Mushroom Risotto with Chardonnay

Like the dino squirt bottle?

Like my dinosaur squirt bottle in the back? Can you tell that I'm a fan of Alton Brown? I used to have a T-rex squirt bottle, but someone stole it. Sadness 😦

A few months ago, I was cooking with my cousin, Sharon.  It was her birthday, she was throwing a party because she wanted to cook for everyone, and I agreed to help with the cooking.  She suddenly started panicking, because she realized she lost her recipe for a mushroom risotto that she really liked (it was a Rachel Ray recipe, and my cousin adores Rachel Ray for some reason).  After calming her down, we made this risotto, which I love.  The picture above was taken tonight, since I had it for dinner.  Apologies for the terrible lighting.  My apartment is poorly lit and it’s been rainy and cloudy all week, so I haven’t had much luck with the whole photography thing.  Also, I’m using a shallow frying pan here because, quite frankly, the pot I would normally use to make it was being used by my roommate.  It happens.  It’s not my pot anyway.  The pan, however, is.

I’m a big fan of not following recipes.  That’s because I strongly believe that as long as you understand what’s supposed to go into a dish, you can wing it and you can get by just fine.  Sometimes, you just need to know a lot more about some dishes, especially if it’s a complex and very refined recipe.

So the question naturally follows: “What is a risotto?”  To me, a risotto is nothing more than a flavorful rice porridge — sublime when it is executed correctly, and utterly bland when the proper steps aren’t taken to maximize flavor.  To elaborate, risotto is a rice porridge that begins with an aromatic sweat*, usually with butter and olive oil (which add flavor, as well).  Then, the rice (classically, but not always, with arborio rice) is toasted, which develops more flavor.  Then, liquid is added several times during the cooking process, until the rice reaches the desired consistency and level of doneness.  Some people like their risotto al dente.  I like mine softer.

But the heart of the matter is that risotto is basically a rice porridge.  And I’m Chinese.  We Chinese people know alllllll about the rice porridge.  We eat rice porridge for breakfast (literally)!

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So, we began the risotto.  First, we assembled our meez (or mise en place, if you prefer.  It’s French for “everything in its place.” *cue Radiohead song*): chop a medium onion, dice a rib of celery, mince a couple cloves of garlic, steep about 7 or 8 dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water, stare at a package of button mushrooms, and set aside those button mushrooms for another day because they can be too bland for me (although they’re great for making duxelle, but that’s another blog.  I hope I’m not infringing on any of Alton’s copyrights, by the way.  That would be teh suck).

Then, we melted some butter (if you have to ask, I’d say it was about 2 or 3 tablespoons, but I hate measuring, which explains why I’m such a TERRIBLE baker), added some olive oil to the pot (regular olive oil, not the extra virgin stuff, since heat spoils the great flavor of aromatic oils), and started the aromatic vegetable sweat by gently cooking and stirring the chopped onion, celery, and minced garlic over low heat.

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While the aromats sweat, filling the house with fragrant deliciousness, we retrieved the mushrooms from the hot water (I usually just use my bare hands because I’m an idiot and I think that if you’re gonna cook in the kitchen, you oughta get a few lumps anyway).  I sliced off the woody stems and threw those into a pot of barely simmering, home made chicken stock (WASTE NOTHING!).

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Then, I sliced all the mushrooms into 1/4 of an inch thick strips and added those to the sweat (you can brown mushrooms like you would a piece of meat, as well, but since these were reconstituted and totally waterlogged, it would be difficult to do.  Otherwise, I’m always a fan of developing as much flavor as possible, which would include browning mushrooms).

Once the onions, celery, and garlic turned translucent, I added a touch more butter and olive oil (since there wasn’t enough), turned the flame up to medium-high heat, heated up the pan, and added the arborio rice (about a cup of it).  I toasted the rice and stirred it occassionally, to prevent sticking.

Once the rice started smelly nutty and turned a golden brown color, I deglazed the pan with chardonnay, and flamed the pan because I think I’m cool (I’m not).  Remember to always be careful in the kitchen, and keep a fire extinguisher nearby, just in case.

Then, I cooked this mixture down until it was almost dry to try to drive off as much of the alcohol as possible**.

Then, once the mixture was mostly dry and starting to stick to the pan (be careful not to let it burn!), I deglazed it again with the reserved water from when I reconstituted the mushrooms (That water is full of good mushroom flavor.  Also, WASTE NOTHING!).

After that, it was simply a process of dosing the rice with liquid just to cover, cooking it down till it was fairly dry, and adding more liquid to cover, until the rice had taken about 5 – 7 doses of stock or water, or until the rice reached a desirable consistency and level of doneness (whichever one came first).  Don’t worry about the rice getting mushy.  The rice is pretty hearty, plus the toasting helps to slow down the rate that the rice absorbs liquid, so by the time all that stock is either absorbed or evaporated, the rice hasn’t lost too much of its integrity.  The key is in proper, frequent stirring, which allows enough of the starch to mix with the liquid to make the rice creamy, without actually adding any cream.  Of course, if you want to add cream (and parmesan cheese, highly recommended), you can do so to very good effect.

I used homemade chicken stock, which is ridiculously easy to make at home, provided that you’re like me and in the habit of saving up all your chicken bones (WASTE NOTHING!).  In fact, it’s a shame that more people don’t do it, because that crap you can buy at the store is terrible.  I’ll include a recipe for chicken stock one of these days (probably soon), but it’s really easy, and good recipes can be found online quite quickly and easily.

Risotto Redux

Risotto Redux***

That’s it.  Risotto, with mushrooms and chardonnay.  Maybe with some chopped, flat leaf parsley at the end for flavor and garnish.  Started with an aromatic sweat, toasted some arborio, dosed the mix with wine, mushroom water, and chicken stock, and cooked it down until it was done.  Delicious.  And even more delicious the next day, since time allows the flavors to meld and deepen.  You can also make this with a touch of cream or with some shaved parmesan cheese.  Or both!  Why not?  The variations are endless.

another angle

another angle

* The term “sweat” in cooking refers to  cooking [vegetables] without frying or sauteing them.  It’s done over low heat, so you shouldn’t hear any sizzling, or you shouldn’t hear vigorous sizzling, anyway.   This gentle cooking allows the aromats to flavor the oil and whatever food that will be cooked with it.  Properly sweated veggies will turn soft and translucent (well, onions, garlic, and celery will.  Good luck trying to make carrots and peppers turn translucent, though!).

** You can never really totally cook out the alcohol when you’re cooking with it, so if you’re pregnant or cooking for someone who may be pregnant, you should probably avoid cooking with wine and alcohol whenever possible.  Yes, the amount of alcohol is tiny, but better safe than sorry, I always say.  The acidity that wine brings to the table can be substituted with just a little bit of lemon juice, added towards the end of cooking to brighten up the flavors.  Just deglaze the pan with stock, water, or the mushroom water instead of deglazing with wine, but it won’t be the same.  Depends on your taste.

*** I actually made the risotto again a little while later, since I had left over arborio rice that I wanted to get rid of.  This time, I stirred in some freshly grated parmesan cheese and some left over basil cream sauce from a roasted vegetable terrine I made earlier (WASTE NOTHING!).  I also had some asparagus, which I later threw into the mix, but that’s not pictured above.

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