arborio risotto

Good. Ready to go.

risotto, plated

arborio rice


white wine

frozen turkey/chicken

I have this Arborio rice that shot out of the chutes from the bulk bins at Whole Foods into my plastic bag (I love those bulk bins). The bin for Arborio rice was right next to the Basmati rice. Both would work just fine, it was a tough choice. I based the choice on what I read. The Arborio looked a little more plump, slightly more pearly, and possibly starchier and it cost three times as much. :-( Very well then, I would get two pounds instead of five, this is an experiment, after all.

I did this before with short-grain Japanese rice and it seemed to me to work fine.

Well, maybe I should review first instead of jumping right in. I've cooked enough rice ever since Sueko showed me how when I was eleven years old and I've been steaming rice her way ever since, but this dish is Italian and not Japanese, maybe there's a difference I should be aware of. I pick up Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything -- how's that for a presumptuous title? -- and read his section on grains, focussing on the segments on rice, concentrating my full attention on the portions about risotto. I read them until the ADD kicked in and I jumped from the chair. I am now a complete expert … in my mind.

The key differences between Sueko's method and risotto method seem to be Japanese rice is gently steamed to complete doneness without disturbance or disruption, and Italian risotto is abraded by stirring so that the friction releases starch that dissolves into the liquid and making it creamy. Like pasta, and here's where Americans tend to go wrong with pasta, it's preferred to retain a kernel of chewiness at the center of each grain. Conversely, stirring only at the end breaks apart softened rice grains and that is not desirable. Additionally, adding water in increments and having it evaporate through cooking in a broad open pan concentrates the flavors of the liquid. That seems to be the gist of the whole thing.

See Harold McGee On Food and Cooking pg. 475.
or Mark Bittman How to Cook Everything starting on pg. 457.
or perhaps Barbara Fairchild the bon appétit fast easy fresh pg. 230

They all say similar things.

But then there's Heston Blumenthal The Fat Duck Cookbook and he does after all have the Michelin stars, admits to putting risotto on the menu initially just to show off. I love that guy. Having been inspired by Harold McGee's sceptic approach, he gets all scientifical on our assses, a sample, pg. 324:

[ … Rice lays down starch molecules in microscopic solid granules that fill the grain's central core, and these granules contain two types of starch: amylose, an orderly molecule made up of about 1,000 glucose sugars arranged in a chain with few branches; and amylopectin, a more irregular molecule made up of 5,000-20,000 glucose sugars arranged in hundreds of short branches. Each type of starch behaves differently during cooking -- the loosely structured amylopectin breaks down easily, while the neatly packed amylose comes apart more reluctantly -- so it's important to know what proportion of amylose to amylopectin is present in the rice you use. Arborio has a high concentration of amylopectin and breaks down to a soupy consistency. Vialone Nano has more amylose making it more robust and giving a very al dente finish. At the Fat Duck we generally cook with Carnaroli, which has a balance of both starches that produces texture and creaminess.

There's huge disagreement about which rice is best for risotto, and each type has it passionate advocates: moreover there's another little-discussed feature of rice that can have a decisive effect on the flavor of risotto - aging. ]

Blumenthal then goes on to elaborate on an Italian company owned by a guy who read a Sanskrit manuscript that extolls the virtues of aging rice and further elaborates on what they found.

Then there's me.

I never had risotto prepared by an expert so I have no standard against which to measure success, but I do know what I like.

My risotto will have everything that's good, and then some. Mine will be over the top. I'll try to stop short so the grains retain their al dente centers. But that's a bit of a hat trick, in'nit?

Know what pisses me off? Here's what: those shows on the Food Network that set up an impossible and improbable situation, establish a ridiculous and unnatural time limitation, then have the results of a contest between aspiring celebrity chefs judged by people who, newly endowed with the powers of judgeship, take themselves far too seriously and fancying themselves expert beyond anything they've proven to us, actually presume to judge people most likely better than themselves at what they're doing against the impossible conditions they have established. I want to punch them in the nose. I want to knock their heads together, and these impulses run counter to my generally kind and gentile nature. How dare they pull their, "let me finish," or "it made me mad," or "I found a hair and then the entire thing became ONE GIGANTIC HAIR TAKING OVER THE WORLD !!!!!" Pffft. Get over yourselves.

Take for instance a guy I happen to like a lot, Tyler Florence. He's very good. But honestly, he's impossible to listen to while he's demonstrating. It's as if his mind is addled and he's groping for filler vocabulary. He says the word "right" between every other word. Right this, right that, get out the milk, right, pour it in the pot, right, turn on the heat, right, give it a stir right. Right. Add the cheese, alright, put it all in a bowl, right, then to finish it off, right, daub the crème fraîche. Look at that. Right. And you're good to go.

Then as a judge, Tyler made a Federal case out of a woman contestant being rushed through her stint saying she'd reuse the marinade she already used for the beef to flavor the sauce. She didn't say she'd use the marinade again raw she just said she'd reuse it to flavor the sauce. I assumed she'd cook it in the sauce just as she would cook the beef that was marinated in it. If anything in the mixture was alive it'd be killed by cooking just as whatever was on the beef would be killed. But not Florence, oh no, he insisted she'd sicken the whole town, and he kept on it like that was a key disqualifying strike against the woman. Frankly, he was unworthy and unable to handle the power of judgeship that was vested in him.

"How good is that?"
"How easy is that?"
"How perfect is that?"
"How fast is that?"

I don't know. It's your show. You tell me!

"And you're good to go." Fine! I'm gone.

What is it with these catchphrase addicted cooks pirating each other's limited language range? It is so annoying. These are the people who presume to judge others coming up by virtue of their tenure on the network. They're not smart enough to judge other people and they cannot handle the responsibility.

I saw a man judging who I never saw before, he spoke with an Italian accent. He told the guy being judged who made risotto, "This is not risotto. In fact, this is a affront to Italian risotto. Go kill yourself." OK, I made up that last part. But the man did make his point most severely. How could he say something so harsh to a guy struggling to meet their unreasonable demands?

If they ever judged my risotto, I'd say, "Oh, bite me! You gave me 20 minutes and a box of Uncle Ben's, ferchristssake, you dope. What do you expect? Who do you imagine I am over here, Rumpelstiltskin or what? " And promptly get myself kicked off.

Enough of all that. Here goes.

1½ cups arborio rice
5-6 cups chicken broth.
2 significant pinches of saffron
¾ cup white wine
6 oz. bits of turkey and chicken meat
3 thick slices of bacon cut to small pieces
¼ a big fat white onion, diced.
2 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
2 tablespoons chicken fat that formed at the top of the broth when chilled
1 handful shitaki mushrooms de-stemmed and diced
¼ cup fennel root shavings along with the frond
½ cup frozen peas
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
¼ cup pecorino Romano (extra for the plate)
1 tablespoon lemon zest
juice of one small lemon.
1 kitchen sink ← Not really.

The bacon is rendered for its fat, lifted from the pot and held until the end.

The chicken fat is lifted from the top of the broth where it settled and hardened in the refrigerator. The rest of the broth is gelatinized.

The onion is sweated in those two fats, the garlic added, along with the saffron, finally the rice, cooked until fully coated and glistening. Cooking the rice in the fat for a few minutes is an important step for risotto that should not be overlooked.

First the wine is splashed in to start the steaming and boiling action, then the chicken broth being warmed in another pot is added in 1/2 cup increments. Stirred, and added, stirred and added, stirred and added, for 22-30 minutes, however long it takes to reach al dente, which requires constant testing because all rice species differ in this.

The rest of the ingredients are added at the end, with the cheese at the very end off the heat.

This dish took over a quart of my splendid homemade turkey/chicken broth. Boiled down, it further concentrated the flavor which was already fairly well concentrated. Along with the other flavorful ingredients, it amounted to flavor on top of flavor on top flavor on top of flavor, all absorbed by the highly-absorbent plump rice grains until POW flavor burst right out of the pot. If the new catchword is "umami," this dish has umami to spare. Flavor haters should back away toward the door.

The wine is that cheap stuff used on airlines, the 1-glass bottles I keep around for cooking to avoid opening a regular size bottle, which of course I would then have to drink and I'd be falling all over the place. I get these little bottles at the liquor store next door to the apartment where I live.

The saffron is brought in from Iran by an eBay vendor. It's a large amount that I've kept in its tin in the refrigerator crisper (which rightfully would be called a limper because that's what happens to all the vegetables that go into it). The tin has been around for a couple of years and the saffron still packs a punch.

I kept testing the risotto for flavor and doneness using two spoons, one to scoop a sample to transfer to another spoon used to taste. I kept the two spoons separate, as if someone else would be eating this dish too, because you never know. I suppose I tested five times attempting to hit the magic point of perfect al dente, and I do believe I hit the mark, bizarrely inappropriate imaginary Food Network judges notwithstanding.

I set the timer on the stove for 25 minutes and cut the heat just about a minute before the bell chimed.

The non-rice elements were added at the last five minutes to bring up their temperature.

The Parmigiano was added off the heat.

Originally I intended to finish with some of the compound butter for beyond reasonable extravagance, but I forgot to include it. I can still do that with the remainder of the risotto as I go through it plate by plate along with more cheese, just to ensure it's always, always WAY over the top.


Penny said...

Love you, dude, but a cup and a half of rice to six cups of liquid makes your rice a wash out, at least for me.

"I like my rice, AND my humor, dry.", she said.

Well, except I still like "potty" humor best. Go figure?

Oh, and I bet your risotto rocked!

Chip Ahoy said...

Agreed. It sounds like a lot, but those chubby little arborio grains really soak it up, plus it's bubbling away in a broad open pan. It was actually a little distressing using that much of my precious stock knowing that the flavor was getting more and more intense. It actually turned out a little bit too stiff. I think the real thing should be slightly soupier but I'm not sure. Anyway, for the remainder I must add water. The regular Japanese rice too nearly as much when cooked without a lid and stirred while adding incrementally. This time I heated six cups of broth and returned about one cup.

p.t. fogger said...

Funny about the steamed rice. I grew up in South Carolina, and rice is a mealtime staple there (especially in the lowcountry, where it used to be grown). At someone's home, instead of potatoes or bread, you get rice (except at breakfast, where you got grits & biscuits). And the rice had to be steamed: My mother, both grandmothers, aunt etc. all had stovetop double steamers just for rice. Fluffy non-gummy rice every time.

It wasn't until I lived for extended periods in other parts of the U.S. (and europe) that I realized that rice wasn't everybody decent's starch of usual resort.

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