Rice – Arborio and Risotto


I ran out of regular rice the other day, and subbed in some arborio (the traditional risotto rice). I figured it would serve well enough, since it's a tough variety, and I planned on a multi-stage cooking process. I threw it in a pot with some broth, and boiled it like regular long grain.

What I wasn't prepared for was the starchy mess that was revealed upon removing the lid. It looked basically like a bland, butterless risotto. Ended up throwing out my planned dish, and turning the rice into a kind of fritter (which worked great), but it got me wondering.

If arborio's natural state is basically risotto, then why is risotto preparation so much more involved than regular rice? I'm guessing the constant stirring is more about evaporating the broth off than anything else, but I was wondering if there was a risotto guru out there who actually knew the answer?

Best Answer

It's the starch that gives risotto its creamy texture. If you try to do it with regular rice with low starch there is no way you have that texture. Stirring is to prevent rice from sticking and it is not necessary (at least not constantly).

In the Do The Rice Thing episode of Good Eats, Alton Brown says:

I have to tell you, I've tinkered with risotto quite a bit, and I really don't think that that whole constant stirring thing is necessary.

Okay, here's what movement does in the pot. Now, as the kernels rub together in the hot liquid, they literally scrub off some of their starch, okay? Now hot liquid is added slowly because if it were cold, the starch wouldn't come off. And if too much gets added at once, the rice kernels would never make contact.

Now, I find that occasional stirring keeps the heat and moisture evenly distributed, but gentle pan shaking creates a better gravy.

I started not to stir (I mean constantly) the risotto after I watched that and it turns out great. However, slow addition of the liquid is still necessary.