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Mushroom Risotto

I love risotto. If ever there were a food suited to my hovering and fiddling cooking style, this is it. And that’s because I don’t work from a recipe at all for this… so the tale of the mushroom risotto will be all narration, rather than direction. Then again, if you’ve been reading this blog, you’re probably used to that.

Step 1 – buy mushrooms. I popped over across the street to the guys selling produce out the back of a truck, and I bought two quarts of baby portabellas for $1 each. Yes, I’m bragging.

When I got home, I looked over the herbs on my back porch, and selected the rosemary, parsley, thyme, savory, and chives.

Okay, so the set up was three pans: one sauce pan for warming the stock, the deep skillet with the very smoothest nonstick coating for the risotto, and the next smoothest for cooking the mushrooms. I couldn’t decide whether the mushrooms should go in before the rice (and get overcooked) or after the rice (and have weird moisture issues), so I decided they’d be cooked separately and then incorporated (but not cooked first and pulled out because I don’t hold with that letting your ingredients got cold and stop cooking business).

Yes, go ahead and start warming the stock. (Adding cold stock makes your rice slow down cooking every time it is added while the dish tries to come back up to temperature. You can do it, if you don’t want to wash an extra pot, but it’s smoother if you don’t.)

Since I wasn’t serving any vegetarians, I went to my freezer and pulled out a container of bacon fat because I think bacon fat and mushrooms are best buddies. (Okay, so I actually started with a teaspoon of olive oil and only later thought of the bacon fat, but we’re pretending I didn’t. On the other hand, if you are a vegetarian feel free to pretend there is only olive oil in this dish). So I melted about 2 teaspoons of bacon fat into the risotto pan and got everything up to temperature.

As soon as the bacon melted, I added 1 yellow onion, diced rather finely.

Once the onion was at the translucent/creamy golden stage, I added the arborio rice. And no extra liquid! I kept toasting the rice until it, too, started to look a bit golden and the onions started to caramelize. (I learned this trick from Rice-a-Roni, because I’m classy like that) How much rice? Until I had a mound that would spread out to about 2cm deep in the pan and could be stirred easily without spilling even after adding mushrooms, but would still feed several people.

Now consider the order in which you add your flavors. A chef friend of mine swears that the ones you add first are more central to the dish and all of that ritual. I’ve just gotten in the habit of adding the wine first. So I opened up the bottle of white wine (I’ve made mushroom risotto with pinot noir before, too, but be aware that it will add a grey-ish tinge to your rice) (Oh, and this was a blend of several varietals with a sweet and fairly bright taste) and poured about 1/3 cup of wine into the dish – it should boil immediately and if it stops boiling, then you are pouring too much for the heat to keep up with. Stir. Cook. Stir.

Then I added 1 teaspoon of olive oil to the mushroom pan and a teaspoon of finely minced rosemary. If you let the rosemary toast, it’ll get crispy and won’t give you those obnoxious chewy bits. And then I added half of the mushrooms. Cook. Cook. Stir. Grind pepper over and add a light sprinkle of salt.

Note: as your wine cooks down, it can start tasting very salty, so skimp on your salt additions to risotto until you can taste it at the very end

After the rice starts to look dry again, add a ladle-full or two of the warmed stock. Stir. Cook. Stir.

Once the mushrooms look mostly cooked down, add them and their liquid to the risotto. Start more oil and rosemary, and then cook the rest of the mushrooms.

Keep adding stock as it needs and stirring and cooking.

For the second batch of mushrooms, I added 2-3 drops of truffle oil, too, as I was finishing it with the pepper and light touch of salt.

If you run out of stock, at this point you can add a bit of water without damaging the flavor – or a fruit juice would also work. Apple cider would probably be very tasty. I used exactly all of the stock I had, and that turned out just right. Your stock mileage may vary.

After I added the rest of the mushrooms and the risotto was getting soft and near ready, I added the minced chives, parsley, thyme, and savory. I started with a little and then ended up adding about 1/4 cup of minced herbs based on smell and taste-testings. Your herb strength may also vary, so taste as you go.

Then I started playing a bit. I added 1/2 teaspoon of white balsamic vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon of dijon mustard to give the flavor a bit more dimension.

And then to finish it off, I added a generous splash of half and half. If I’d had hard cheeses to grate in, I would have done so, but it turned out happy without.

And then garnish with more herbs.

Nom nom nom.

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