RANT LESSON: RISOTTO “undisputed king of Rice”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

ricepictI’m due for a RANT. Been very quiet lately. It’s the stress. I don’t like RANTing when I’m stressed. It lowers the relative humidity in my house. Beer, turn up the humidifier and then I will go for it… Stay tuned.
A much maligned dish. When it’s bad it’s really fucking bad. But when it’s good it’s otherworldly. Risotto is Rice but so so much more. Risotto is rice from the north of Italy. It is a short grain rice that is notoriously “creamy” & delicious when properly cooked and handled. There are three major types of risotto rice. “Carnaroli” “Vialone Nano” and “Aborio” and they are mostly produced in Lombardia, Piemonte and Veneto. Carnaroli is the least “creamy” of the three but also holds its structure best when cooked (which is a major key to a good risotto). It’s therefore considered the most “noble” of the three. Vialone Nano (my personal favorite) has great grain holding abilities AND gives off great starchiness giving it the creamiest texture of the 3. Aborio is just plain UNUSABLE for me. The grain is crap it breaks up and the creaminess is no better than Vialone Nano so just bury it. So, when I’m looking for stellar grain “al dente” and less creaminess I go for the Carnaroli. When I want great grain but more cream Vialone Nano. Now, lets get serious folks. If you don’t know how to make risotto, JUST PLEASE DON’T. It’s not fair. You turn people off to something that can be magical. It’s not something you want to just “wing”. Not risotto. Not on my watch. Not unless someone TAUGHT YOU. It’s an art form. It’s special. It’s NOT RICE.
Now, there is another factor here and that’s “margin for error”. Carnaroli has a longer “aldente” “window” that’s TIME. Time before its overcooked. Vialone Nano has the second longest window for al dente and Aborio? Well, as I said, give it to the cat or throw it in the soup. USELESS. Many restaurants go for Carnaroli because of that longer window. Often you really need it when something else delays you and YOU CANNOT OVERCOOK RISOTTO. Overcooked Risotto is COMPLETELY FUCKED. Wallpaper the house with it or give it to the dog. If you serve it I will find you and it won’t be pretty.
So lets get down to brass tax. To start, whoever said all risotto has wine in it was an idiot. I hear it a lot and it’s COMPLETE CRAP. Whoever said all risotto has onions in it deserves the same fate. It doesn’t and often it doesn’t work. Why? Subtlety. Risotto is a delicacy. D-E-L-I-C-A-C-Y. Delicate. Wine works when you want an underlying wine flavor to meld with your main ingredients. Same for onions.
When you do use onions, they have to be cut BRUNOISE and they cannot be “chopped” you MUST have serious knife skills for that. You must be SKILLED. If you simply chop onions on a board YOU ARE MASHING them and not cutting them. Your knife MUST BE RAZOR SHARP for that. If YOU cannot accomplish that OMIT THE ONIONS. WHY? Because you “bruise” the onion & when it cooks it “bleeds” that uncooked juice into the rice. Also, YOU CANNOT PRE-CHOP the onions for the same reason. Especially more than an hour. I can tell immediately when they have been. Onions ARE STRONG and ferment very quickly to develop a very strong odor and flavor that will ruin risotto.
Another thing, cheese or no cheese? Basically you follow the same rules as pasta. If its got seafood or fish NO CHEESE. If not go for it big time. Cheese and whole butter are critical to Risotto. BUTTER ESPECIALLY. IT’S NOT RISOTTO without butter. Butter goes at the very end to bring it all together. Butter and cheese, at the end, OFF THE FIRE!!! YOU ARE in many ways making an emulsion with the butter and the starch present. That is your BINDER.
Now, stock or no stock ? This is another one that I argue about constantly. If it’s a vegetable base risotto WHY the hell would you put stock? Duh. I mean WTF? I see idiots that are AUTOMATIC with of all things chicken stock? Holy mother of god WHY!?? It is so noticeable. It masks everything. The only risotto I would put chicken stock in is a fucking “chicken” risotto. And who the fuck makes chicken risotto? Chicken and what I beg? So, when do you use stock/broth? You use it when that’s the PRIMARY FLAVOR you are searching for. Why? Cause liquid is a main ingredient & WILL SHINE THROUGH. Risotto is 75% the liquid you are using and that brings me to my next MAJOR point.
When you are looking for a flavor besides the liquid to shine you use WATER. VEGETABLE risotto should be made with either water or a stock made for that vegetable. PERIOD. UNLESS you’re plan is to play a meat stock off the vegetable like asparagus or ramps. Again, SUBTLEY FOLKS. A muddled risotto is a DISASTER. The rice itself has a very subtle flavor and it picks up magically what you impart into it.
One of my FAVORITE risotto “Risotto Alla Milanese” the spotlight is on three things. Saffron, a rich veal broth (usually made from Osso Buco) and Parmigiano.
Another of my favorites “Lemon, Parmigiano and Parsely” or “Pear, Gorgonzola and Parmigiano” THREE main flavors and butter to meld them magically.
At other times I just want two flavors like with fresh Porcini (Cepes). I just want to taste PORCINI and Parmigiano. Done, game over. You can kiss me later.
With seafood risotto or Risotto Frutti Di Mare or Pescatore its just mellow seafood juice, maybe one herb with butter. DONE. Are you getting it guys?
Another FAVORITE Risotto Alla Parmigiana, so simple. So amazing. Nice rich broth, Parmigiano, prosciutto or pancetta & aged balsamic drizzled on top. INSANE.
To finish risotto: SEMI COLD HIGH QUALITY BUTTER in abundance, grated Parmigiano in abundance. When you think its too much put more and its good.
Mascarpone? If I’m making a MASCARPONE risotto than YES. I’d do Mascarpone and a special vegetable or herb like ramps or Kale but no butter then cause the cream is the butter.
I’m all worked up. Jesus now WTF am I going to do? I’ve even made a Vanilla bean risotto. Think about why that works. BUTTER & VANILLA? INSANE. I put a touch of nutmeg and you’re ON YOUR KNEES in minutes yup.
I mean is there anyone that WOULDN’T jump me for my vanilla bean risotto?

And that’s all I have to say about that… (for now… ;)

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