Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Mushroom Risotto

For years, I was intimidated by the thought of making risotto.  I watch a lot of cooking TV (a lot of cooking TV...I think I may have an addiction...), and you always hear that risotto and souffles are the most difficult things to make.  Not true.  Yes, risottos require a little babysitting, but you don't have to hover over it every second or else the world will end.  And, it only takes about 30 minutes, so its really not that bad.  You can easily make this side dish with the rest of your supper, and impress others who watch the cooking TV shows that I watch, and buy into the preaching that it is super difficult to make!
I've known for a while that I wanted to do a risotto on my blog, and the cosmic forces were telling me to do it today.  I've had Arborio rice in my pantry for awhile, just happened to have 1/2 C of dry white wine in the fridge (how often does that happen?!), I always have chicken stock in the freezer....all I needed were mushrooms.  So, as fate would have it, as I was walking through the grocery store, I noticed 2 (4 oz.) containers of mushroom blend (baby bellas, shiitake and oysters) were marked down to $1 each.  I figured fate was telling me to go on and make this mushroom risotto!  I snatched them up so quickly I think I may have startled the innocent grocery shoppers around me....if you saw me there that day, I'm not even sorry.  So without further ado, let's get cookin'!

Here's the grocery list for today's adventure:
1 1/2 C Arborio rice (we'll get into that later)
1/2 C dry white wine
8 oz. mushroom blend
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/4-1/2 C Parmesan cheese 
1 Tbs fresh parsley (or 1/2 Tbs dried parsley)

Since I keep my chicken stock in the freezer, I just set it out to let it thaw, but I was in a bit of a rush today, and just stuck the frozen chunk in a pot.  Put it over medium heat, and let it continue to thaw out.  Now, as you may know, as your rice cooks, you have to keep adding chicken stock to it every few minutes, and you need your chicken stock to be warm, so it was going to end up in a pot anyway.  You have to have your chicken stock warm, as you add it to your rice, to keep the temperature consistent, or else you'll have cold pockets and hot pockets and the rice won't cook properly.  So, I just set my chicken stock in a pot over medium heat, and let it continue to thaw out as I worked with everything else. 
To start with, saute the mushrooms over medium heat in a nonstick skillet.  I always start mine in a dry pan (no butter or oil), and let the heat evaporate some of the moisture that mushrooms carry.  After about five minutes add in 2 Tbs of olive oil, and the rice.  Let the rice toast; this is a very important step, as it allows the exterior coating of the rice to soften, which allows the rice to absorb the liquid slowly without becoming soggy!  The term toast can be a little misleading, as you don't want the rice to actually gain any color in this process, so if you see it getting browned, turn the heat down.  Now then, let the rice toast for about five to ten minutes, stirring every few minutes, before adding in the white wine.  

Lets take a minute here to discuss rice.  Rice is not the same across the board.  Different rices have different starch levels, which is the main make it or break it factor in this dish.  The starch is what makes this dish so creamy, so you want a rice that has a really high starch content.  Arborio (are-boor-eh-oh) rice is a pearly, round medium grain rice that is readily available in the United States.  Its outer coating contains the highest starch level of any Italian variety, which ensures creamy texture in risottos.  This picture is a few grains of the Arborio rice on the left, and regular white rice on the right.  You can see that the Arborio rice is shorter and fatter than the regular rice.  You can see that the Arborio rice is shorter and fatter than the regular rice, holding in all of that starch.  Now, back to your regularly scheduled blog post!
So, now that your mushrooms have sauteed you've added your olive oil, and your rice has toasted, carefully add the white wine, and let it cook until the rice stays parted as the liquid cooks down.  

Above is a picture that I took a minute or so after I added the white wine.  Yes, the rice parted as I pulled my spoon through it, but the next picture shows that the rice closed in right after I pulled my spoon through.  So this tells me that the rice is not ready yet, for me to add chicken stock to it.  Below, you can see where I pulled the spoon through a couple of minutes later, and it stayed parted, which is a great indication that you need to start adding chicken stock at this point, which you'll add about 1/2 cup at a time, every five to ten minutes.

Now yes, you do need to stir it pretty constantly.  Stirring it helps the rice to release the starch, so aside from stirring to keep an eye on the liquid level, you'll want to stir it to help the creamy factor later. 

This is about twenty minutes into the cooking process, you can see how the rice has puffed up, and how the dish should be looking for you.  
This is the last dose of my liquid, going into my risotto, and this took about 25 minutes to make.  

This is the point where you'll want to add your fresh (or, if you're like me and forgot about it, dried) parsley and Parmesan cheese, and stir it in.  I probably added too much liquid at the last dose, but it worked out just fine.  After I stirred in the cheese and parsley, I turned off the heat, and let the risotto rest and set up a little bit.  Actually my daughter insisted it was nap time right then, so I cut the heat and took her upstairs.  Thankfully, it worked out okay!  I ended up with a creamy, delicious risotto, and a napping toddler!  Who could ask for more??

Now that you've seen how to make this, it isn't that scary, is it?  I hope this inspires you to take on this classic dish, which is amazing on its own, or use it as a side dish next to chicken, or paired with steak would be beautiful since mushrooms go with steaks so well!