Firstly, what makes a risotto different to other rice dishes? Two things - the rice that you use, and the way that you cook it.
The rice should be medium grain, so not a light dry rice like basmati or other long grain rices. They contain a specific type of starch which doesn't release easily into the cooking liquid, so stay light and fluffy when you cook them. And not short grain Japanese rice which releases plenty of starch and makes a sticky grain, perfect for sushi, but too solid for our risotto. Spanish paella rice such as Calasparra will be fine if you have it (paella rice is also a medium grain, and the difference in texture between paella and risotto is partly from how it is cooked). For a really good risotto I like to use Italian rice.
Italian rices are nearly as long as long grain, and nearly as wide as short grain, and have a soft starchy outside around a firm core. There are three main risotto rices you will find easily in the supermarkets and delis - Arborio, possibly the most well known, Vialone Nano (used in the North East, around the Veneto, where my mother in law came from, and perfect for the Venetian risi e bisi ) and my favourite, Carnalone. Try them all, and see which you prefer, they are all good, and all create a silky, creamy sauce as they release their starches into the wine and stock that you will use to cook them.
Which brings me to the second thing that makes a risotto. The way that you cook it. You need to stir it. Delia Smith may believe that you can make a risotto by adding all the liquid to the rice and cooking it in the oven, but I am afraid that to me that is an Italian savoury rice pudding. Doubtless very fine in its own way, but not a risotto.
I think that you really do need to stir the rice, not all the time, and not fiercely, but consistently and especially towards the end, from when the rice is about three quarters cooked. You are looking for a creamy smooth sauce to surround each grain of rice. The rice should still be separate in this silky bath, not stodgy and stuck together. Whether you like it al dente or softer (I don't like to have any hard core in mine) it should never be stiff enough to stand up.
It should gently subside when you put it in the plate, like a sulky odalisque relaxing on her couch...See the tummy on the one on the right of this Ingres painting of the Turkish bath? That is the slumpy effect you want.
So that is the orthodoxy.
Now here is how I make my risotto, which probably has sufficient short cuts to make an Italian mother in law blanch.
|Prawn, Pea and Leek Risotto|
- 4 handfuls of risotto rice
- 1chopped shallot
- 2 small or one large leek, finely sliced
- approx 1 litre fish stock (I use 1 heaped teaspoon of Essential Cuisine fish stock powder in 500ml water, then use plain boiling water when this runs out.)
- 1 tsp plus 1 tbs butter
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 sherry glass of white wine, sherry or vermouth
- large handful of frozen peas
- large handful of chopped parsley
- 250g pack of frozen cooked tiger prawns
- 4-6 strands saffron
- Put the frozen prawns on a plate to start to thaw. Do not rinse them, the ice has a lot of prawny flavour.
- Put the kettle on, if you are using strong fish cube stock plus boiling water. If you are using fresh stock, put it in a saucepan to warm through, but put the kettle on as well in case you need a little more water at the end.
- In a large saucepan, melt the 1tsp butter and the oil, saute the shallot and shredded leeks gently until they are soften.
- Add the rice and saute gently for 5 mins until it starts to stick slightly.
- Add the alcohol (I like sherry but use whatever you have around) and allow to evaporate about half way, stirring with a wooden spoon.
- Start to add the fish stock about 250 ml at a time, stirring from time to time. Don't allow the stock to completely evaporate before adding the next slug. Keep stirring!
- When the rice is about half way cooked, add the saffron and the peas. Keep stirring, keep adding water/stock as it cooks away.
- When the rice is cooked to your taste, add the prawns (don't worry if they are still frozen, they will thaw in the heat of the rice) the chopped parsley and the final tablespoon of butter.
- Give a stir, put a lid on and allow to sit for about 5 mins until the prawns are thawed and heated through. The rice should still be slumpy not stodgy. If it is too dry then add a little more water/stock and give it a sideways shake to mix it in.
- Serve in shallow bowls.
- DO NOT ADD CHEESE! Unforgiveable gaff, putting cheese with a fish risotto.
- Unless you like cheese of course. In which case, break the rule, make the gaff, and add it with the prawns and the butter at the end.