One question I’m always getting asked is “How do you cook risotto in a rice cooker?” Personally, I have never thought it was that difficult, but it seems that a lot of my friends seem to struggle with getting the right consistency and texture with this dish. So, to help them, and you, I’ve compiled my top 5 tips for cooking the perfect risotto – lets take a look.
Risotto is actually one of my favorite rice dishes and, especially, at this time of year, its a great winter warmer. But, a quick confession: I haven’t always been able to cook risotto. Like most people I have struggled in the past to get it right – and believe me, I’ve had my share of disasters. But, hopefully, those are now a thing of the past and, if you follow these 5 tips then it should be easy for you as well.
Table of Contents
Tip 1: It’s All About The Grain
Although it originated in Italy, risotto has now been enjoyed the world over – and with good reason.
It should be cooked with short-grain rice but, not just any variety will do. In fact, choosing the correct variety of rice is central to the success of your dish. You should try and get rice which is high starch, and I will explain why in a second.
My personal recommendation for risotto rice are Arborio, Carnaroli, and Vialone Nano.
Arborio is probably the most widely available variety and is the one that most people will recommend. however, although its the most popular, its not available everywhere.
Carnaroli, on the other hand, is preferred in Italy where it’s widely available. It’s probably better than Arborio, if I’m being honest as it has a wonderfully rich, creamy texture when cooked and, its often referred to as the ‘king of rice’. Definitely worth using if you can track it down.
The 3rd choice – Vialone Nano – comes next to Carnaroli when it comes to its texture and creaminess and its also a very forgiving grain – and is ‘almost’ impossible to overcook.. Its very popular in the Veneto region of Italy and, as I mentioned has a creamy texture and can absorb much more liquid than other varieties – in fact it can grow to double its size.
For my health-conscious readers out there – it is possible to make brown rice risotto but, generally, I don’t recommend it. This is because brown rice doesn’t tend to have as much starch and so you lose the fluffiness and creaminess that the dish is known for. However, there’s no doubt that it’s healthier so you may be prepared to sacrifice the texture for the health benefits.
Tip 2: Keep an eye on your stock
One of the most important aspects of a good risotto is the stock.
The stock you use will have a profound impact on the taste of the dish so it should be chosen carefully. For example, if you are after a meaty flavor then you should use beef stock wheres chicken stock makes a great base for vegetable and chicken risottos. If you are cooking a prawn-based risotto then you should use a fish stock. You get the idea.
The main thing is to try and develop a stock that complements rather than overpowers the other flavors in the dish.
I also prefer to add my stock gradually, a bit at a time and I prefer to start adding it to the rice after its been cooking for a little while – once the grains are tender. I find that adding the stock slowly allows the rice to become infused with the flavor and it tastes richer. I also like to gently simmer the rice and stock.
Of course, if you have the time then making your own broth from scratch is the way to go but there are lots of good stocks available from most stores so, I have to confess, I usually just buy mine.
Tip 3: How To Achieve The Perfect Texture
Risotto is popular because of its creamy texture – which, I personally, love. However, it’s worth pointing out that there are other variations on this popular dish.
Some of my Asian friends prefer it more “soupy”—that’s a popular fusion dish right now—while others prefer it the consistency of rice pudding, which is far too starchy for my taste.
Basically, the texture is key, so its important to spend time developing the one that suits your tastes.
Luckily, getting the right texture is quite straightforward, but it does take a bit of trial and error. The most important thing is when working out your method and experimenting to get the right numbers, you really need to keep a close eye on the dish.
My preferred way to cook risotto and end up with the perfect texture is to add the stock slowly, simmering using a low heat setting. That way, the grains aren’t overcooked and less starch is released. That usually ends up in a slightly sticky consistency which works best for me. Obviously, to make it soupy, add more liquid and to make it starchy, a little less liquid and cook for longer.
There are lots of variations so, again, it’s important to work out the texture you like best and ten keep a note of how you achieved it.
Tip 4: Add the extra ingredients at the end
The important thing to remember is that risotto really is just the main base for the dish. It only comes alive once you add the other ingredients – so my fourth tip is – to add them in last.
You can really go to town here. Vegetables, prawns, chicken, beef, and fish are all popular additions to the rice base.
Most big-name chefs seem to agree with me although, as you might expect, some of my friends are dead against adding the extras in at the end. I have an Indian friend who swears that you must add the beef or lamb in as the dish cooks – and I have to say, her risottos are superb – so maybe there’s something in it.
It’s just that I prefer to get the consistency of the rice sorted – see Tip 3 – before adding anything in as I’ve found that the extra ingredients just confuse the dish and alter cooking times. It’s easier to get each of the parts right and then combine them.
Tip 5: Leave The Darn Thing Alone!
Unlike most rice dishes I hardly ever stir my risotto!
The reason is that I find it can have a big effect on the consistency and, most of the time, when I’ve cooked a risotto and kept stirring it, the dish has turned out very dry and powdery – and, remember, risottos should be creamy so that’s not the effect we are after.
Ok, so what do I do?
The secret is to use the heat to your advantage. Instead of stirring, just fold the rice over gently a few times to prevent it sticking to the bottom of the cooker. This will prevent the grains from rubbing against each other and releasing all that excess starch – and thats what makes the rice go gloopy.
Remember that cooking risotto at a high-temperature setting will force the rice to release the starch right away and this tends to make it stickier. You can also, if you wish, add butter at the end which will also create a rich, glazed texture.
Can I Use A Rice Cooker for Cooking Risotto?
Of course you can. Most modern rice cookers even have dedicated settings for risotto rice so it really couldn’t be simpler..
One of the most versatile rice cookers I have come across – and the one I own is the Zojirushi NS-ZCC10. This fantastic rice cooker features neuro fuzzy-logic technology which, basically, does a lot of the hard work for you.
It constantly monitors and adjusts the temperature and time depending on a number of factors such as the amount of water, the time, the kind of grain and so on. In effect, it does the job that you would do – but without you having to stand over the pot for hours on end.
It even comes with a built-in program for risotto!!
- Rounded inner cooking pan and heating system for even heating
- 2 Settings Programmable Delay timer
- Large Easy-to-Read color LCD display
- Programmable melody or sound indicator
- 3 reheating options: Automatic keep warm, extended keep warm and reheating cycle
- Cooks white (softer or harder, regular/sushi), mixed, sweet, brown, porridge, semi-brown, rinse-free and quick cooking
- Easy to carry handle (fold-down option)]
- Accessories include: a spatula holder and 2 measuring cups (for regular and rinse-free rice)
- Be sure to season your dish – but do it on the fly! I never put too much salt in while cooking the rice. Instead, I’ve found that adding just enough salt to taste and then topping this up with a little bit more as I go gives me the best results.
- Keep waste to a minimum. Unless you are cooking for a big group like a family gathering, you are better to just cook enough amount for the meal in hand. Cooked risotto can be kept for as long as 5 days, but I would never leave it that long. My limit is 3 days especially if the dish contains meat or fish.
- Know when to use butter and when to use oil. Seafood risotto is best made with cooking oil whereas vegetable-based risottos taste better with butter.
So, hopefully, I have managed to convince you to try cooking risotto in your rice cooker. Its healthy, tasty and actually, its pretty easy to cook. Its a great way to feed a larger group or big family as well.
Although its a simple dish, there’s plenty that you can get wrong but, with my tips you should be able to get great results from the get-go.
As always, thanks for reading and if you have any questions please get in touch.
Hopefully, you enjoyed this post and, if you would like to find out more great ways to use your rice cooker, I have posts covering how to cook pasta, fish, or even lentils. Who knew that a rice cooker could be so versatile ?!