Gordon Ramsay had me scared silly over risotto. I’d tasted it once at a friend’s dinner party and wasn’t impressed with what I considered to be a mash-up of mushrooms and mushy rice. So why were all these fancy chefs trying to cook it, to the result of even more bleeps coming from Chef Ramsay’s mouth? On Hell’s Kitchen, one poor chef would always undercook the risotto, causing me to worry that Ramsay would have an immediate heart attack. Kitchen Nightmares (I enjoy the British version seen on BBC America far more than its US counterpart) featured another chef being berated for overcooked, soggy risotto. And I don’t even know how many contestants on Top Chef went home for not cooking the dish just right.
I was determined, I wasn’t going there. But as usual, Jan wanted to push me out of my comfort zone and insisted we try making risotto. After all, with my one below-average taste testing of it, he said there had to be some reason why all these people would risk reality show elimination and Ramsay-sized smackdowns to cook this dish. There had to be something about it that I was missing.
We tried the recipe Chef Jean-Christophe Novelli shared on Chef Academy (recipe here), another cooking reality show that took wannabe chefs and put them through a sort of cooking school boot camp. Chef Novelli was tough, but nurturing. He showed his students the secrets behind risotto without using too many obscenities. (And despite my fear of him coming through my TV to personally spit out my own risotto, I like Chef Ramsay and am convinced he really is a good guy underneath his TV persona and profanity.)
While Jan poured over the recipe and got the ingredients together, I readied myself by the stovetop. After Jan sautéed the onions and herbs, he handed me a spoon and told me to get busy. I poured in the wine and followed the instructions carefully, adding hot broth a spoonful at a time, allowing the rice to absorb the liquid before adding any more. I did not leave my post for a good 45 minutes, watching the arborio rice grains as they slowly became more puffed up with moisture.
I don’t think you have to be that vigilant to stir for the entire cooking process, but I didn’t want to take any chances. Besides, I was having fun with my task. I could alternate sips of red wine for me, and spoonfuls of broth for the risotto.
I tasted and tasted, not sure when I would know that the risotto was done. For a while, I knew for sure that it needed more cooking time, and then all of a sudden, it seemed like the rice had absorbed the correct amount of broth to be done. I added cheese just before serving, stirring until thoroughly mixed.
It was so delicious! The rice was cooked so that it was still firm when you bit down on it, creating a nutty and slightly chewy (but in a good way) texture. The cheese took the risotto to the next level. It compared to a good mac and cheese: rich, creamy, and comforting, but with more sophistication.
The first time we tried making risotto, we used white wine. We have since tried it with red wine, which I like because it goes even better with beef. By the time we served it with the bacon wraped filet, tiger prawns, and sautéed spinach seen at the top of this post, I felt like a risotto pro (fourth time making it).
Would it stand up to Chef Ramsay’s standards? I don’t know. I’m glad I’ll never have to find out.