Perhaps the trickiest thing about risotto is knowing when it's done. Like pasta, you want to cook the rice to al dente — it should be cooked through but still have just the slightest bite to it. How do you know when risotto is cooked to that stage?
There are visual cues — the risotto should be creamy but not thick, rolling back after you run a spoon through the pan — and you can of course taste it, but the visual cues can be hard to read if you haven't made a lot of risotto before. And you might not want to keep grabbing forkfuls of rice throughout the cooking process!
Luckily, there's one other great indicator for doneness: the smear test.
The Smear Test Will Help You Cook a Better Pan of Risotto
The next time you make risotto, try using the smear test. Simply take a grain of rice out of the pan and place it on a smooth surface, like your countertop or a plate. Use your finger to smoosh and smear the grain. Depending on what stage of cooking, the rice will smear differently.
Undercooked rice will be rough and chunky, with a large, white center. The grain will still be quite small and will have yet to have plumped and expanded much. This will be about 10 to 15 minutes into the cooking process.
Overcooked rice will be very smooth with no opaque whiteness. It will also be extra plump and almost bloated. This will be past al dente, when the rice is soft and could be on its way to mushy, about five or 10 minutes past done or 35 to 40 minutes into cooking it.
Perfectly Cooked, Al Dente Rice
What you are looking for is a fairly smooth smear with a little bit of white in the middle, which you can see in the grain above. It will be plump but still lean. This will be about 20 to 30 minutes into the cooking process. Once you see this, it's time to take your pan off the stove.