Editor’s note: Cook Like a Chef is a feature designed to help you master cooking techniques that will give your homemade meals professional style and carefully crafted flavor. Each month, a chef instructor from Cascade Culinary Institute at Central Oregon Community College walks us through a skill or recipe. See a video of Cascade Culinary Institute Chef Instructor David Trask and visiting chef Renis Canal crafting risotto at www.bendbulletin.com/chef.
Whether you’re making rice or soup or sauces, Cascade Culinary Institute chef instructor Wayne Yeatman told us in January “starting with a good stock is basic. If your stock isn’t high quality, your soup, risotto or sauce isn’t going to be high quality.”
So we hope you made some homemade stock using last month’s recipes, or will make some, and use it to create a restaurant-quality risotto at home.
Today’s risotto expert is Cascade Culinary Institute’s Chef Instructor David Trask. He recently returned from a month teaching cooking in northern Italy at the Scuola Alberghiera. It was a culinary exchange made possible by Cascade Culinary Institute’s Culinary Ambassadors, who also arranged for an Italian chef instructor to teach in Bend this month at CCI.
“Being in Italy and teaching was a great experience,” Trask said. “Be sure to use Italian Arborio rice for risotto. It’s a shorter, fatter grain of rice with a higher starch content (than regular rice). You’re drawing that starch out of those kernels when you make risotto, and that’s what gives you that rich, thick, unctuous texture, without adding any cream to it.”
One tricky thing about making risotto, especially if you’re making it for a party, is that it takes about 30 minutes of constant stirring and attention. Invite a guest or two into the kitchen with you as you make risotto and hand one of them a spoon to help you stir.
“You’ve got to get the right texture on that kernel; you don’t want it overcooked or undercooked. And you can’t hold it. Once it’s done, you’ve got to get it to the table right away,” Trask said.
Risotto is not hard to make. It just takes time and focus.
“It takes a little bit more attention to detail than cooking a regular pot of rice, where you just put liquid in with rice and walk away,” Trask said. “Like so many things, the first-time students at CCI make it, we taste it and talk about it, and I often hear, ‘Oh, that wasn’t as hard as I thought.’”
You’ll see that some white wine goes into the risotto before you begin adding broth. Even though you can use all broth instead of adding wine, Trask cautions against it.
“The wine is a good counterbalance to the stock. It gives you some acid. We’re always talking about balancing out the flavors in cooking school,” Trask said. “You have the butter and cheese and the starch cooking out of the rice kernels, which is all rich and creamy, and that’s why we add the wine and the pungent gremolata garnish, to give the dish that foil to all the richness.”
Trask suggested using any dry wine in the risotto that you’d also enjoy drinking.
“We say don’t cook with wine you wouldn’t drink, so plan to serve the same wine with dinner — a glass of that same sauvignon blanc on the side really draws the flavor of the risotto out,” he said.
Another tip Trask shared was to use a heavy pot or skillet to cook risotto.
“A heavier pot is always better because it retains heat and spreads the heat out more evenly,” he said.
A garnish of gremolata on top of the risotto is the kind of finishing touch that will make you feel like you’re really cooking like a chef.
“It’s like a rough-chopped pesto that gives the dish a little bit of texture from the pumpkin seeds, plus the pungent sharpness of the lemon zest and the fresh flavor of the basil,” Trask said.
Risotto makes a simple but elegant and soul-satisfying main dish. It’s being served with a green salad at Elevation, the student-run restaurant at Cascade Culinary Institute, this winter.
A smaller portion of risotto can also make a great side dish.
“Risotto is delicious as a side with grilled meats, chicken, pork. It’s a nice break from rice pilaf or mashed or steamed potatoes,” Trask said.
We hope you enjoy making risotto like a chef. Your guests are certainly going to love it. Buon appetito!
— Reporter: ahighberger@ mac.com