The 5 Most Common Risotto Mistakes

It's delicious when it's made correctly.
It's delicious when it's made correctly.
Photos by Molly Dunn

Risotto is one of the most difficult dishes to master. The first attempt is not perfect, unless you're Gordon Ramsay, of course, but these five common mistakes people make while cooking a risotto dish may help you become a master, or at least not screw up one completely.

5. Texture can make or break the dish

Every risotto dish must be of the perfect consistency and texture. It can't be too runny, and it can't be so thick that it resembles sticky rice. It needs to be able to slightly spread, but stay firmly together when the plate is wiggled back and forth -- a happy medium. The texture relies on the amount of chicken stock the rice soaks up. If you add too much chicken stock at a time and don't allow the rice to completely absorb the liquid, then you will have a runny mess -- think of oatmeal with a lot of milk poured over it. If you don't add enough liquid or you allow the rice to cook longer once the liquid is absorbed, then you will have a blob of risotto.

Once the chicken stock is added, you have to stir.
Once the chicken stock is added, you have to stir.

4. Stir, stir, stir!

I can't emphasize it enough, but you must stir the risotto. If you think that the longer you stir, the more love you're putting into your risotto, then you won't make this mistake. Risotto needs a lot of tender love and care, so don't let it cook like ordinary rice. Each time you add chicken stock to the Arborio rice, you must stir until the liquid is soaked up, then add more chicken stock until the risotto is creamy. If it's not creamy, then you will have a flavorless risotto that is not up to par.

Look at that butter.
Look at that butter.

3. Wrong ingredients don't make risotto

You must use the proper ingredients when making a risotto. Sticking with the classic combination of olive oil, onions, white wine, chicken stock, Arborio rice, butter and Parmesan cheese guarantees that your risotto tastes spectacular. In fact, any time you stick with the classic ingredients for any Italian dish, the end product tastes amazing. However, you can use shallots instead of onions, red wine instead of white wine and any cheese that complements your added ingredients or wine better than Parmesan. You are also free to add protein such as scallops, shrimp, crab and lobster, or vegetables such as mushrooms, asparagus, peas, tomatoes and spinach; there are many extra ingredients that can set your risotto apart from the others, but only if it is properly executed.

The golden rice is perfectly toasted.
The golden rice is perfectly toasted.

2. Toast the rice, don't burn it

Have you ever bitten into rock-hard rice? It isn't pleasant. You can prevent your risotto from having overcooked rice by properly toasting it before adding the liquids. This is one of the most crucial steps in making risotto because it is the first step with the rice, setting the tone for the dish. If the rice is burned, the entire dish will taste burned. If it isn't toasted enough, you'll have a risotto dish that will chip a tooth. Make sure that the rice is golden before adding white wine to deglaze the pan. It should toast for about three to four minutes.

Here is a good setup when adding chicken stock to the risotto.
Here is a good setup when adding chicken stock to the risotto.

1. Timing is everything

Have patience, my friends. A risotto dish can take up to 30 minutes to make, but it will only be a good risotto if ingredients are added in the correct order and are cooked for the right amount of time. So, read carefully and take note. Here are the basic steps to making a great risotto.

  • Sauté onions with olive oil until translucent.
  • Add Arborio rice and toast until opaque.
  • Add white wine; cook until almost completely absorbed.
  • Add half a cup of hot chicken stock at a time; stir until absorbed, then repeat.
  • Add butter and cheese and mix until melted.

I love Mario Batali's mushroom risotto recipe because it stays true to the risotto dish, but the porcini mushrooms add so much and take it to new heights. Make sure you don't make these mistakes, and you can make a wonderful risotto dish yourself.

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