Never Eat Risotto in a Parisian Brasserie

In eight years in Paris, I have never eaten a decent risotto in a Parisian restaurant, brasserie or bistro.

For some unknown reason, they think risotto is pilaf with excess broth. It is a crying shame since there are hundreds Italian restaurants where you can eat a decent risotto. It should be easy to figure out how to cook it properly.

There are four simple points you need to keep in mind to prepare good risotto.

First use only arborio rice. This is a short grain, high starch Italian rice. Nothing else will work. And this is where the bistro cooks fail: they invariably use regular short grain pilaf rice.

Second, start cooking the rice by turning it in butter or olive oil (I use only olive oil) for 4-5 minutes in medium to high heat. This is the same technique you would use for pilaf. The grains will become whiter. Add your liquid after those four, five minutes.

Third, do not use plain water to cook the rice. You can use chicken or vegetable broth. Or white wine. I personally like the woodsy taste of dried mushrooms. Usually, I opt for dried porcini mushrooms but any other variety will do fine.

I put them in hot water for ten minutes. Then I remove the mushrooms and use that liquid in my risotto.

The trick is to add that mushroom broth slowly to the risotto, roughly half a cup at a time.

And to continuously stir the risotto.

The forth thing to keep in mind is to prepare the risotto just before you serve it. That is because you need to stir it constantly to keep it creamy and when you stop the high starch arborio will absorb all the liquid and will become sticky and hard. Tip: if you have to prepare it ahead of time, put aside some of that broth liquid and add it to your risotto while heating it up.

You can flavor the risotto any way you like. Some recipes suggest saffron (Milanese style), others will recommend sea food (like scallops). There are literally hundreds different ways to finish it. I like mine simple, so I usually add a few drops of truffle oil before serving.

As I said, you will find hundreds of recipes for risotto. My suggestion is to keep it simple, to use good ingredients and treat risotto as a meal onto itself (as opposed to a side dish).

And never eat risotto in a bistro.

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