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~ Perfectly-Prepared Chicken and Mushroom Risotto ~

IMG_8708Risotto is traditional Italian cooking at its best.  Risotto is more of a method than a recipe, and it requires respect.  There are no two ways to make risotto.  Make it right or it's not risotto.  Don't deviate from the method, don't take shortcuts and don't make substitutions.  Risotto cannot be rushed -- it requires patience.  It cannot be made in advance, it needs to be carefully watched, methodically stirred, and served immediately.  Risotto is done when it is done, and only the cook knows when it is done, but, when it is done right, it's a meal fit for a kind or a queen.

The word "risotto" is related to the Italian word "riso", or "rice".  Rice came to Northern Italy first, via Middle Easterners, and risotto, said to be the oldest and most common way of preparing rice, is Italy's contribution to rice cookery.  Typically served as a first- or appetizer-course, and primarily prepared in Northern Italy, Central and Southern Italy have claim to their own traditional recipes, using ingredients readily-available to their climate and landscape as well.  Without creating more controversy than is already "out there", it is this cook's opinion that it is not possible to cut a few corners and still come up with anything more than a presentable dish -- cheating breaks the spell.

IMG_8714There are no two ways to make risotto.  Make it right or it's not risotto.

IMG_8491Risotto is typically made in a heavy pot with round, sloping sides, which promote evaporation -- similar in shape to a saucier, the one in the photo is enameled cast-iron with a four-quart capacity. Risotto is traditionally stirred with a wooden spoon with a hole in the center, which allows the rice grains to flow freely during the constant stirring process.  Risotto requires a special, Italian-grown short-medium-grained, plump and polished rice with a high-starch content.  Arborio (are-bore-ee-oh) is the most readily available, with other choices being carnaroli (car-no-row-lee) and vialone nano (vee-a-low-na-no).  Because starch is the key, never rinse the rice before cooking.

IMG_8494While risotto can technically be made with rice and water, the dish will be tasteless, so, before making risotto, one must decide what kind to make (meat-, seafood-, poultry- or vegetable-based), and that requires a corresponding fully-seasoned and preferably homemade stock (meat, seafood, poultry or vegetable).  The general rule is: six cups stock to one pound risotto rice and the stock must be kept steaming hot (not simmering or boiling) throughout the cooking process to enable the rice to release its starch, which is what makes risotto creamy.  If the stock is boiling (too hot), the rice can be mushy.  If the stock it not steaming (too cold), the rice can seize and be gummy.

IMG_8535Once the stock has been prepared, what I refer to as "the add-ins", the smaller-than-bite-sized bits and morsels of food that typically get stirred into risotto at the end of the cooking process, must be cooked in some manner.  The add-ins, the meat, seafood, poultry or vegetables, while it's acceptable if they consist of small pieces or chards of proteins or vegetable from the stock, I much prefer to start with a raw protein and usually one fresh vegetable too.  I lightly-season them, then sauté them with a few fresh-pressed garlic cloves in a bit of olive oil.  A moist, succulent, nicely-seasoned protein in conjunction with a seasonal vegetable is add-in perfection.

IMG_8627When properly prepared, risotto has a rich, creamy texture, with every grain of rice being plain to see and having a hint of a bite -- rather than soft through to the center or mushy. Risotto begins by sautéing finely-diced onions in some olive oil in the bottom of the risotto pot (sometimes garlic is added too, although I prefer to add the garlic to my add-ins), until the onions are translucent and very, very, soft -- so the onions disappear into the finished dish. Next, the rice gets stirred in and cooked until every grain is coated in oil and ever-so-slightly toasted.  At that instant, a splash of white wine  goes in and the mixture is stirred until it has evaporated.

IMG_8689 2Next, the broth is added, in small increments, in a well-orchestrated manner, while the cook constantly and methodically stirs -- the rice is kept moving at all times.  As the rice absorbs  broth, more broth is added, and so on, until rice is cooked to the perfectly, slightly-chewy "to the tooth" texture (or, to slightly less than "to the tooth", at which time the add-ins get stirred in, which creates a heartier dish -- after that, more broth is added, until the rice reaches perfection).  During the last seconds, the dish is finished by stirring in pieces of cold butter and finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (which adds to the luxurious consistency and provides glistening eye appeal).

Click here to watch my KE on WHVL-TV video:  Perfectly-Cooked Risotto.


General rules of thumb for 12 cups risotto/12-16 starter-, or 6-8 main-dish servings:

Heat 6 cups stock to steaming for every 1-pound risotto rice being cooked.

Be sure to finely-dice the 1 1/2 cups onion & use 1/4 cup wine to deglaze pot. 

Plan on adding a minimum of 5 cups stock & needing up to 6 cups.

Approximately 3-3 1/2 cups of sautéed add-ins is ideal.

Finish w/4 tablespoons cubed butter & 6-8 tablespoons finely-grated Parmesan.


IMG_8726For the stock:

6 cups fully-seasoned steaming-hot chicken stock, your favorite recipe or mine

Note:  Be sure to taste and season whatever chicken stock or chicken stock recipe you are using prior to adding it to the rice.  Stock is "liquid gold" (the primary flavoring) to risotto:  the finished dish is only going to taste as good as the stock that got added to it tastes.  Risotto cannot be seasoned after-the-fact -- that's a fact.  If the stock is lacking salt or any other seasoning, the risotto will taste like any unseasoned rice would taste -- bland and boring.


IMG_8498For the chicken and mushroom add-ins to the risotto:

1-1 1/4 pound uncooked, trimmed of any fat, 1/2" diced boneless, skinless chicken thighs (chicken tenderloins may be substituted)

8  ounces thinly-sliced crimini or white button mushroom caps, no stems, or a combination of both

4-6  large garlic cloves, run through a press, about 2 tablespoons pressed garlic

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

4  tablespoons olive oil

IMG_8499 IMG_8499 IMG_8499 IMG_8499~Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, place the olive oil. Add the diced chicken and lightly-season with sea salt and peppercorn blend (about 15 grinds salt and 25 grinds pepper). Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté until the chicken is just short of being cooked, through, 3-4 minutes.

IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510~Step 2.  Sprinkle the garlic over the chicken and add the mushrooms to the pan.  Briefly stir to combine.  Lightly season with sea salt and peppercorn blend (about 10 grinds salt and 15 grinds pepper). Continue to sauté over medium-high heat until the mushrooms have lost all of their moisture and almost no liquid remains in bottom of pan, 4-6 minutes. Consistency is more important than the time it takes.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside.


IMG_8538For the risotto:

4  tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2  cups finely-diced onion

1  pound arborio, carnaroli, or, vialone nano rice

1/4  cup sweet white wine

4  tablespoons salted butter

6-8  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

6  cups chicken stock

3-3 1/2 cups chicken and mushroom "add-in" mixture (from above recipe)

IMG_8541 IMG_8546 IMG_8546 IMG_8546 IMG_8546 IMG_8546~Step 1.  Heat the olive oil in the risotto pot over medium heat.  Stir in the onion.  Cook, over medium- medium-high, 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.  During this process, regulate the heat carefully, up or down, in order to keep the onions sautéing gently.  Stir constantly and do not try to rush it.

IMG_8564 IMG_8564 IMG_8564 IMG_8564 IMG_8564~Step 2.  Stir in the Arborio rice and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the grains are coated with oil and the edges are ever-so-slightly toasted, about 2-3 minutes.  Add and stir in the wine and cook until the liquid has all evaporated, 20-30 seconds, stirring constantly.  This step goes very quickly.  Be prepared to start adding stock almost immediately.

IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580~Step 3.  Ladle enough hot stock into pot to cover  rice, about 1 1/2 cups. On this first addition of stock, make certain the rice is fully covered. 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 pot, about 3-4 minutes.  Once again, time is not as important as the end result.

IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8620 IMG_8620 IMG_8620 IMG_8620 IMG_8628 IMG_8628 IMG_8628 IMG_8628 IMG_8628 IMG_8628 IMG_8642 IMG_8642 IMG_8642 IMG_8642 IMG_8642~Step 4.  Continue the process of adding stock, about 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly after each addition, until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid, about 3-4 minutes, three more times, for a total of 9-12 total minutes.  To this point in the risotto making process, a total of 4 1/2-5 cups of stock will have been added to the rice.

IMG_8654 IMG_8654 IMG_8654 IMG_8654 IMG_8654 IMG_8662 IMG_8662 IMG_8662 IMG_8662~Step 5.  Stir in the chicken mixture and get out a tasting spoon.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and add additional stock in 1/4 cup increments, stirring 1-2 minutes after each addition, until rice is al dente or "to the tooth" and cooked to your liking.  I added, 3/4 cup of stock, in three 1/4 cup additions, tasting after each one, to get to desired doneness.

Note:  Experts all explain that risotto will not cook the same, or in the same amount of time every time, which is why risotto is more about understanding the method than having a recipe.  At the very end, the rice should be to your liking -- some like it crunch tender, others prefer it very soft.

IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675~Step 6.  Stir in the butter and grated cheese.  When the butter is melted and thoroughly incorporated, remove the pan from the heat, cover it, then, let it sit for 2-3 minutes.

Ladle into shallow bowls & garnish with freshly-ground sea salt, peppercorn blend & Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

IMG_8724Perfectly-Prepared Chicken and Mushroom Risotto:  Recipe yields 12 cups/12-16 starter- or 6-8 main-dish servings. 

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucepan; cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides & lid; spatula; kitchen scale; 4-quart risotto pot/saucier w/lid; wooden risotto spoon or wooden spoon; 1 cup-sized ladle; 1/4 cup-sized ladle; tasting spoon 

IMG_8699Cook's Note:  I'm pretty sure I covered all the pertinent facts is this particular risotto post.  That said, should you be inclined, for an expanded, even more verbose explanation, I share everything I know about risotto, including my KE/WHVL-TV episode in my post ~ No two ways about it: Make it right or it's not Risotto ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)


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