What’s with risotto and all the stirring?

April 8, 2015

Carrot Risotto with Scallions / JillHough.com

Some friends called the other day with a culinary 911. Not an emergency per se, but they were making risotto and wondered—what’s with all the stirring?

Other rice dishes don’t require stirring. Not pilaf. Not Mexican rice. Not jambalaya. So why risotto?

Here’s what I told them—it’s exactly the stirring that makes risotto, well, risotto.

In other words, unlike those other rice dishes, risotto comes with a trademark luscious, creamy sauce (take my Carrot Risotto with Scallions, pictured, for example). And it’s the stirring that creates the sauce.

See, you start with a stubby, starchy, short-grain rice—one that’s akin to what you’d use for sticky sushi rice—versus not-so-starchy long-grain rice, which you’d use for pilaf. And as your stir, you essentially scratch the starch off those stubby grains, making it available to thicken your cooking liquid and create creaminess. If you didn’t stir, you’d have rice in broth. But because you do, you have creamy, saucy heaven-in-a-bowl.

Carrot Risotto with Scallions / JillHough.com

Friction, or grains scratching up against each other, is also why, unlike other rice dishes, you add risotto’s liquid a little bit at a time. If you added the liquid all at once, the grains would just be floating around, not rubbing up against each other, not creating sauciness.

So, yes, making risotto means stirring and patient, incremental additions of liquid. Which lead many to think risotto is somehow difficult or challenging. But what’s so hard about stirring or ladling? A monkey could do it.

Counter that “effort” with the fact that risotto is basically a one-pot meal. Okay, two pots if you count the saucepan that keeps your cooking liquid hot. So in exchange for your attentiveness, in addition to a uniquely swoonworthy dish, cleanup is quick and painless.

I’ve been seeing recipes for slow cooker risotto and pressure cooker risotto and other “easy” risottos lately—but I’m dubious. You might be able to cook it sans stirring, but I can’t believe it’d turn out nearly as—risotto-y.

I’ll stir.

Carrot Risotto with Scallions / JillHough.com

17 thoughts on “What’s with risotto and all the stirring?

  1. Holley Grainger

    I LOVE risotto but usually steer clear because of the effort it takes to prepare. You’ve convinced me it is well worth the extra love to get the final product!

  2. Kacey @ The Cookie Writer

    I love risotto, and I love making it (though I get so hungry when I do!) Thanks for the info about the stirring. I knew it as important, but did not realize it was the essential part of a risotto!

  3. Dee Dee (My Midlife Kitchen)

    I love a well-done risotto. Such a balance to make sure the rice is actually done, but the sauce doesn’t become gummy. But when done right–like the picture of your delicious version here–it is heavenly. It took me a long time to finally give in and realize that, while time-consuming, it’s also therapeutic standing, stirring, and caring for such a wonderful dish. :o)

  4. Jill Post author

    You’re definitely not the only one, Lacey! The friends that called included a Yale-educated doctor, so if he couldn’t figure it out, you’re in good company :)

  5. Jill Post author

    Yay you, Dee Dee, for realizing that sometimes doing very little, just standing and stirring, is a good thing. I know I could stand to let my mind wander a whole lot more often. It’s good to be reminded that productivity isn’t everything!

  6. Jill Post author

    Sometimes it makes all the difference to understand why you’re doing something, doesn’t it, Kacey? Hopefully, stirring–and getting hungry while you do!–won’t be so bad now that you better understand its rewards!

  7. Jill Post author

    Thanks for saying so, Holley! At least the effort isn’t a difficult one–I like your idea of simply considering it extra love. Food is always better with extra love!

  8. Alida

    Thanks for the helpful tips for making risotto. Your Carrot Risotto with Scallions is exactly the recipe I’ve been searching for to make for my family. They are going to love it!

  9. Jill Post author

    Awww! Thanks for stopping by and saying so, Alida! If you make it, you’ll have to let me know what your family thought of it. Happy cooking!

  10. Katherine

    the first time i had a risotto it was in Rome, Italy / it was a risotto with shaved trufflles / must have been spring time / i was just too American to appreciate it and thought it was icky to the great shock of all / i have come to love it and make mine in a small crock pot / comes out great, just the way risotto experts describe how it should be but only one or two quick stirs along the way to perfection / love shaved parmigiano on it at the end

  11. Jill Post author

    Well, Katherine, I totally admit I’ve never tried the crockpot version, so I guess if I’m going to be a smartypants about risotto, I ought to do it some time! Funny about your first risotto experience–thanks for sharing!

  12. Susan | LunaCafe

    I too have been running into all those “alternative” ways of making risotto lately. Stirring risotto is such an enjoyable activity that I can’t imagine why all the fuss about it. It’s the simplest meal n the world and way less cleanup than boiling pasta for instance. If the web is any proof however, it’s rarely done right. As you say, there is supposed to be a creamy sauce.That’s the hallmark of risotto. Bravo for setting the record straight. :-)

  13. Jill Post author

    Belated thanks for stopping by, Susan, and for finding the task of stirring one to appreciate instead of avoid! One of these days, I’ll have to try an alternate method, if only to confirm my suspicions. Meanwhile, as you say, the method I have is perfectly satisfying. :)

  14. Pingback: If you're counting ingredients, you're doing it wrong / Jill Silverman Hough

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