A while ago one of my workmates was talking about what he was going to go home and cook for dinner, and he got all excited about having risotto. Since I consider myself to be somewhat adequate at cooking this awesome dish I asked him what he was going to put in it, and he said something along the lines of “ya know, the packet that comes with it?”.
Later on, after I gave up on trying to convince him that the shit that you buy in packets has about as much in common with a real risotto as Tui (a fairly inoffensive and bland NZ brown lager in reality) has with an actual India Pale Ale, I came to the realisation that New Zealanders have no fucking idea about food and drink because there is nothing to stop manufacturers from labeling their mass-produced swill as something it’s not, and it pervades the mass consciousness. In the case of Tui I have to keep explaining to people who ask what my favourite beers are that no, Hop Zombie tastes nothing like Tui thanks to the fucking misleading label below:
In the case of risotto there are a huge number of people who’ve only tried the Diamond boxed risotto, which essentially consists of unidentified shortgrain rice, orzo pasta, and a stock powder which makes the whole shebang taste like two minute noodles. And people end up thinking that this is what the real thing tastes like, rather than the creamy, slightly cheesy culinary orgasm that is a well made risotto.
Anyway, I’ll finish my rant about my uneducated peers at some other time.
To make a basic risotto you need a few different things: A decent risotto rice (the easiest I’ve found to locate are Arborio and Carnaroli. Don’t fucking skint out and use cheap arse long grain, it doesn’t have the starches or the ability to stand up to slow cooking), a quality stock (being a cheap and lazy motherfucker I use the Campbell’s boxed stuff. If you make your own stock, more power to ya), onion and garlic, oil, butter and parmigiano (or similar) cheese. You can then go on and add different herbs, spices, vegetables and meats, depending on what you feel like (my favourite for a main dish is chicken, chorizo and capsicum).
First off, prepare your basic vegetables. You want to cut your onion and garlic at least, as well as anything that’d take a bit longer to cook. It’s up to you how fine you chop them. You might want them minced. I like mine chopped because I actually want the texture in my food. You’ll notice in the background that there’s a capsicum/bell pepper that I haven’t cut yet. That’s because I don’t want it turning to mush, so I don’t add it till late.
Also, notice that I have two glasses of wine back there. One is sitting out to bring it up to room temperature, and the other is for me. The best thing about cooking with wine is that once I’ve poured a little in the food, well, I’ve gotta use it up, don’t I? Also, a rule of cooking with wine is NEVER POUR WINE INTO YOUR FOOD THAT YOU WOULDN’T POUR INTO YOUR FACE HOLE. There is no reason for the existence of “cooking wine”. If you can’t be fucked opening a bottle of wine just for a meal, then use vermouth instead. You know, that bottle you bought for martinis, then never use because you never have gin in the house?
Heat up some oil in a good pan. It’s up to you what you use, but I prefer a mix of olive oil and butter. You’re the one eating it, if you want to use margarine that’s your choice. Just know that you’re a fucking mess of a human being if you do. You want it at a medium heat, and don’t brown it! At the same time you want to start heating up your stock in a separate pot (about 4-500ml per person I guess. It’s better to have too much than not enough)
Next start cooking the onion and garlic up, and keep it moving so it doesn’t burn. Smell that? That’s fucking good for you, that’s what it is. Cook that until the onion starts to go a bit clear, and measure out your rice.
You might notice that I never seem to use measurements. You know why that is? Because I am a fucking cook, and a real cook eyeballs that shit. It’s an art, and there’s no room for your science bullshit. The one exception to my rule is rice, because rice is a fucking bastard, and it loves to ruin my shit for making me cook too much or too little. Follow the usual rule with rice: half a cup per person, and then add that to the pan.
Now cook that a bit, and again, keep it moving. You want it soaking up a bunch of the oils, and the flavours, and you don’t want to brown it, because otherwise it’ll have trouble soaking up the liquids later on. Then, remember how I told you to put a cup of wine aside to bring it up to room temperature? Take that, and dump it in your pan, and shove your face in that aroma that comes up. Smell that? That’s freedom. Take another sip of wine while you’re at it.
Here I also added a bit of dried oregano. Rule with herbs: If they’re dried add them early, if they’re fresh add them late.
Keep the whole thing moving. Once the wine reduces down and gets absorbed you want to take a ladle or two of that stock that you’re keeping hot, but not boiling, and add that to the pan. Some people think that it’s okay to dump the whole lot in at once and then leave it to absorb. Some people’s mothers should have swallowed. The reason you pour it in a ladle or two at a time is to a) keep control of how much liquid is going in to make sure you know when it’s al dente (firm to the bite) and b) help you keep it all moving around so that the starches come off the grains of rice and into the liquid (which is what makes it thick and creamy).
When I can tell that it’s almost cooked because the grains have only the slightest bit of crunch to them I add my last few ingredients. In this case I’ve used chopped capsicum and rosemary (the rosemary as an experiment because I’ve never really used it, and it’s taken over my garden. Not something I’d do again with chicken stock, but maybe a heavier beef or lamb stock). Put that in to basically heat through and get the last bit of cooking done.
Once it’s all cooked take it off the heat, and then you stir in a tablespoon or two of butter and about the same amount of grated/shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir that in, let it sit for a couple minutes, and then plate it up. I topped this batch with a sliced roasted skin-on chicken breast