“I love risotto, and I know it’s pretty simple to make,” people tell me all the time when they eat it in one of my restaurants. “But I just don’t like to stand there at the stove stirring for such a long time.”
They’re referring, of course, to one of the critical steps in preparing a classic risotto: stirring the rice almost nonstop for half an hour or so as it simmers, while adding warm stock to the pot a little bit at a time as the rice absorbs it. This process helps to dissolve the generous amount of surface starch on the plump, short grains of rice used in risotto — Arborio, the most common variety, widely available in well-stocked supermarkets, as well as Carnaroli and Vialone Nano. The result is the creamy sauce that gradually forms around the al dente, tender but still slightly chewy, grains, a signature of a perfectly made risotto.
That’s the way we cook risotto in my professional kitchens — the way it’s been done for centuries in Italy. But in recent years, while working with one of the convenient countertop appliances I’ve developed for home cooks, I’ve also discovered another way to make perfectly delicious, if not absolutely classic, risotto that requires almost none of the traditional activity that leaves nonprofessional cooks with tired arms, legs and feet.
All you need is an electric rice cooker. Now, it may seem counterintuitive that a pot of rice you leave alone, unattended, would develop a similar saucy consistency to what’s usually achieved from constant stirring. But a rice cooker does a good job of safeguarding the moisture of risotto rice. So when you add a little more broth at the end of cooking, along with some juicy mushrooms that you’ve sautéed with chopped onion and minced garlic, and then stir the rice for a minute or so, you can still achieve risotto’s familiar creamy sauce. It won’t be exactly like a painstakingly stirred risotto, but it’s still so good that you’ll marvel at it.
If you’re one of those people who order risotto whenever you see it on the menu but never make it at home, it’s worth buying an electric rice cooker for risotto-making alone. (You might even find one of my own.) They’re reasonably priced, and you can also use them to steam perfect regular rice whenever you want.
Then, rice cooker at the ready, give my recipe here a try. Once you’ve made it, start coming up with your own variations, adding different vegetables, other kinds of cheese and even pieces of sauteed meat, poultry or seafood.
Your friends and family will thank you — and so will your arms, legs and feet!
RICE COOKER MUSHROOM RISOTTO
1/2 pound assorted fresh organic mushrooms, such as shiitakes, chanterelles, Portobellos, cremini, or regular cultivated mushrooms
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice, rinsed in a strainer and drained well
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 to 3 cups organic chicken broth or vegetable broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 large garlic clove, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
With a damp towel, wipe the mushrooms clean. With a small, sharp knife, trim off tough or dirty stems. Then cut the mushrooms into thick, uniform slices.
Put the rinsed and drained rice in a bowl. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and stir well to coat the rice evenly. Put the rice in the rice cooker. Add 2 cups of the broth along with the wine, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt. Stir well.
Close the lid of the rice cooker, and press the “Cook” button. Cook for 20 minutes; then switch the control to the “Keep Warm” setting.
While the rice is cooking, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute, stirring continuously, for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring continuously, until the mushrooms are juicy and tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. Taste, and if necessary, adjust the seasonings with more salt and pepper. Set aside.
Carefully open the lid of the rice cooker. Stir in the sauteed mushrooms, 1/2 cup of the broth, the butter, parsley and Parmesan. The mixture should have a creamy consistency, bu, if it does not, stir in up to another 1/2 cup of the broth. Continue stirring for about 1 minute longer; then taste, and adjust the seasonings again, if necessary.
Spoon the risotto into heated wide, shallow bowls or soup plates. Serve immediately, passing additional Parmesan at the table for anyone who would like more.