I have a confession to make. The very first time I made risotto (which was 10 years ago now) it took about 2 hours. What’s funny is that a basic risotto should be a quick and easy 20 minutes from start to finish. What happened? Looking back now I see that my problem was fear – fear that I would burn the rice, fear that I would screw up the whole dish. So instead I stood in front of the stove and stirred and stirred my little arm off for 2 hours straight. I had the heat on low! It took forever and ever for the liquid to absorb into the rice. The real key to a quick (and good) risotto is not being afraid to crank the heat. Crank it all the way up, as high as it will go. But whatever you do: don’t step away from the stove! You have to keep stirring, stirring, stirring – but only for 20 minutes. Not 2 hours.
I used mushroom broth for this risotto, which was absolutely delicious, but you can substitute vegetable or chicken broth. If you cook risotto a lot, you’ll get the hang of checking out the way the individual rice grains look as they are cooking: when you first stir them around in the fat, they become translucent with a chalky white core. As they continue to cook, they become less and less translucent, until they are bone white through-and-through. As you get a hang for it, you can actually use the look-see method to test if the rice is done, rather than burning the hell out of your mouth tasting the rice every 2 seconds towards the end of cooking. When you finally do taste, you want the rice to be not-to-soft, and not-too-hard – al dente, that is. If you’ve run out of liquid before the rice is sufficiently tender, just add water a ladleful at a time. And if you can’t find oyster mushrooms, this would be equally as good with all button mushrooms. One last tip: if you have a pot with rounded bottom (i.e., a saucier), it makes getting into the corners of the pan easier (uh, because there are no corners) so the rice doesn’t stick and burn.
Oh, and my second confession of the night: I sauteed some of the mushrooms in bacon fat. Yeah, that’s right.
3-5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 pound oyster mushrooms, fibrous stems removed, mushrooms torn in half if very large
1 pound button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large shallot, finely diced
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
4 cups mushroom, vegetable, or chicken broth
1 cup water
2 cups arborio rice
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons parsley, very finely chopped
- Combine the broth and the water in a medium saucepan and heat to simmer over medium heat.
- In a large, heavy saute pan, heat 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over high heat until very hot, but not quite smoking.
- Add about 1/3 of the mushrooms, taking care not to crowd the pan. Saute the mushrooms over high heat until golden brown in spots, adding a small pinch of salt halfway through cooking.
- Remove sauteed mushrooms with a slotted spoon and set aside, and repeat with the remaining mushrooms, adding the additional 2 tablespoons of olive oil per batch. Set mushrooms aside. Taste and correct for salt.
- In a large saucier or pot set over medium heat, add the butter, the 1 tablespoon olive oil, and the finely chopped shallots. Cook and stir until the shallots are softened, 3-4 minutes (do not brown).
- Add the rice. Stir until all of the rice grains are coated in the fat and have become translucent around the edges, about a minute.
- Crank the heat to high and immediately add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth. Stir the rice, making sure you get into the corners of your pot with your spoon, so the rice doesn’t stick. Continue stirring until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Add another 1/2 cup of broth and keep stirring.
- Continue adding the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, adding more only when the last 1/2 cup has been absorbed, until rice is al dente. (Depending on the rice, you may use all of the liquid, or you may have some liquid left over. Or you may need to add additional rice. Keep an eye on the rice, tasting a grain at a time if you need to, to determine when the rice is done.)
- Stir in about three-quarters of the reserved sauteed mushrooms. Add the 1/3 cup Parmigiano, and the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Taste and correct for salt.
- To serve: spoon risotto into a bowl. Top with some of the remaining sauteed mushrooms, a sprinkle of chopped parsley, and a few grindings of black pepper. Serve with additional grated cheese on the side.