Risotto is like my dinner patronus — it appears to help me make a satisfying dinner, even when I have the barest of kitchen staples. I'd argue that every home cook should learn the basic principals of risotto for making quick dinners without having to reach for a recipe.
Part of making delicious risotto at home is also knowing what mistakes to avoid along the way. Here are five of the most common and what to do instead when making risotto.
1. Trying to make risotto with the wrong rice.
There is risotto, and then there are outliers like orzotto and barley risottos — but there is no risotto without the correct rice. Trying to cook white, basmati, or brown rice for risotto will leave you with a pot of soupy overcooked rice instead of actual risotto.
Use risotto rice every time.
Most stores carry arborio rice in the rice section, but you can also order these specialty rices online. Since they're shelf-stable, you pretty much have no excuse to ever be without risotto rice.
2. Lolligagging on your risotto prep.
Risotto has a reputation for being fussy and long-cooking, but that just isn't the case. Risotto can come together in as little as 15 minutes — especially if you've got everything chopped, measured, and ready to go before you start.
Grab your bowls too.
Before you heat up your risotto pot, go ahead and heat your broth, measure the wine, finely chop a shallot, and grate the cheese. That way you aren't fumbling about when you need to add more broth or finish up with cheese.
Risotto can overcook if it sits too long in the pot or congeal in a cold bowl, so have your serving bowls out too before you even warm the pot. If you're particularly ambitious, warm those bowls in a low oven for the absolute best risotto dining experience.
Does warming the broth before cooking make for better risotto? Surely this step just dirties an extra dish, and no one's Nonni was warming broth in the risotto kitchens of Italy, right? This is an often-debated tenet of risotto.
Use the microwave if you must!
You should always warm the broth for risotto, if only to help the risotto cook faster and more consistently. If you don't have stovetop space, feel free to move your broth to a microwave-safe dish and warm it in one-minute intervals.
4. Not knowing when the risotto is done.
Do you cook and cook your risotto and just call it done with the broth is all used up? This is the wrong way to judge risotto doneness! The best texture for risotto is just the other side of al dente — soft with the tiniest bite.
Smear (or taste) test your risotto rice.
The doneness of the rice is the single-most-important factor in knowing when the risotto is done, and there are two ways you can test this. The first is a smear test, where you pull out a grain or two of rice and push it against a cutting board. You want a grain that is mostly opaque with just a tiny bit of white rice color near the center. The second is a taste test: It should be a little softer than pasta but have some chew.
5. Skimping on butter and cheese to finish.
Look, risotto is creamy comfort food at its very best. You certainly wouldn't make mac and cheese without the cheese, so why skimp on butter and Parmesan when it comes to risotto?
Add butter and your favorite cheeses at the very end.
A knob of butter and a sprinkling of cheese just before seasoning risotto bolsters its creaminess. Parmesan is traditional, but most hard or semi-soft cheeses work well in risotto, as do soft, creamy cheeses like goat cheese and even feta.