am interested. Food history is a fascinating subject. Like this:


                                                                                                                                            1. re: smtucker

                                                                                                                                              latin for rice is oriza, but "ris" means laughter or pleasure.

                                                                                                                                              am a dork for food history and etymology. :)

                                                                                                                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                                                                                Hmmm... "ris" means "laughter" and otto translates to "eight" (in Italian). So what do you make of that? (I'm a bit of a word geek myself!)

                                                                                                                                          2. yes, you can make it ahead, but make it what seems like extra soupy. once you refrigerate it for storage, it'll firm up. don't add the cheese till you reheat it right before serving. it won't be exactly like it would be if made freshly, because it will seem starchier. ( i say this because that is what i experience when i eat leftover risotto).

                                                                                                                                            1. Let's get real here.

                                                                                                                                              1. Since learning risotto's merits (early 1980s) I've cooked several batches yearly, maybe 150 times total. Often, the delectable Milanese form. I've also had many risottos in US and European restaurants. That affords some basis for observations.

                                                                                                                                              2. Others may conclude from their own experience. They may not comment from mine, since they weren't present. I pointed that out earlier.

                                                                                                                                              3. Maria, I've already asked that you not make assumptions of what I know or think. Some of us do know about emulsions, risotto recipes, arithmetic. I just returned to this thread and saw some numbers tossed around, but below is detailed basis for what I've said upthread. Actual recipes and experience underlay all of my statements earlier.

                                                                                                                                              (What I had twice cited upthread was just the statement, later edited out, "It is an emulsion -- I checked many websites -- " Maybe I misunderstood its point. MY sole point there is that emulsions have a traditional scientific definition which I have used throughout this thread, and the previous 40+ years.)

                                                                                                                                              I'll mention I early got the habit of using risottos as main courses, often skipping a final butter addition, so my risotti run a bit leaner than the older recipes below (I concentrated on ingredient quality, rather than fat, for flavor). But most risotto recipes I've used have circa 5-10% fat-bearing ingredients. The liquid in risotto is essentially starchy water with a little fat.

                                                                                                                                              How much?

                                                                                                                                              Risotto Milanese, Ada Boni in the 1950 translation: ~2kg broth, ~300g solid ingred., 4Tbs (say 30g) grated Parmesan, 115g (1/4 lb.) butter. Total fat ~ 6%.

                                                                                                                                              Risotto Milanese, Marcella Hazan 1973 original book: 1+kg broth, ~400g solid ingred., 4Tbs (say 30g) grated Parm., 115g (1/4 lb.) mixed fats (butter, olive oil, and estimating ~1Tbs fat from 2Tbs marrow or preserved pork). Total fat ~ 9%. (Note Marcella allows for adding more liquid; the minimum is listed here, thus the maximum possible fat content.)

                                                                                                                                              Fratelli de Cecco risotto recipes (online, in Italian) use ca. 1kg broth, 300g rice, 100g or more other ingred., 60g butter, a few Tbs grated cheese. Total fat ~ 6%.

                                                                                                                                              These compare with a 2.5:1 vinaigrette (60-70% fat) and Hollandaise (almost all fat!). Both in Escoffier (1921 ed.)

                                                                                                                                              Quod erat demonstrandum. Next question, please?

                                                                                                                                              10 Replies
                                                                                                                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                Really, the question of whether to term the liquid in a risotto an 'emulsion' boils down to semantics. But bear in mind that milk has often been called an emulsion, at 4% fat (or 2% or 1%). 'Emulsion' is not often used this way when discussing cooking, but it's still an accepted use of the term.

                                                                                                                                                ETA: you mentioned that risotto recipes can vary in terms of how much fat they incorporate. I think it's worth giving an example of how much they can vary. I agree that you can make what you or I would call risotto with very little fat (though perhaps not without any fat at all). But there are recipes that call for a tremendous amount of fat. The recipe in the thread linked below is a good example (and it's a fun read):

                                                                                                                                                1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                  I've explained numerous times that I use the scientific definition of an emulsion, whether the endeavor is cooking or another activity.

                                                                                                                                                  There is no minimum quantity of either liquid required to form an emulsion, only that the two liquids be immiscible and then able to combine with the help of an emulsifying agent, of which there are many in cooking.

                                                                                                                                                  I have no idea why you keep repeating that I'm making assumptions -- I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about.

                                                                                                                                                  There are some errors in your recipe calculations, so you may want to re-check them. Even so, I don't wish to argue any further about calculations, the gravy emulsion in risotto, the fat content of risotto, or a comparison to the fat content of hollandaise. I prefer -- at this point -- to discuss risotto recipes, technique and history.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                    This has been a great threat! I bet the OP didn't expect this level of conversation.

                                                                                                                                                    I learned a lot, and I'm looking forward to experimenting with some risotto recipes. A well as some hot dog ones!

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                                      i didn't realize risotto was so complicated. hahahaaaa. i have never had any problems making it.

                                                                                                                                                  2. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                    I agree it was a useful thread. Even if we wandered into minutiae, I also learned about some different ideas. I made risotto Milanese meanwhile, too!

                                                                                                                                                    Couple clarifications, for the record:

                                                                                                                                                    1. "I have no idea why you keep repeating that I'm making assumptions"


                                                                                                                                                    "you and foreverhungry both greatly underestimated the amount of fat in risotto"

                                                                                                                                                    "look at the math of the fat in the recipe -- just shy of 70% of the fat used in hollandaise ... If you are not following a classic risotto recipe, then surely you would not know the true amount of fat"

                                                                                                                                                    2. "There are some errors in your recipe calculations"

                                                                                                                                                    Awareness of recipes I cited underlay my statements here from the start -- those are the risottos I've generally cooked. I believe Boni, Hazan, Escoffier, and a major Italian distributor of Arborio rice are reasonably representative authorities on their subjects. My fat estimates were honest, realistic calculations from those Italian recipes -- I would EAGERLY correct any errors, should anyone demonstrate (not, again, merely assert) them. There are (obvious) variabilities in some recipes' basic data (such as rice density), which I also have examined. But their impacts are marginal, not altering the main point, what we quantitative professionals term the result's order of magnitude. The order of magnitude of fat in those classic risotto recipes is below 10% (not 70%). I can answer further questions along these lines, but please keep it dispassionate and realistic.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                      No wish to unpack your complicated prose and debate you, even though I disagree.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                                                        "Utterly disagree with this blowback, but refuse to argue." [As that statement was worded when I started this reply.]

                                                                                                                                                        Well, I've simply tried to clarify what was avowed earlier as unclear. I'm not sure that there's even much in my last posting to agree or disagree with.

                                                                                                                                                        Earlier I saw second-guessings of information I'd put forward -- "you greatly underestimated the amount of fat," "if you are not following a classic risotto recipe ..." Therefore, I spelled out where my information and estimates came from.  Throughout this thread, I took for granted (since they're well known and very public) actual "classic" risotto Milanese ingredient proportions, per Boni, Hazan, etc. -- those are what I've usually cooked from. I reported them faithfully here, and derived order-of-magnitude fat content from them. To me this isn't about rhetoric or "argument" but accurate background facts, and I've tried reasonably to point those out.

                                                                                                                                                      2. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                        "My fat estimates were honest, realistic calculations from those Italian recipes -- I would EAGERLY correct any errors, should anyone demonstrate (not, again, merely assert) them."
                                                                                                                                                        One big thing that threw off your numbers a bit - you didn't account for evaporation of liquid during cooking. With any method or recipe (aside from pressure cooker risottos), the loss from evaporation is likely to be substantial. It would be impossible to get a really accurate % of fat in the finished dish unless you weighed a finished risotto and divided the weight of the added fat by that number.

                                                                                                                                                        But we can make a more informed guess by looking at recipes designed for the pressure cooker (since far less liquid is lost to evaporation, the ratios used in such recipes give us a more accurate idea of how much water stays in a finished risotto). In general, it seems at a glance that most pressure cooker risotto recipes use about 2-2.5 cups of liquid per cup of rice. Roughly 5:2 by weight, water/broth/wine to rice ratio. Perhaps as high as 3:1 in some cases.

                                                                                                                                                        Also because of evaporation, grouping all 'dry' ingredients together is similarly problematic. Onions lose weight in cooking; dry rice does not. But at any rate, you can see (or at least get a rough estimate) that the 2kg liquid to 145g fat ratio you listed in the Risotto Milanese recipe from Ada Boni is not going to carry through to the finished dish. I would expect at least 1 kg fluid loss from evaporation during cooking given those ratios.

                                                                                                                                                        Hope all this is taken in good fun.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                          "Hope all this is taken in good fun."

                                                                                                                                                          You betcha, cowboy! And I also appreciate seeing a response on this detail that thoughtfully considered what I wrote.

                                                                                                                                                          I did examine some of that (but have never looked into pressure-cooking risotto or its particular ins and outs). As mentioned much earlier, I generally find the rice needing, just as Marcella Hazan has long told us, circa 3-4 times its _volume_ in broth, cooked at normal atmospheric pressure; and as you point out, some water will evaporate.

                                                                                                                                                          I also noticed when transcribing (from its book -- all but the de Cecco example above I took straight from print sources) that Boni's recipe specified more liquid than I am accustomed to using, or seeing in other recipes. (The detailed recipe there also incidentally used a "small onion, minced," which will have added just a little to the water from the 2 liters of broth specified.)

                                                                                                                                                          Definitely there is evaporation loss during cooking. I'm skeptical about a loss of as much as half the original liquid (1kg loss from 2 liters, as you propose), just based on experience cooking risotti to a given consistency including by some methods with low loss (not pressure-cooked, but still mostly covered.) However, that point would be easy to check, by weighing the before-and-after, when cooking risotto by various methods. (Wish I'd thought of that when cooking some, a couple of days ago!)

                                                                                                                                                          There are other fluctuations I didn't mention, such as broth density. Solutes (often Good Stuff, like gelatin, and any minerals of course -- potassium, maybe sodium) raise its specific gravity above that of water. And there's the variability in exact rice density - while everyone specifies liquids by volume, European recipes of course give all solids by weight, the American by volume (less rational, but customary). That then demands estimating equivalent weights, in this calculation.

                                                                                                                                                          All those factors lead to some range in the upshot, and in either direction (e.g. denser, "better" broth will lead to a _lower_ fat percentage by weight). Most of the uncertainties translate to marginal change in the numbers I derived (6-9% net fat content in finished risotti by "classic" recipes), unless there's truly as much water loss as half, in cooking. That of course could almost double the end fat percentages, or somewhat less than double due to solid (including solute) ingredients. It is an interesting question I'd like to learn about, because my objective (by habit) is accurate, as opposed to wishful, numbers. You can also see of course that even with all these considerations, we are still talking _order_ of 10% rather than 70%.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                            Oops! My bad: Something Maria Lorraine was trying to clarify but I had missed. She was referring earlier to one Risotto recipe having 70% as much fat as a recipe for something different (Hollandaise) -- not the risotto having 70% total fat content. I regret not reading that more carefully.

                                                                                                                                                            Cowboyardee linked one amazing different (Gorgonzola and toasted nut) risotto recipe above -- an Extreme Risotto, in the tradition of Extreme Sports -- must be over half fat. I agree, an amazing read!

                                                                                                                                                            Further to cowboyardee: For an apples-apples comparison of two risotto recipes both specifying rice by volume, Marcella Hazan's _prototype_ Italian risotto recipe (not specifically Milanese) in her original "Classic Italian Cookbook," the recipe that's my longtime go-to reference, specifies 5 to 1.5 (broth:rice volumes), a ratio 3.33 . Comparing cowboy's upshot above, rice absorbing about 2.5 volumes if there's little evaporation, suggests around 25% of broth water lost from evap. in the classic technique. (Because 2.5 is 75% of 3.33.) That seems plausible to me, based on cooking experience.

                                                                                                                                                            Marcella clouds this picture somewhat with her separate Milanese recipe in the book, specifying a ratio just 2.75 (4 + 1.5 cups liquid, 2 cups rice, very little onion), though she does grant you might need a little more liquid there. (I also misquoted the Marcella Milanese recipe earlier, having missed the extra 1.5 cups, listed separately.)

                                                                                                                                                      3. I realize I am late to the debate whether risotto is an emulsion or not, but I think the distinctions in this article are relevant:

                                                                                                                                                        suspension - find particles (solids) dispersed in a liquid. Tend to settle with time

                                                                                                                                                        gel - like a subspension, but with molecules like starch or gelatin that form a network that traps the solids and liquids. More stable than suspensions. Involves gelation. béchamel is given as an example. (there is fat in béchamel, but it serves to coat and separate the flour grains so they don't clump during gelation. Pure starch can make a gel (e.g. corn starch thickened sauce).

                                                                                                                                                        emulsion - one liquid dispersed in another, generally as bubbles with some sort emulsifier that coats the bubbles and keeps them from coalescing.

                                                                                                                                                        While risotto recipes might have a lot of fat, I think it is there to add richness and flavor, not to make the risotto more stable. In my experience the 'creaminess' of a risotto is not all that different from that of a rice pudding (stove top style) or congee. The key is the gelled starch, not lots of fat bubbles.

                                                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                          FYI paulj, there wasn't much substantive disagreement here regarding emulsion status. Those are all very standard terms you quoted, they arise constantly in foods.

                                                                                                                                                          You might well be right regarding the perceived creaminess. Most rice pudding recipes (especially), as well as congees, that I have seen contain some fat. Because they are also viscous gelled liquids, the fat happens to stay suspended as an emulsion, rather than separating out. Fat does contribute to "mouthfeel," whence cream tastes "creamier" than milk, all other things being equal.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                            I actually make a chocolate risotto based rice pudding. It is so good.

                                                                                                                                                          2. Okay, one important factor in making risotto that I haven't seen mentioned here (but hey, we're up to 169 posts in this thread!) is the nasty thing that MANY rices do when they are cooked and stored, and one would assume partially cooked and stored as well, is the "re-hardening" (for lack of a technical term understood by all) that happens.

                                                                                                                                                            I'll use a specific example: I had read "reliable" information about using vialone nano variety of rice (grown in and imported from Italy, where it is purportedly a risotto fave) because it cooks in only 15 minutes (presumably less stirring time) and it renders a richer "gravy."

                                                                                                                                                            One of my very favorite risottos is made with mushrooms and garlic, and I love to top it with a Japanese style sous vide egg. Hey, a light lunch that includes protein! I made it a couple of days ago, and with this thread in mind, I made enough to store some and see how well it reheats.

                                                                                                                                                            My personal findings, and admittedly such things as atmospherics (weather, humidity, and such) always have an impact, but still...

                                                                                                                                                            !. The rice DID NOT become risotto like in rice grain texture (cooked) in anything close to 15 minutes! Good thing I have a machine that stirs the pot for me or I'd have been ticked!

                                                                                                                                                            2. The rice that was perfect at lunch was really lousy for dinner! The rice had re-hardened in the interior, and while it was reasonably tender at lunch, it was grainy at dinner. If only Sam Fujisaka was still with us, I'm sure he would have a full explanation! This is a behavior that, in my experience, is more typical of longer grain white rices than medium or short grained rice. VERY disappointing!

                                                                                                                                                            So.... For risotto making, I will share this information:

                                                                                                                                                            1. Medium or short grained "white" (as in non-Jasmine or other intensly flavored rices) ALL work fairly well for risotto. I have used the following rices successfully for risotto:
                                                                                                                                                            Valione Nano
                                                                                                                                                            Very expensive exotic "sushi rice"
                                                                                                                                                            Calrose "sushi grade" rice
                                                                                                                                                            They ALL work...! BUT!!!! When using any "sushi" rice, DO NOT RINSE as is the tradition for making sushi (rinse until water runs clear). You need those starches that are washed away by the rinsing to make a successful risotto.

                                                                                                                                                            Unless you are a 20 year old "super taster" with the taste buds of a super star master chef, you are not going to be able to discern a difference in the rice you use in risotto as long as it has enough starches left on its surface after the polishing process. THAT is the greater key, and not the varietal of rice you use as long as it's one of those I've listed above. Think about it: By the time you add wine and cheese and onions and garlic and whatever else you're using (my fave is mushrooms), any subtle variances in the flavor or the appropriate white rice varietals will escape you.

                                                                                                                                                            Oh, and even though it is an "acknowledged" rule of thumb that longer grain white rice variatals "reharden" when refrigerated over night, that's not exclusively true, as I found out with the vallione nano rice I special ordered.

                                                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                                              The technical term for that 'rehardening' is retrogradation. Amylose, the long chain starch, exhibits this more than the branching amylopectin. Generally long grain rice is higher in amylose than short ones. The shortest (sticky) has almost no amylose.

                                                                                                                                                              I wondered about using Calrose for risotto. California rice growers claim it is good for that.

                                                                                                                                                              I haven't worried too much about rehardening because I normally reheat left overs. A fluffy long grain is hard when cold, but rewarms nicely. Rice pudding is one case where I worry about the hardening, since it is often eaten cold. The theory is that short grains should be better for that, but I've seen recipes using long grain, and used that rice myself without problem.

                                                                                                                                                              I'm not finding a comprehensive comparison of amylose levels in various strains of rice. But did find this claim:
                                                                                                                                                              "Carnaroli and Vialone Nano have a higher amylose content than Arborio so they absorb more liquid without becoming sticky.

                                                                                                                                                              Read more: http://blog.cookitaly.com/2010/02/hea...
                                                                                                                                                              Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives"

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                                                Caroline, I want basically to endorse your comments on short-grain rices, albeit I do notice different textures resulting with different short-grain rices, not surprising since they yield correspondingly different textures in other cooking too.

                                                                                                                                                                A factor behind my entering this thread at all, to comment on improvisations, is that when making risotto Milanese (by either strict or modified technique), if lacking Arborio-class rice, I've substituted others over the years, sushi-type short grain rices most often.

                                                                                                                                                                What comes out can have a different _texture_ than a classic Italian risotto, but yet the combo of the other ingredients, with high quality, comes through loud and clear in the flavor. That particular "chemistry" of saffron, cheese, broth, wine, and rice belongs in my view to what Marcella Hazan called "the most pleasurable experiences accessible to the sense of taste." With sushi rice, such actual flavor as comes from the rice itself is still about right. The texture is always a bit off, the cooked grains softer or "simpler" and the surroundings less starchy than with Arborio-class grains.

                                                                                                                                                                Long-grain rices a different league: they like to almost dissolve. That's fine in congee, where it's the point. (One classic French chef/author long ago even promoted long-grain rice as binder in his slow-cooked vegetable soups that were to be pureed, and I find that works well.)

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                                                  Risotto must really vary because I don't stir as much and reheat it and it is creamy still with the perfect bite. It is a fussy dish isn't it?

                                                                                                                                                                2. Wow! There's so much good reading and helpful information in this thread. But something that wasn't touched upon at all (or, if it was, I missed it) -- to what extent does the rice, itself, affect the outcome? Is all Arborio rice created equal? Are certain brands better than others? What should I look for when buying rice for risotto? (I would have posted this question in a new thread, but this thread already has the attention of CHs whose opinions I really value.)

                                                                                                                                                                  6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: CindyJ

                                                                                                                                                                    The Kenji article (Serious Eats) that was recently linked does talk about several types of rice (Arborio v Bomba v ...). I have not seen any attempts to distinguish one brand of arborio from another. Why should the brand (i.e. the packaging/importer) matter? The might be a difference between arborio grown in Italy from that grown in California (Lundberg).

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                      FWIW I've had the best luck with carnaroli and use that instead of Arborio. It seems more forgiving. As for brands, it seems the freshness of the rice is more important... but YMMV.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: grayelf

                                                                                                                                                                        How do you determine the freshness? By some sort of harvest date or best by date on the package? Does vacuum sealed v. bulk make a difference?

                                                                                                                                                                        I just found a box of imported Arborio in my pantry. Vacuum sealed, but with a 'best before' date of 5/10/2013. Must have bought it on sale at Grocery Outlet.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                          The ones I like are v. packed and have a BB date on them. Got a box on sale once without checking BB date and yuck.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: grayelf

                                                                                                                                                                          McGee summarizes research in the effect of age on rice. Aged rice is firmer, less sticky, and leaks less starche during cooking.

                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: CindyJ

                                                                                                                                                                        Carnaroli is the most forgiving of the Italian risotto rices.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. "I don't consider the wine-tasting metaphor to be valid, because these are quite obvious differences, not differences that only a trained taster or person with great visual acuity could detect."

                                                                                                                                                                          The beginning and end of my mentions since Dec. 31 of _blind_ wine tasting was its well-known importance in separating reality from notions & assertions, however heartfealt. An issue familiar in the wine world and many others. If "differences" are obvious to many people, it will show in blind testing.

                                                                                                                                                                          Blind-evaluation experiments remove suggestibility, bias, or dogma to which humans are notoriously susceptible. Blind testing is central to studies determining what humans actually, not just allegedly, perceive. Blind sensory testing underlies efficient sensory data storage, e.g. sounds and images (JPEG, MPEG, vocoders); blind tests measure new medicines against placebos.

                                                                                                                                                                          Results of blind sensory tests can be dramatic, objectively refuting emphatic convictions. In some specialties (and I believe this is one of them), faithful blind testing can also be challenging to implement. But it's how to move beyond opinion and claims, to decisively find what people actually are able to smell, taste, hear, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                          All else comes down to assertions (buttressed by rhetoric; claims of experience or credentials; skepticism; ridicule; etc.) This thread has seen testimony from experienced, even professional, people who do not find the dramatic benefits claimed for traditional Italian risotto technique. But short of getting together for some painstaking objective reality testing, whatever anyone argues on any side of the issue, no matter how forcefully or eloquently, remains ultimately just assertions.

                                                                                                                                                                          Meanwhile I URGE fellow home cooks to compare techniques for themselves. If the difference is neglible TO YOU, even if not to someone else, consider yourself lucky: you've learned a useful shortcut.

                                                                                                                                                                          22 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                                            The problem with such relevant-ism is that substandard becomes standard. Passing off junk as anything other than junk fosters low brow, anti-intellectualism. Those who have never had a proper risotto will not know what they are missing, and some oatmeal mush passed off as the real thing is still not the real thing. Genuinely lazy ignorance is just that.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                              "The problem with such relevant-ism is that substandard becomes standard."

                                                                                                                                                                              Different issue. Sensory reality testing distinguishes whether people actually taste what they claim to taste. If some people HAVE had a "proper" risotto, and believe they can taste the difference, a blind test would confirm beyond any argument that they taste it in reality, not just in assertion. That's how it works with wine and many other situations needing (sometimes very subtle) human sensory evaluation.

                                                                                                                                                                              Much of this thread, though, entailed broader claims such as I quoted above: that the gradual-addition method for risotto yields gross differences, "not differences only a trained taster" can spot. If so, that too would be confirmed, and by more people, in a blind taste test.

                                                                                                                                                                              The basis of this thread was much more limited: an original question, and later other questions, re whether home cooks would notice effects of shortcuts applied to recipes they currently use. A reasonable answer to _that_ limited question (requiring no appeal to refined palates or perfect risotti) is, try it and see. Anytime you (or your guests) can't distinguish the results of two methods, the question for your purposes is decisively closed.

                                                                                                                                                                              On the broader questions, the only way to transcend heartfelt assertions and rhetoric is reality tests, and, as I wrote earlier, it would take the patience or commitment of a Nathan Myhrvold to do it definitively with risotto.

                                                                                                                                                                              (Some people do not _like_ the revealing nature of reality tests, so they resist or try to deny them. Their dilemma is that to _objectively_ verify that what you believe in is true, you must be willing to risk learning that it's false; i.e., that your opinion of reality isn't, after all, the final word.)

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                                                You see that risotto is more than taste, it is about texture. You are correct that is blind tastings, many will fail; but that is that they are frauds and poseurs. There is a minority who does know what is quality. Some things are only knowable through experience. A short-cut risotto with poor technique and poor ingredients will fool many, but not all. Those of low experience, will disparage those who do know the difference, but through anti-intellectualism.

                                                                                                                                                                                To reduce it to a more accessible level, do a blind tasting of yellow and pink peeps. Most will fail at distinguishing, but some will be 100%

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                  Sounds like risotto mysticism. :)

                                                                                                                                                                                  " The importance of getting this right confers an aura of other-worldiness on risotto, the sense that while you can make it at home, only a handful of grandmothers in northern Italy are able to truly make it — that the key to achieving risotto perfection will always be in their grasp, and never yours."

                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                                                  'Reality tests' are often revealing, and almost always interesting. But there is an absolutely crucial and often misunderstood fact about them that must be considered before giving them undue weight:

                                                                                                                                                                                  'Reality tests' in tasting do NOT tell you what techniques, ingredients, etc, make a discernible difference in cooking.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Rather, reality tests tell you whether some technique or ingredient was consciously noticed by the taster[s] in question at the time of the test. The results could be different for other tasters; the results could be different for the same taster at another time; and the results will VERY likely be different when several 'non-discernible' factors are changed at the same time and the resulting dish is compared to the original.

                                                                                                                                                                                  The problem is that food tasting is somewhat more complicated than any pat understanding of it can really account for. Like most visceral experiences, it produces a kind of sensory overload, allowing the taster to focus on and consciously notice only some of what's essentially detectable at any given tasting. There's just too much sensory data to process all of it... much like if I were to walk you quickly through an installation in a museum and then ask you to describe the light fixtures in detail once we'd left.

                                                                                                                                                                                  "Anytime you (or your guests) can't distinguish the results of two methods, the question for your purposes is decisively closed."
                                                                                                                                                                                  Unfortunately, no. The same test applied again might yield different results. Or, it's possible that the difference is one that you haven't noticed yet, but might come to notice and appreciate as you make/taste the dish in question more times.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Of course, sometimes there truly is no significant difference (and sometimes the 'short-cut' is subtly better).

                                                                                                                                                                                  All of this is why sorting out the cumulative effect of little technique differences for something like risotto is very difficult.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                                                    I seem doomed to choose phrasings that people will seize upon, and then be distracted by, or argue against points I was not trying to maintain.

                                                                                                                                                                                    Blind-test protocols aren't about just taste, vs texture; they aren't about determining what of many factors caused a difference. They're about moving away from the cherished realms of opinion and assertion -- determining if people can actually, reliably judge a difference, or a preference, when they don't know which sample is which. It would be useful and practical to learn, even just for a single pair of risotto batches. And it would easily answer claims advanced forcefully in this thread, that a certain technique difference yields consistent results in risotto, obvious to most eaters, whether connoisseurs or not. (I tend to think that _particular_ proposition has already been resolved objectively, because various people have tested the hypothesis, and they are not all lazy, inexperienced, or philistines -- whether or not any True Believer knows that, or ever is willing to concede it.)

                                                                                                                                                                                    The obvious simplified avenue of trying alternatives, and choosing whichever appears consistently good to you, remains available to home cooks (again, notwithstanding quibbles) -- just as you can honestly taste two wines and choose the one you prefer, or if there's no preference, whichever's cheapest. Simple, clean experimental technique.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                                                      "[Blind taste tests] are about... determining if people can actually, reliably judge a difference, or a preference, when they don't know which sample is which."
                                                                                                                                                                                      Their problem is their lack of reliability. I don't recommend against trying blind tastings; I just recommend against giving them undue weight. They don't tell you as much as you seem to think they do.

                                                                                                                                                                                      Your expectations play a HUGE role in what factors you notice when you taste something. If, for example, you perform a blind test wherein you know that you are testing to see which technique creates a creamier risotto, you will most likely find one sample noticeably more creamy than the other... even if you are given two bowls of the exact same risotto.

                                                                                                                                                                                      And if you are not told what you are evaluating - if you don't have set expectations - then you just trade one problem for another. Big, significant differences in taste and texture are often missed entirely, since you're not looking for them. You don't necessarily get a more accurate idea of the real differences between various techniques, ingredients, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                      Real world blind taste tests bear out both these problems. They are a useful way of eliminating bias when testing for fairly obvious differences. But there are things you learn by cooking and eating a dish repeatedly for years that a blind taste test is not going to reveal.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                        All of these problems with blind tasting occur in any other statistical test (e.g. comparing two medicines), and, as in those cases, can be corrected for with adequate sample sizes and correct statistical methods. Not sort-of-corrected, or subjectively corrected, but provably, mathematically corrected, to within arbitrary confidence intervals.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Of course, nobody ever does this kind of large-scale mathematically rigorous taste test for something as trivial as comparing two recipes, as far as I know. But the fact is, it's just an implementation problem, not some fundamental limitation of blind taste testing.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Just a quick example, for your example where people know they are testing for creaminess. Even if people are biased towards picking one out as creamier than the other, your null hypothesis would be that the risottos are equally creamy. If you serve everybody the same two bowls of risotto, then even if everybody picks out one or the other as more creamy, you'll never get enough evidence to reject the null hypothesis, because a similar number of people will pick each one. So your conclusion will be, correctly, that there's insufficient evidence to claim that one bowl is creamier than the other. So in this case, the test does exactly what it should. And if you gave them different bowls of risotto, and enough people exhibited a preference for one or the other, then with a large enough sample size you'd be able to say with a 95% confidence interval (or any other significance level of your choosing) that people prefer one bowl over the other, and it's not just down to chance.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                                                                          "But the fact is, it's just an implementation problem, not some fundamental limitation of blind taste testing."
                                                                                                                                                                                          Yep. And if we were talking about making 2000 bowls of risotto for 1000 of your closest friends to try in a controlled blind test, then many of my criticisms would be invalid. As it stands, however...

                                                                                                                                                                                          I'm actually not necessarily in the 'the traditional way is better' camp. I'm somewhat agnostic before the altar of Small Additions of Stock with Much Stirring. From my own experiments, I tend to think that the difference it makes is not an enormous, obvious one. But I'm also not so sure that there is no qualitative difference at all. And I think one-off experiments and blind tastings where only a few people participate are often insufficient ways of telling whether a subtle effect is an improvement in a recipe. The most common way to obtain a larger sample size (albeit a biased one) in cooking is to make a dish repeatedly for years to be eaten by oneself and one's friends. To suggest that the data obtained from a blind test with a tiny sample is more telling than the knowledge gained by an experienced palate making and tasting something hundreds of times seems ill-advised to me. The bias problem with the latter is obvious; but the former has no shortage of its own problems.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                            It's true that statistically insignificant blind tests should be taken with a grain of salt, but people *greatly* overestimate the number of samples you need to make sound statistical statements. How often do you hear people say, "Pff, this study only was only done on X people; it's worthless."? But if you actually open the paper and read the statistical analysis, there's often enough statistical strength to say something with high confidence.

                                                                                                                                                                                            If you're using a one-tailed sign test, your null hypothesis is that people are equally likely to prefer the two cooking methods. With this test, if the results are consistent, you can draw a conclusion with 95% confidence from just five samples (so, 10 bowls of risotto served to 5 people). In practice, you want more samples because randomness and variability cost you statistical power, so more samples mean you are more likely to be able to reject the null hypothesis if it is in fact false. But if you are looking for a strong trend, you need a surprisingly small number of samples to be able to say anything. You only need thousands of samples if you are looking for something very subtle.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Now, I'm not going to make 20 bowls of risotto myself (don't need 2000), but this is a totally feasible experiment for a small group of hobbyists, or a food magazine, or a professional kitchen. Even a test of this size can be statistically significant. And even the most experienced palate in the world making, tasting and judging something 20 times has no statistical significance, because the samples are not independent and identically distributed. That said, I do agree with you that not all the useful knowledge in the world has a rigorous set of experiments behind it, so the knowledge of experts should not be discounted without testing.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                                                                              But, we do not need to have perfect test power to accumulate something obvious which is that there are people who are pretty consistent in recognizing some things, and those who are not. Experience counts, educated experience counts more. Further, there are genetic differences.

                                                                                                                                                                                              It is only the uneducated, militantly ignorant who bother me. Some people don't care about nuance, and that is their due. Those who profess interest, but really are poseurs are another matter.

                                                                                                                                                                                              If you want to cook and eat risotto, at least try to do it the right way and try to see what the fuss is about. Otherwise, realize you might have a risotto-inspired dish, not risotto.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                <there are people who are pretty consistent in recognizing some things, and those who are not. Experience counts, educated experience counts more. Further, there are genetic differences.>

                                                                                                                                                                                                This is all true, but in cases where we *have* been able to test things, the experts have been found much less consistent than we'd like to believe. That's why there are so many food myths floating around, repeated by experts. These aren't fools. I'm referring to people with sensitive palates, lots of experience, and plenty of genuine, accurate expertise, with some hogwash thrown in. I'm not suggested we throw out everything they know; I'm suggesting that we take conventional wisdom with a dose of healthy skepticism, and test our assumptions when possible.

                                                                                                                                                                                                <If you want to cook and eat risotto, at least try to do it the right way and try to see what the fuss is about. Otherwise, realize you might have a risotto-inspired dish, not risotto.>

                                                                                                                                                                                                Totally agreed. That's why I did an informal side-by-side test between traditional and shortcut risottos, described elsewhere in this thread.

                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                          There are ways to design tests that account for all of these effect.

                                                                                                                                                                                          A very simple one, for example, is a triangle test. You have three bowls of risotto. Two are identical, one is from a different batch. You ask your subjects to pick out the one that's different from the other two (you can even say to pick the one that has a different level of creaminess). If your tasters can consistently pick out the correct bowl of the three, then you've got a pretty reliable bit of data to show that there is in fact a difference. From there you can then design further tests to figure out exactly what those differences are.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Just because bad data and poorly designed tests exist doesn't mean that *every* test is poor. All of these problems you bring up exist in pretty much any scientific realm, not just subjective measures of food. The goal is always to design better experiments, not to say that some experiments are worthless so all of them must be.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: kenjigoodeater

                                                                                                                                                                                            First off, I enjoy and respect your work, so please take no offense if I disagree, as follows:

                                                                                                                                                                                            "The goal is always to design better experiments, not to say that some experiments are worthless so all of them must be."
                                                                                                                                                                                            That's a fairly questionable summation of my points, I'd say. Really, what I'm arguing is that we shouldn't necessarily give the findings of limited controlled tests more weight than testimony of those who've learned from years of cooking and eating something. Especially considering that the tests so far performed have not been exhaustive, many, or with large sample sizes.

                                                                                                                                                                                            While it's relatively easy to design a test that determines which of two methods produces a risotto that people find 'creamier,' it's hard bordering on impossible to design a test to determine which exact method of cooking produces the risotto that is most satisfying overall - not least because that's quite subjective, but also for a number of other reasons.

                                                                                                                                                                                            In other words, by all means, test traditional cooking lore, and design better tests when feasible. But in the meanwhile, it's best to keep in mind the limits of the controlled tests that have generally been done in the realm of cooking, and not discard folk wisdom as worthless at the first sign that the results of some experiment somewhere disagrees. This thread has been interesting, but it's bordered on Bearded Men of Space Station 11 territory at times (from both sides of the argument):

                                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                      Don't knock oatmeal until you have had the real, proper porridge (stired with a spurtle).

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                                        Yeah, and the people who brought you oatmeal also say haggis is different from canned dog food.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                          The difference is obvious. They use oats in haggis and rice in dog food.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                                            Thanks for the clarification ;~)

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                              The Scottish answer to risotto is skirlie, a savory oats dish. It's on the dry side, but the right texture depends on a judicious addition of water during frying.

                                                                                                                                                                                              Usually it is just flavored with onion and bacon, but some take it a vegetarian direction:

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                  So, I have experimented with this now. Onions should have added sliced mushrooms, a definite advantage. The quantity of oats in the recipe is too small, and the oats should be stirred constantly. Add white wine instead of hot water. Serve with crumbled hard boiled egg, with or without some caviar. This is something that should be taught to anyone who has high cholesterol.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Thanks for the tip.

                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                                                  That sounds amazing. I've really been toying with a savory steel cut oat dish.

                                                                                                                                                                                    3. "I don't recommend against trying blind tastings; [just] against giving them undue weight. They don't tell you as much as you seem to think they do." (cowboyardee)

                                                                                                                                                                                      Always risky to guess what someone else thinks; often, it yields instead a projection from your own personal reality.

                                                                                                                                                                                      I mention blind tasting out of a preference for _some_ objective data, however limited, to none (the current situation). Otherwise, everyone argues whatever they happen to believe. Some of it's certainly wrong (to heavily paraphrase Abraham Lincoln).

                                                                                                                                                                                      "blind taste tests [can eliminate] bias when testing for fairly obvious differences."

                                                                                                                                                                                      I must quote that to all the people in the wine trade whom I've joined for regular, structured blind wine tastings for decades now. We're accustomed to evaluating nuanced differences, like numbered barrel sub-lots of German QmP bottlings. One sometime participant (a celebrated California winemaker famous for his nose) once detected an aroma eccentricity below the olefactory threshold of other experts who doubted it, so they sent it out for lab high-sensitivity GC analysis (he was right). Same guy I ran into once in the back room of a SF restaurant where two groups (his and mine) were doing formal blind tastings simultaneously. I showed him an unidentified red wine sample in a glass; he took a quick sniff, muttered "1998 Oregon pinot" -- correct as usual.

                                                                                                                                                                                      I'd think it delightful if expert risotto blind-tasters too needed gas chromatography to resolve disputes, but today we're doing very little at all to experiment and test entrenched theories of technique. Those few brave souls who reported modest, unblind experimental results here have been ridiculed by others whose notions appear thereby threatened. It is always so.

                                                                                                                                                                                      10 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                                                        "Those few brave souls who reported modest, unblind experimental results here have been ridiculed by others whose notions appear thereby threatened. It is always so."
                                                                                                                                                                                        In fairness, I don't think I've ridiculed anyone. At least not in this thread.

                                                                                                                                                                                        "I mention blind tasting out of a preference for _some_ objective data, however limited, to none (the current situation)."
                                                                                                                                                                                        We do have data though - it's just not derived from controlled, published experiments (and whether or not you would describe it as 'objective' depends on whether you're using 'objective' specifically to exclude said data, which I feel is unwise).

                                                                                                                                                                                        "I must quote that to all the people in the wine trade whom I've joined for regular, structured blind wine tastings for decades now."
                                                                                                                                                                                        As you point out, the subjects tasting different wines here have trained palates, which changes things. Trained palates seem simultaneously to be more sensitive to subtle differences in flavors, etc, and strangely, more likely to experience some of what their preconceptions led them to expect when larger changes are made (you're probably familiar with the infamous food-coloring in white wine test). What this has to do with risotto, I'm not even sure anymore, but it is undeniably interesting. As for risotto and this thread, we're having quite a bit of difficulty determining if any given tester has ever tried a well executed traditionally made risotto as a basis for comparison - we're kinda stuck at step 1. Admittedly, most restaurants don't subscribe to the traditional method as it's impractical in that setting, which leaves most of us to follow the recommended steps at home and trust that we didn't fuck it up enough to skew our results.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                          <We do have data though - it's just not derived from controlled, published experiments (and whether or not you would describe it as 'objective' depends on whether you're using 'objective' specifically to exclude said data, which I feel is unwise).>

                                                                                                                                                                                          'Objective' is a pretty well-defined term, and kitchen folk-wisdom blatantly doesn't meet the definition. The information is far from useless, and I agree that it shouldn't be wasted, but it's not remotely objective. Feelings don't enter the picture here; these are just definitions.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                                                                            Fair enough, though it's worth noting that even well-designed taste tests that aren't blind don't meet the high-water mark for objectivity either.

                                                                                                                                                                                          2. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                            To clarify to cowboyardee:

                                                                                                                                                                                            - Did not have _you_ in mind with my verb "ridiculed." I did see some pretty clear cases of that from others in this thread.

                                                                                                                                                                                            - My wine-tasting examples cited specifically against earlier (quoted) claim that blind tasting is a technique useful for "fairly obvious" differences.

                                                                                                                                                                                            In fact (must I keep repeating this? possibly you haven't read the whole thread yet?) a frequent commentator here insists that traditional technique yields obvious, not nuanced, differences in finished risotto. That implies that expert tasters aren't necessary for risotti. (So, expertise of my wine friends is an irrelevant distraction on that particular point; I mentioned it just re previous point, above.)

                                                                                                                                                                                            - I called for objective data. (Not "controlled, published.") Certainly this thread contains data. It's just not objective, because it relies on tasters reporting their impressions of batches made under their control, therefore un-blind. Whole basic point of blind tests, as I have tried faithfully to explain here, is that they establish what people actually (i.e. objectively) taste, stripped of wishful thinking, dogma, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: eatzalot

                                                                                                                                                                                              "a frequent commentator here insists that traditional technique yields obvious, not nuanced, differences in finished risotto. That implies that expert tasters aren't necessary for risotti."
                                                                                                                                                                                              I mentioned above that my own personal experience leads me to believe that the differences are more subtle than that. In other words, I disagree somewhat with some of the more ardent traditionalists. But I'm less convinced that there aren't subtle effects of the traditional method that add to the dish and are worth maintaining. Frankly, I'm not really sure.

                                                                                                                                                                                              As someone who is interested in the 'science' of cooking, I'd especially like to get an accurate picture of exactly what (if any) differences slowly adding liquid and cooking it down before adding more makes to the finished dish. It seems plausible to me that the exact nature of the starchy liquid may change not only in thickness but in other aspects of its consistency and possibly flavor via the traditional method. Perhaps brief exposures to higher temperature in the traditional method changes how much of the free starch is broken down into dextrins, which might affect either texture or the flavor release of the finished dish. I suspect that when rating the dish based on 'creaminess' alone, tasters might be unduly swayed by other factors, such as how much liquid is left in the un-absorbed slurry or how much fat is incorporated or the degree to which said fat is emulsified into the sauce. My own cooking experiments (which is of course subject to bias) have generally found a subtle improvement when using the traditional method. But I wouldn't describe that improvement as 'creaminess,' really - I can just add a bit more stock at the end and mount with extra butter, if creaminess was all I was looking for.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                                Much of this discussion seems to equate 'creaminess' with the amount of starch that is released from rice grains. I think that could be measured objectively, using consistent amounts of water and rice, measuring things at the end of cooking, then separating the rice from the sauce, and isolating the starch in the sauce. That would probably require adding more water to dilute, but that can be controlled.

                                                                                                                                                                                                My own perception of 'creaminess' would also depend on the final amount of liquid (is it 'soupy' Venitian style?), as well as the addition of butter, cheese, and/or cream.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                                                                                                  "I think that could be measured objectively, using consistent amounts of water and rice, measuring things at the end of cooking, then separating the rice from the sauce, and isolating the starch in the sauce."
                                                                                                                                                                                                  I think you'd find it more difficult than that. The amount of water absorbed by the rice and evaporated during cooking is likely to vary enough over the course of preparation that you'll often wind up with significantly different amounts of water remaining in the sauce at the end of cooking. Controlling the rate of evaporation and absorption precisely is probably implausible in the average kitchen. Also, separating the 'sauce' from the rice strikes me as a pretty difficult task, and one that's likely to change amount of starch in the sauce by the process of said separation. There might be a good way to measure how much starch is released into sauce as the risotto is made, but I'm not clever enough to think of any method that's both accurate and easy enough to be feasible, at least off-hand.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  "My own perception of 'creaminess' would also depend on the final amount of liquid (is it 'soupy' Venitian style?), as well as the addition of butter, cheese, and/or cream."
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Mine as well. I think these things can make it more difficult to isolate the differences made by traditional vs 'short cut' techniques.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                                    <There might be a good way to measure how much starch is released into sauce as the risotto is made, but I'm not clever enough to think of any method that's both accurate and easy enough to be feasible, at least off-hand.>

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Start with identical quantities of the raw ingredients. Make the two risottos. Add water to the lighter of the two pots until they have the same weight (at the appropriate temperature). Compare viscosity of the two samples using a Rapid Visco Analyzer, or other viscosity-measuring device.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Or: dilute to the same weight as above, then enclose the risotto sample in a sieve (like a large tea ball) and spin it in a centrifuge until the sauce comes off. Evaporate the water. Weigh the residue.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    I'm guessing here -- this isn't my field -- but it really doesn't seem like an insurmountable problem.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Scrofula

                                                                                                                                                                                                      I didn't say it was insurmountable. I said it was difficult.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      And difficult enough, apparently, since your solutions are problematic. Keeping the final weight fixed, you're not accounting for the degree of absorption by the rice. In other words, an uncooked mix of rice and water (and other ingredients) can be adjusted to weigh the same as an overcooked congee-like porridge. And the same goes for everything in between.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Also of note, you're not accounting for the effect of solids left behind by different amounts of stock evaporated - gelatin for example, which could plausibly have a significant effect on the texture of the sauce.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      And... I think you'd find that cooked risotto spun in a centrifuge doesn't maintain a whole lot of integrity. Your first solution has more promise, though you'd likely still have to rely on a subjective notion of when the risotto to be compared are comparably 'done' or find some other way to account for this.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      In fairness, a lot of these issues could be accounted for by additional steps during testing... but you can see where this is getting a little more complicated than just cooking two risottos and checking which one is creamier at the end. And more complicated than the risotto cooking tests that have been tried out up to now. Which is kind of the point.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Such analysis would be difficult for a home cook. Modernist Cuisine could probably do it at the drop of a hat. Harold McGee might have to improvise.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        If the goal is to measure the amount of starch released, I just need to keep track of the amount of rice I start with, and find a way of isolating the starch - probably as a dry powder than can be weighed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        While it would right to record all additions of water (in cooking, and separating), they probably don't factor into the final measurements.

                                                                                                                                                                                        2. Wow, quite a thread! Let's see if I can summarize:

                                                                                                                                                                                          No one is qualified to judge or comment on risotto unless they've tried it in the correct restaurant in the correct town in the correct part of the Italian countryside at the stroke of noon on a Tuesday during the new moon exactly 32 days after the rice was harvested, and stirred in the pan 500 times, only using clockwise strokes, by a blonde virgin.


                                                                                                                                                                                          - Total make ahead? No. It doesn't hold well.

                                                                                                                                                                                          - Parcook? Yes. Some degradation of quality but if you follow the Modernist Cuisine methodology it's not extreme. This means a short parcook, straining and holding the rice and starchy liquid separately, getting the rice down in temperature extremely quickly (on a frozen sheet pan) and then finishing later by readding the starchy liquid and combining with more stock.

                                                                                                                                                                                          - 7-minute pressure cook? YES. It works very well, creates plenty of gravy, and for me consistently produces a dish that's just barely shy of my best results obtained when stirring constantly. (And consistently better than my less-successful batches.) This means I can have great risotto anytime. And yes, it's risotto. (I don't care what the overly-dogmatic and rather rude self-appointed expert has to say.)

                                                                                                                                                                                          In conclusion, relax and eat some rice. Unless you have a large supply of Italian virgins on hand. But that's a topic for another thread.

                                                                                                                                                                                          6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                                                                                                                                                                              Could you please post a description of your 7 minute pressure cooker risotto? Or else a site that has a reliable recipe? Also, specifically, what method of steam release do you use - natural or quick?


                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: foreverhungry

                                                                                                                                                                                                I certainly can't claim any responsibility for the pressure cooker technique. I picked it up in Modernist Cuisine.

                                                                                                                                                                                                In short:

                                                                                                                                                                                                Sweat your aromatics and toast your rice, just like usual. Then add the wine, stir down until it's appropriately reduced, then add the stock (hot/boiling so as not to slow anything down), pop on the lid, bring up to high pressure and let it go for 7 minutes. After that use the quick (water over the lid) release method.

                                                                                                                                                                                                The recipes in the book are based on a ratio of 200g rice to ~450g liquid (including 50g wine). I found that -- especially if I scale the recipe up -- after the 7 minutes there is a bit of liquid left in the cooker, and the rice is still slightly undercooked. So I put the cooker back on the stove, stir a bit while boiling off the remaining liquid, give the rice a final heavy splash of stock, and let it cook down for another minute or so prior to stirring in cheese, butter, herbs, or whatever the finishing touches are.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                                                                                                                                                                                    The pressure cooker version produces an adequate risotto. The high-pressure steam extracts a lot of starchy creaminess. It's not the best risotto, but adequate, unlike the other shortcuts that don't produce adequate creaminess. Also, this method doesn't make the incorrect "pilaf" style of risotto that many other shortcut methods produce.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    That said, there are a few caveats about texture of the pressure cooker risotto -- it's usually either far too mushy (not al dente) or too hard (the risotto rice that isn't fully cooked). You have to experiment to get the risotto to hit that perfect sweet spot of al dente toothsomeness.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    The other caveat on using the pressure cooker method is that by the time you take all the steps to prepare risotto by this method, you shave off only a couple of minutes from the traditional method.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. We eat leftover risotto all of the time and it tastes great. Maybe it's not as creamy, but it seems easy to remedy by adding some sort of liquid when reheating.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. I may be hijacking, but what kind of texture should a home cooked risotto have? I make it using Alton Brown's method, but add different veggies to it. Mine is always puffy with a slight bite to it, yet always creamy, never soupy or liquidy. It's just really thick and creamy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                                                                                                                                                                                                      The most obvious answer is that you should make it how you like it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      That probably wasn't what you were asking. I suspect that if you asked a bunch of chefs (or simply a bunch of dogmatic Italians), you'd get varying answers. But the most common answer would be that it should be 'loosely textured.' If you spooned a big pile of it onto a plate, it would spread out to the edges on its own. That said, it would still be viscous and not soupy. The rice itself should still have some structure and resilience to each grain (even a little 'pop'), and not be mushy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                                                                                                                                                        The "loosely textured" comment and it spreading to reach the edge of the bowl/plate is well put.