One dish that I have been working my whole life perfecting is risotto. “Risotto” is the Italian word for rice, but the term has evolved into a method of cooking. It involves cooking a short grain rice, like Arborio, in a very gradual and methodical fashion and yields a smooth, silky almost soup of rice. I’ve seen versions in which other grains or even small dices of potatoes are cooked in this fashion, and that’s what I mean when I say it’s evolved into a method of cooking.
Risotto is usually an appetizer or “primi piati” in an Italian meal; I like to try to break some rules. I recently cooked sirloin steak with wild mushroom risotto on the side.
The inspiration for this meal was a walk through the Troy Farmers Market. There is a mushroom stand there, and they always have brilliant looking mushrooms. I really liked the way their oyster and shitake mushrooms looked, so I bought a good handful of both.
Actually, I cleaned everything and removed the stems. Those went into a pot with a quart of water and some fresh shallots, garlic cloves, salt and pepper; this was brought to a simmer for about 30 minutes. The result was a delicious mushroom stock.
I couldn’t stop there with the mushrooms though (I didn’t make a mushroom belt. QUICK! NAME THE MOVIE!). I decided to try porcini mushrooms. Around here, these mushrooms only come dry, so I bought some dry (from Honest Weight) and reconstituted them in about 1 cup of warm to hot water.
After about a ten minute soak, I removed the mushrooms from the liquid and reserved the liquid.
Then I got all four burners ready for a cooking marathon. Things at this point are all over the place!
Things moved quickly at this point, so I gathered some other ingredients.
Here’s the part of this you’re not gonna want to miss:
To make the risotto, you’re going to have to commit to standing in front of the stove stirring for about 20 minutes. In a saute pan, I started with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a nicely sized, finely diced shallot, and some salt. I cooked the shallot over medium heat until soft. Then, I added enough rice to cover the bottom of the pan (It probably took me a cup and a half to two cups). I toasted the rice in the oil and shallot for a couple of minutes. Addition of liquids should commence when the rice is nice and hot. My first liquid addition was the warm porcini broth. I continually stirred the mixture. As the rice absorbed all of the liquid, I made subsequent liquid additions (about 1/2 cup at a time) from the mushroom broth I had heating on the back burner. Each time, as the rice absorbed the liquid, I added more. When the rice looked almost cooked and the rice had absorbed most of the liquid, I tasted it. I was looking for the rice to be aldente (meaning there would be a little part of the center of the grain still tough). I was also looking to adjust the salt level. At this point, I added a little more liquid. This is the part people mess up. Since you’re going to add things that are going to tighten up the risotto, you want more liquid than the rice can hold at this point. Then, I added my grated cheese, a few knobs of butter, some olive oil, and served it immediately.
You’re probably thinking, “wait a minute! Where did the mushrooms and the steak come from?”
While all that stuff was happening above, I worked on cooking the steaks in the cast iron skillet and sauteing the mushrooms.
There was nothing magic about cooking the steaks. Actually, I used this technique.
For the mushrooms, in a frying pan, I heated some oil and added the sliced mushrooms along with some salt and pepper. I was going for very clean flavors, just the mushrooms in all of their earthy glory.
Once I had all of the components cooked (see above image “The whole meal”), I tried two different plating techniques.
For Cassie, I served the steak and risotto side-by-side.
For me, I got cute and positioned the steak around the risotto.
I honestly liked the way Cassie’s presentation came out better, but I will probably never serve steak next to my risotto again. The juices from the steak muddled into the risotto a little too much. Next time, I’m not gonna break the rules and I’m gonna serve the risotto as a starter, on it’s own.
The risotto came out excellent, probably my best ever! I have never actually cooked mushroom risotto before until this adventure. I never appreciated the flavor or texture of mushrooms enough to want to try it. In this case, the mushrooms had such a distinct flavor to add to the dish that it was a match made in risotto heaven. I would back off on the porcini next time; the flavor seemed to overpower the dish, but that’s not a bad thing at all, just unbalanced.
Here comes the rest of the risotto lesson:
Risotto is never, ever supposed to be tight, fluffy, or static. Risotto should pour, and when you put it on the plate, it should spread. A few weeks ago, a local restaurant was having a cooking competition and some pretty popular food people were trying to get me to vote for a risotto dish. I couldn’t vote out of principle, because the rice looked sticky and tight. I’m sure it tasted fine. Go ahead and scroll up to my pictures of the finished risotto above if you want to see what it’s supposed to look like.