A Chef's Secret's to the Best Risotto Recipe Ever
I have made lots of risotto meals over the years and they usually turn out pretty good but the other night I made a simple Asparagus Risotto that was the best I've ever made. Some of my other favorite risotto recipes include Basic Risotto with Shrimp, Risotto Milanese and Wild Mushroom Risotto.
What inspired me to make the Asparagus Risotto is a wonderful little book by Chef Robert Reynolds called An Excuse to Be Together. It's not really a cookbook like we think of, although it has numerous incredible recipes, but more of a dialogue with the reader about Chef Reynolds experiences in France shopping for amazing local ingredients and then preparing them with his students.
I have his book next to my bed and every so often I pick it up and read a chapter to get inspired about food and learn a new trick or two from Chef Reynolds. That's how I came across his recipe for a simple Asparagus Risotto.
By the way, Chef Robert Reynolds was trained in France by Madeline Kamman and is an experienced restaurateur and teacher. He and Josephine Araldo wrote the cookbook From A Breton Garden. You can find my interview with Chef Reynolds at my Novice2Pro Chef Interviews and if you are interested in attending his cooking school in Portland, Oregon, there is a link to his web site at there too.
A Recipe Written Like A Novel
I love reading recipes that read like an essay or novel. For example, here is a excerpt from Chef Robert's book about preparing his risotto:
"I went in search of a straight-sided sauté pan. I tend to use an equal amount of butter and oil in the pan when starting risotto, heating one until it releases its perfume before adding the other. When the temperature is right, I put in onions cut to the size of the grains of rice. I give them a sprinkle of salt and sauté gently until they melt."
Not only is that a joy to read, but just look at what you can learn about making risotto in that one paragraph.
- Cook risotto in a straight-sided sauté pan. I used to always make my risotto in a large saucepan or small stockpot.
- Use butter and oil instead of just one or the other.
- Wait to add the oil until you can smell the butter.
- Cut the onions very, very small.
- When to add salt - right after you add the onions.
All that from just a couple of sentences. That's what I call a "learning" recipe and gets me excited.
More Chef Secrets About Cooking Risotto
Here are a few more tips and techniques I learned from reading Chef's Chapter 12, Having a Man in the Kitchen. I'm sure every time I read this chapter, something new will pop out at me but for now:
- Find the freshest ingredients available. The fresher they are, the more flavor your dishes will have.
- Before adding any liquids, cook the risotto with the onions until the rice becomes opaque. I made this dish with my 10-year-old daughter and she was delighted when she could see the rice change from solid white to opaque.
- Use the best chicken stock you can find. Chef Reynolds says you can "judge the flavor of the dish by the taste of the broth."
- Don't over salt or salt too early because the "reduction only concentrates salt."
- Blanch the asparagus separately and add later. In the past, I would often cook vegetables with the risotto and this would often result in overcooked, soggy vegetables.
- If you like creamy risotto, you have to stir vigorously and constantly. The entire dish should take about 25 to 30 minutes and you can't walk away to do something else. You need to stay with it and keep stirring.
- "Stop cooking when the rice feels soft but still retains enough toothsome quality that allows me to still distinguish the shape and texture of the grain."
- Let the risotto rest for 5 minutes when done cooking. This allows it to absorb more liquid and "soufflé" (fluff up).