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Risotto on my Mind

I’ve had risotto on the mind for a couple of weeks now, so I finally decided to buckle down and buy some arborio rice and get on with experimenting with risotto.  My original idea was to create a mushroom risotto, but I completely forgot to get any kind of mushrooms from the grocery store on Friday so instead I decided to do a chicken risotto instead.  The ingredients are quite simple:

  • Chicken, 8 pieces.  (Normally I would recommend butchering a whole chicken, but I only had legs and thighs, so there we go).
  • Onion, white, chopped fine.  (Small to medium in size)
  • Garlic, about 5 cloves.
  • Chicken broth, 8 – 10 cups.  (Buy three of the cartons, the exact amount will vary.)
  • Arborio rice.  (I went with three cups in order to cover tonight’s meal as well as some of the week’s lunches.)
  • Butter, half a stick
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parmesan cheese, for grating

Season your chicken.  Salt and pepper, garlic powder if you like – keep it tasty.  Melt the butter in a heavy, deep nonstick pan at medium heat.  Then saute your chicken in the butter, I do 8 minutes to each side to get the chicken golden brown and delicious and rotate on 4 sides.  Put the cooked chicken pieces in a bowl or other place to rest so that the chicken remains suspended and you can collect the liquid run-off, you’ll use it in a bit.  Cover with foil so that the chicken keeps warm.

While you’re doing the following steps, make sure you keep your chicken broth hot – simmering hot.  I kept mine in the microwave and kept giving it 2 – 3 minute bursts to keep it nice and hot.

You’ll have a lot of fond at the bottom of the pan.  Add olive oil to the pan to cover the bottom, reduce the heat to medium-low, and throw in your chopped onions.  Toss in a heavy pinch of salt, and stir.  You don’t want to caramelize the onions, you want to sweat out some moisture and develop some flavors and aromas.  After the onions have given a good sweat – you should start to pick up some of that delicious fond with the onions by this point – toss in your garlic and toss together for a bit until fragrant.  Garlic cooks quick so this step should be quick too.  Then you throw in your rice.

You’re going to want to fold the rice in with the onions and the garlic and the delicious golden fond at the bottom of the pan.  The mixture will turn a deep rich brown from the fond being drawn up into the rice.  Your rice will also turn translucent at the edges if you hold it up to the light.  These are good things.  Once the rice starts to smell kind of nutty, you’re good to get the wet stuff in.  Cover the rice with your simmering hot chicken broth, just until it covers – don’t add the whole thing at once.  Now you stir.

Stirring is the most labor intensive part of the risotto.  It develops the starches in the rice and forms the creamy texture of the dish.  It took about 8 minutes for my first bath of broth to soak into the rice.  You’ll know when to add more because you can scrape the bottom of the pan and it won’t immediately cover with liquid or rice.  Add more chicken broth, again to cover.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes, then come back and stir.  This second bath of water took about 12 minutes to soak in completely, from the moment I added it to the rice to when I could pull the spoon across the bottom of the pan and see metal.

I added broth a third time.  By this point, I had used up about 8 cups of broth, and the risotto was beginning to come together very nicely.  I added the collected drippings from the resting chicken to this third batch of liquid, mixed it around with the risotto, and then let it rest for another 5 minutes.  When I came back I went back to the constant stirring – the risotto was creamy, with a consistency similar to porridge.  I cut the chicken from the bone, chopped it into more-or-less uniform bits as the liquid soaked and settled once more.  I tasted the risotto, looking for a nice creamy texture.  It was almost done – but I could tell it needed another cup of liquid.  I added one more cup of broth, and held off the reserves (I had 3 cups left) in case it needed it afterwards.  The risotto was near-to-overflowing from the pan now and I couldn’t really add much more than that anyway.

More constant stirring, though it was moving a lot faster now.  I folded in the chopped pieces of chicken and let everything meld together as I stirred gently.  Another taste and I had my creamy consistency.  Grated some parmesan cheese on top, stir, and voila.  Dinner is prepared.  (One assumes that you can season your risotto with salt and pepper at this point if you need it, but I did not feel the need.)

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