One of the reasons why risotto is surprisingly expensive — sometimes the most expensive dish on the menu — is that it is quite labor-intensive. Most classic recipes require constant stirring for about 20-30 minutes, and that costs restaurants lots of money. In reality, they precook the rice and simply heat it up with the required ingredients. The illusion of a difficult dish is maintained by the $25 you will have to spend for a plate of rice. Of course there is one problem with my superior tone; I love risotto and will often order it. It is a great dish when made well, with a wonderful contrast of textures and flavors that makes it one of the glories of Italian cooking.
Oh, there is another problem with my tone; I have made it many times, just not always well. Sometimes it’s excellent, but sometimes it’s a sloppy, gummy mess. But several months ago I watched a friend make it in a much wider pan than I use. It turned out perfectly! He is an accomplished cook who is also a logical thinker in the kitchen. So I bounced my idea off him and he thought it would work. And here it is:
A simple restaurant sauté pan that I picked up at a closing sale last year. It is old and crusty, but very heavy and thick. The best part is that it is nice and wide, with lots of surface area to allow the liquid to evaporate quickly. In the past I used whatever heavy pot I had handy, but without that extra surface area, my risotto often turned out mushy rather than toothsome. But there was an additional problem — we had guests, and I didn’t want to spend 30 minutes in the kitchen, laboriously stirring the rice. And I solved that rather easily. I started the rice 20 minutes before our guests arrived, and when they rang the doorbell, I just turned off the heat, covered the pan with some foil and enjoyed the evening (That enjoyment included an absolutely delightful Sazerac that my wife made for me).
Five minutes before we sat down, I finished cooking the rice, and it was perfect — creamy and rich, with just a bit of firmness in the center of each grain. Never again will I be held captive by the tyranny of risotto. I have been freed!