Sunday, September 6, 2015

Risotto is not Rice with Stuff in it

We recently vacationed on the Jersey shore. While there, I ordered a scallop dish at a wonderful little seafood restaurant that was served with risotto. This is a common combination. Perfectly caramelized, tender scallops, pair wonderfully with an al dente, and creamy risotto.

Then, when I got home, I saw the below photo of the scallops and risotto at Maestro's in Saratoga, from the Times Union review of the restaurant.
Maestro's - Saratoga, NY

Unfortunately, we only get a peek at the risotto, but that's all we need. See it there, on the left?
Risotto is a dish, but it's not just a dish. It's a method. The risotto method is the key to a delicious dish of short grain rice, cooked in stock or other liquid, with various additions such as veggies, herbs, or meats.

Maestro's risotto is wrong.

To be clear, I'm not singling out Maestro's here, many, many, restaurants improperly serve risotto. It's frustrating to me how many restaurants screw up risotto. What's even more frustrating, is that people have no idea that what they're eating is a poorly executed dish, that isn't really risotto.

The risotto method consists of cooking short grain rice in any kind of flavorful liquid. A little liquid at a time is added to the pot, and then the rice is stirred for a bit until some of the liquid is absorbed. Then more liquid is added, and the process continues until the rice is cooked through. Each time you add liquid and stir, the rice sheds some of it's starch. The starch mixes with the liquid and creates a creamy, velvety, consistency. It's that creamy, velvety liquid that makes risotto, risotto. Otherwise it's just rice.

Does the risotto in the picture above look creamy?

For comparison, look at this photo from One Fish, Two Fish in Jersey:
One Fish Two Fish Restaurant - Wildwood, NJ. This was my dish, and it was fantastic.

See the difference?

Maestro's risotto looks dry, stuck together, and sticky, like Chinese take out rice. There's no liquid at all.

The risotto from Jersey is served in a bowl, not on a plate. That's because risotto, properly made, is soupy. See how the asparagus sinks into the soupy rice. Look at all the liquid in the bowl.

Risotto should be wet, creamy, velvety, and almost soupy. It should NEVER be dry and sticky. EVER. If it's not wet and creamy, it's not risotto! It's just rice. And it's shameful. It demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of what the dish is. It's not very good either, it lacks all of the appeal of a properly executed risotto.

Risotto is a stew-like dish that's warming, and comforting, with a creamy, velvety mouthfeel. It is not sticky rice with stuff in it.


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