Ask Peter: Risotto
How do I pre-prepare a risotto so that I can finish it off whilst guests are there rather than spend half an hour in the kitchen stirring during a dinner party?
Thanks, Lucy Holloway.
There are two answers to your question here, and both would be widely appreciated by many home cooks, I imagine. The first is that you truly do not need to stir the rice the whole time. Years ago I worked for a slightly bonkers Italian chef and one day, as she was making her risotto I commented on the fact that I’d been told that it must be stirred the whole time, so why wasn’t she doing that. She rolled her eyes and said “Do you really think the Italian housewife has the time or energy at the end of a day to stir the rice for 25 minutes? They have children to feed, other courses to prepare, wine to pour. It just doesn’t happen this way.”
So, from that time on I have followed her advice. I saute my onions, garlic etc (often I make a soffritto which also includes celery and carrot, very finely chopped) in either olive oil or butter, or a combination of both depending on what I’m making until slightly golden. I tip this out and then fry the rice in some more fat for a minute over medium heat to coat the rice and set the outside. I add the veges back to the rice, add a cup of stock or wine and cook to evaporate over high heat, stirring all the time, then stir in just enough simmering stock to cover by 1cm and simmer gently until it’s been absorbed. Keep adding stock and simmering until it’s just al dente and then it’s ready to finish by quickly stirring in some butter, mascarpone, cheese etc. So, that will help you with one part of your query.
Another way to save time is to partially cook your risotto. Make it as described above, but only add 1 cup of the stock. Let it cook until it’s been absorbed and then tip out on to a tray and leave to cool. Around 15 minutes before you need to serve your risotto, bring 2 cups of stock to the boil and add the rice, stirring until it comes back to a simmer. Then cook as above until al dente. This means you’ll save time on cooking the soffritto and the initial stage of the rice which will give you more time with your guests.
When I cook risotto, I always add very thinly sliced leeks if I have them. They break up in the rice and give it a lovely creamy texture, and even though this is far from traditional, I think it’s a great addition. Add them along with the onions in the initial sauteing of the soffritto. Another flavour I like to add is soy sauce — especially when making a risotto that you finish with lots of mascarpone. Odd as that combination might seem, the savouriness of the soy, combined with the creaminess of the mascarpone, just works beautifully.
In winter, when kale is looking good, you can blanch it in boiling water to which you’ve added ½ a teaspoon of baking soda. Cook for a minute, then drain and refresh and squeeze out any excess liquid, within reason. Puree as fine as you can and add this to the risotto with the last dose of simmering stock for a really gorgeous green rice.
If you like mushroom risotto you can add the mushrooms in one of two ways. Either cook them in the rice from the start, sauteing them in the soffritto, or cook them separately in butter and add during the last minutes, or spoon on top. By introducing them at the start, the risotto will be darker in colour.
Never add anything to the risotto that’s any cooler than room temperature as the sudden drop in temperature isn’t good for the texture of the rice as it cooks. And as for salt, always add ½ a teaspoon when you add the first cup of wine or stock, then season it again right at the end. The addition of salt at the beginning always makes a better-tasting dish.
READ MORE: Peter Gordon's secrets to a tastier risotto
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.