While I firmly believe that risotto is much easier to make at home than many people think, I will agree with the notion that it can be tricky to figure out when it's done cooking. Unlike pasta, which has a pretty set amount of time it needs to boil until it's al dente, risotto has a bit of wider range.
There are a few variables to contend with: How hot the cooking liquid is, how strong it's simmering, or the type of rice used can all affect the total cooking time. Usually a pan of risotto can take anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes to cook, and during that window you'll want to keep a close eye on how things are progressing.
So how can you tell if it's cooked? There are actually three great ways.
1. It's Creamy but Not Too Thick
The Italians have a saying for what perfectly cooked risotto should look like — it should be like "la onda," a wave that slowly rolls to shore. Leave it to the Italians to make risotto poetic. What that means is the dish should have the consistency of thick porridge. If you run your spatula through the risotto, the risotto should flow slowly back to fill in the space.
2. A Smeared Grain Is Plump and Fairly Smooth
Take a grain out of the pan and place it on a smooth surface, like your countertop or a plate. Smear it with your finger. If it's rough and chunky, with a large white center, it's undercooked. If it has no opaque center and is super smooth and soft, it's overcooked. If it's a fairly smooth smear with a little bit of white in the middle, like the grain pictured on the far right, it's perfectly cooked.
3. It Tastes on the Softer Side of Al Dente
Perhaps the easiest way to tell if your risotto is done is to simply taste it. The grains should be soft with a slight amount of bite to them. There should be a pleasant chew that makes you want to go in for another forkful.
Do you have any signs you use to tell when risotto is done?