Risotto takes a while to cook properly, and it requires your attention as well as your time. For upwards of 20 minutes, you have one job and one job only, and that is to stir the rice while adding hot stock a ladleful at a time and cooking slowly so that the stock is absorbed.
This technique called the risotto method, releases the rice's starches, producing a creamy, velvety dish, and it takes two hands. One for stirring and one for ladling. So it's best not to try to multitask while you're doing it. You could probably carry on a conversation, but don't try to do any other kitchen or prep work — especially if you're new to making risotto.
What's interesting about the risotto method is that it's so time- and labor-intensive that restaurants can't use it. It would take too long to make, and patrons don't like waiting half an hour for their food. What this means is that if you've only ever had risotto at a restaurant, you've never had a true risotto.
What restaurants use instead is an alternate method which involves par cooking the rice and then finishing it at the last minute. It gets complicated because arborio rice, the short-grained, high-starch rice that's used for making risotto, will turn glutinous (i.e. sticky) if held too long. Which means not only do restaurants not make a true risotto, the version they do make can be markedly inferior.
So...smile! Since you're making it at home, you'll be able to enjoy risotto made the right way. A properly cooked risotto should form a soft, creamy mound on a dinner plate. It shouldn't run across the plate, nor should it be stiff or gluey.
This basic risotto recipe is made with butter, Parmesan cheese, and fresh parsley, and it's an all-time Italian classic. It's a perfect recipe to start with if you've never made risotto before.
For an illustrated demo of the risotto method, here's a step-by-step tutorial on how to make risotto.
- 1½ cups arborio rice
- 1 qt chicken stock
- ½ cup vermouth or another dry white wine
- 1 medium shallot or ½ small onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
- 3 Tbsp whole butter, divided
- 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 Tbsp chopped Italian parsley
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Heat the stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan, then lower the heat so that the stock just stays hot.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the oil and 1 Tbsp of the butter over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the chopped shallot or onion. Sauté for 2–3 minutes or until slightly translucent.
- Add the rice to the pot and stir it briskly with a wooden spoon so that the grains are coated with the oil and melted butter. Sauté for another minute or so, until there is a slightly nutty aroma. But don't let the rice turn brown. Add the wine and cook while stirring, until the liquid is fully absorbed.
- Add a ladle of hot chicken stock to the rice and stir until the liquid is fully absorbed. When the rice appears almost dry, add another ladle of stock and repeat the process. It's important to stir constantly, especially while the hot stock gets absorbed, to prevent scorching, and add the next ladle as soon as the rice is almost dry.
- Continue adding ladles of hot stock and stirring the rice while the liquid is absorbed. As it cooks, you'll see that the rice will take on a creamy consistency as it begins to release its natural starches. After 20–30 minutes or until the grains are tender but still firm to the bite, without being crunchy. If you run out of stock and the risotto still isn't done, you can finish the cooking using hot water. Just add the water as you did with the stock, a ladle at a time, stirring while it's absorbed.
- Stir in the remaining 2 Tbsp butter, the Parmesan cheese, and the parsley, and season to taste with Kosher salt.