Risotto: The culinary confidence-booster
Friends are over for brunch. You’ve got something special in store, one of the most impressive and delicious concoctions in the brunch universe: eggs Benedict. You’ve poached your eggs (no easy feat), toasted your muffins. Now for that Hollandaise sauce. In go the yolks — whisk whisk whisk — the lemon juice — whisk whisk whisk — butter — whisk whisk whisk. That should be about it, aaaaand… what? My sauce… it’s all… lumpy. And oily. And gross-looking. What happened?
Broken sauces, dauntingly complex recipes, deep-fryer disasters; these are the worries that keep newly initiated cooks awake at night. Cooking can be intimidating sometimes, and it is easy to become frustrated. But sometimes the best way to overcome those fears is to dive head first into one of the more mystery-shrouded secrets of the culinary gods. First up: risotto.
Risotto has gained a reputation for being time-intensive and difficult to execute. The truth is, it is easy to make a bad risotto, but just as easy to make a great one. Most of the ingredients are easily attainable right here in Korea. Luckily, Korean rice is a perfect understudy for the fancy Arborio rice used in traditional risotto. They are both short grain rices and contain a similar starch content (something that is crucial for risotto).
The rich texture of risotto doesn’t come from the addition of cream (although butter at the end never hurts), it comes from the starch in the rice.
As you stir your pot of risotto, starch is released, thickening the broth and creating a creamy texture. This is as good enough a time as ever to dispel a myth surrounding risotto and stirring. You do not have to stir constantly. Don’t worry about putting down the spoon to rummage through the fridge or answer the door. The risotto will be fine.
I have two rules. First, make sure the stock is on a low simmer as you add it to the risotto. Adding cold stock to the pot will drop the temperature in the pan, giving you a longer cooking time as well as uneven cooking. I keep my chicken stock at a bare simmer in a small pot next to the risotto pot. I ladle in more stock when I see the rice has absorbed most of the last batch.
The second rule I follow is when I think the risotto is almost there, about two minutes before the rice is cooked through, I add another ladle of stock, toss in the Parmesan, cover it with a lid and turn off the heat. I let it sit for another five to seven minutes and soak in that liquid.
Don’t open the lid, or hover. Walk away, check your e-mail, set the table, pour a glass of wine, anything but open the lid. When the time is up, give it a good stir and adjust the seasoning if it needs it. It should be loose, not stodgy and thick. A good risotto should spread out on the plate, but you don’t want the grains of rice sitting in a pool of watery broth.
The recipe this month is for a squash risotto. You could use any squash — pumpkin, butternut, acorn — but I am using Kobocha because it is readily available in Korea. The technique is the same in almost every risotto you can think of. Once you get the hang of it you can start experimenting with new ingredients.
Next month I am going to take this risotto and delve further into the nightmarish territory of culinary techniques: deep frying.
Walnut & Squash Risotto
• 1 cup of short grain rice (Arborio or normal Korean rice)
• 4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
• 1/3 cup of white wine
• 1 medium onion, small dice
• 1/3 cup of walnuts, crushed
• 2 cloves of garlic, minced
• 1½ cups of diced kobocha squash
• 3 tablespoons of olive oil
• 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
• Salt and pepper
Over a medium-low flame, heat two tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium-sized sauce pan. Put the chicken stock in another pan and bring it to a simmer. Add the onions to the olive oil and sauté for two to three minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Season with salt and pepper. Next, add the rice and squash to the pot, stirring to coat the rice in the oil. Toast the rice in the oil for two minutes, or until it begins to smell nutty. At this point add the white wine. Bring it up to a boil and let the alcohol burn off. Begin to add the stock one or two ladles at a time to the rice. Stir the rice, making sure that there’s enough liquid in the pot but the rice isn't swimming in broth. As the liquid is absorbed, introduce more stock. Start tasting the rice when the rice has been cooking for 13 to 14 minutes. You want the rice to have texture (similar to al dente pasta), not be mushy. When the rice is almost there, add in the cheese and the last tablespoon of olive oil along with another two ladles of stock. Cover the pot and let it sit for five minutes. Remove the lid, add the crushed walnuts and stir vigorously, binding all of the ingredients together. Check for seasoning and transfer to a large plate.