Risotto

So over at Tamara’s site there’s this oven Risotto recipe. Looks good, but it had me laughing. To be fair, all risotto recipes do so these days. (I admit that part of it was driven by the fact I don’t use the oven from mid-May to mid-September down here. Yes, I could double my air conditioning bill, but it’d still be hot.) But again, it’s mainly the risotto. 40 minutes, opening the door every ten minutes to remove the foil cover and stir, and it’s half the work. To be fair again, compared to most risotto recipes it is half the work. At the same time…

Look. All risotto is just rice porridge made with broth instead of water. Lock that little tidbit in your mind and it’ll all come together easily. All porridge is grain that’s boiled. It absorbs moisture to soften, and while it’s at it some of the starches (and possibly a couple of other compounds) come out of the grains and thicken the moisture that wasn’t absorbed.

Now, the classic way of making risotto is that you add frequent additions of a little broth to your hot pan of rice while constantly stirring, and do this for half an hour or so. Yet if you make porridge from oats or wheat, well, you don’t have to dribble out the moisture, and you only have to stir enough to keep it from sticking on the bottom. So what gives?

The main thing is that we’re using whole kernels of rice while we’re using cut up pieces of other grains. Even hulled the rice is more resistant to letting its starches escape. To force the rice to give up starch to the broth we have to bang it around a bit, causing bits to break off. (slight exaggeration, but that’s the basic idea)

Why the little bit of liquid at a time? Because it’s a lot easier to bang the rice around if what you’re messing with is mostly rice instead of well-cushioned by liquid.

So now you know why all the work is going on – all the stirring and stuff, even in the oven risotto. But I said I laugh, and I need to explain that a bit.

See, I get really good risotto in one of two ways, depending on how many dirty dishes I want to have. Most of the time I two-pot it. One pot for the rice, one for the hot broth. I add broth sorta like you do for regular risotto. But back at the very beginning, with the first addition of liquid, I beat the crap out of the rice. Whip it real good. (sorry, couldn’t resist). Then each time I add more liquid (just enough to cover) I give it basic shake to release a little more starch and stir to make sure it’s not sticking to the bottom.

Then there’s the “go away kid” method. Warm the broth and heat the rice in a little butter or olive oil. Pour the rice from the pan in which you’ve warmed it into a food processor. Add enough broth to cover by half an inch or so. Give it a dozen or so pulses – not enough to break up the rice, but the liquid should be very cloudy. Pour this and all the rest of the heated broth back into the stove top pan, and run at a low simmer. Give it a stir every five to ten minutes or so to keep the starch from burning on the bottom of the pan. It’s done when the rice is tender.

Yum. Rice porridge.

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