~ A Rustic Wintertime Chicken & Mushroom Risotto ~
Sometimes you just know when you've got to to slow down, take a step back, and, allow your mind to unwind. Today is that day. 'Tis the busiest time of year and I need a bit of stress-relieving "kitchen therapy". What's on the agenda for my self-imposed holiday from the world? An afternoon of movies on my kitchen TV, a glass or three of wine, and, cooking a nice and slow, laid-back pot of my favorite rich, creamy and comforting chicken risotto for dinner.
"There are no two ways to make risotto. Either you make it right or it is not risotto." ~ Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
I didn't grow up eating risotto and neither did my husband. As adults, yes, of course, we've eaten it in fine, upscale Italian restaurants, which under the best of circumstances seem to have a hard time preparing it "just right". Over the years, I dabbled in risotto making on my own (it isn't hard to make) and mine was quite good, but then, in February of 2006, the perfect risotto recipe showed up on my doorstep. None other than Lidia Bastianich, herself, in person. Lidia was in town doing a cooking demonstration at WPSU-TV to promote her book, Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen and I was assisting. Off camera, I was to prepare her recipes, according to her specifications, enough to feed a studio audience of 100 people, while she was "on set" demonstrating how to make the same. Her "basic risotto recipe" was the first of four dishes.
Traditionally, risotto is made in a pan with round, sloping sides and is stirred with a wooden spoon. This sexy Mario Batali 4-quart risotto pan/saucier is the perfect vessel for cooking and serving risotto. I know, because this one is, literally, the pan and spoon Lidia used to cook hers that day -- it's mine now!
Prior to the actual cooking of your risotto, if you're planning on adding any meat, poultry, seafood, shellfish or vegetables to it, know that these ingredients need to be diced and cooked ahead of time. You'll need a good amount of stock too (5-6 cups per 1 pound Arborio rice). The stock needs to be steaming, and, common sense tells you the stock should match the add-ins (if your adding chicken, use chicken stock, if your adding vegetables, use vegetable stock, etc).
Here's my favorite Wintertime chicken & mushroom combo:
1 pound uncooked, trimmed of any fat and 1/2"-3/4" cubed, boneless, skinless chicken thighs (breasts can be substituted)
8 ounces thinly sliced mushroom caps, no stems included (crimini or white button, or, a combination of both work nicely)
3-4 minced garlic cloves, about 2 tablespoons minced garlic, more or less, to taste (run it through a press if you prefer it finer)
freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend
4 tablespoons olive oil
~ Step 1. In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, place the olive oil. Add the cubed chicken and lightly season with sea salt and peppercorn blend. Adjust heat to medium-high and saute until the chicken is cooked, through, about 3-4 minutes.
~ Step 2. Sprinkle the garlic over the chicken and add the mushrooms to the pan. Stir briefly. Lightly season with sea salt and peppercorn blend. Continue to saute over medium-high heat until the mushrooms have lost all of their moisture and almost no liquid remains in the bottom of the pan, about 4-6 minutes. The consistency is more important than the time it takes. Remove from heat, cover and set aside.
5-6 cups hot chicken stock, preferably homemade
Note: The amount of stock needed will vary depending upon the pot you are cooking your risotto in, what type of risotto you are making, and, your own personal preference. Traditionally, risotto made with seafood is looser, while risotto made with meat or poultry is denser. That said, the stock must be kept hot or steaming throughout the cooking process, as cold stock causes the surface of the rice grains to seize up, which means they won't release their starch -- which is what makes risotto creamy.
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4-1 1/2 cups finely-diced onion
1 pound Arborio rice, a generous 2 cups (no substitutions)*
1/4 cup sweet white wine
2-3 tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
*Note: The high-starch kernels of this Italian-grown rice are shorter and fatter than any other short-grain white rice. This rice, upon being cooked, releases this starch, resulting in its signature super-creamy texture. Arborio rice makes great rice pudding too!
~ Step 1. Heat the olive oil in the risotto pan over medium heat. Stir in the onion. Cook, over moderate heat, stirring almost constantly with a large wooden spoon (Italians insist it be wooden), until onion is soft, tender, translucent and just beginning to brown, 8-10 minutes.
Note: During this process, regulate the heat carefully, up or down, in order to keep the mixture gently bubbling. Do not try to rush it.
Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until all of the stock gets absorbed and you can see the bottom of the pan while you are stirring, about 3-4 minutes. Time is not as important as the end result.
~ Step 4. Continue the process of adding stock, about 1 cup at a time and stirring constantly until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid, three more times. A total of 4 1/2-5 cups of stock will have been added.
~ Step 5. Stir in the chicken and mushroom mixture. Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, adding additional stock in 1/4 cup increments, until rice is al dente, or cooked to your liking.
Note: Lidia will be the first to tell you that risotto will not cook the same, or in the same amount of time every time, which is why making risotto is more about understanding the method than having an actual recipe -- risotto can be made using just Arborio rice and hot water. She also explains that at the very end, the rice should be to your liking -- some like it crunch tender, others very soft.
~ Step 7. To serve, ladle into bowls (shallow bowls, the type used for serving pasta and the famous fish stew, cioppino, are traditional) and serve as a main-dish.
Top w/freshly ground sea salt, peppercorn blend & a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano.
"Ho, Ho Ho -- It's Risotto!" ~Mrs. Clause
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; 4-quart risotto pan/saucier w/lid; wooden spoon
Cook's Note: Risotto is classic, Italian cooking at its best. Respect that. It is not a dish to make in advance or cheat on by using canned stock. I have a love affair with it every time I make it. I caress it, carefully watching it and methodically stirring it, while it gently simmers. Only I know when it is done, and, when it is: it is a meal fit for a king, a queen or me!
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)