Image: The Straits Times
Risotto has been part of the Italian culinary tradition since the Middle Ages. Today, it is a popular dish around the world and, along with pizza, one of my favourite Italian dishes.
Many home cooks shy away from making it, though, mainly because it requires their undivided attention while it is cooking. It is certainly not a job for the rice cooker.
Making risotto is one of the most common ways of cooking rice in Italy.
It is a creamy dish achieved by first sauteeing hard-grained rice in a little oil - ideally olive - then adding hot stock or a mix of hot stock and white wine bit by bit, until the rice is soft but still nutty. The sauteeing helps open the rice kernels and allows the risotto to absorb more of the stock's flavours as it cooks.
It is important to use the right type of rice to create the right texture: creamy without being stodgy.
Risotto must be made with short- grain rice because it has a high starch content that helps create the desired "stickiness", like how it is in sushi or sticky rice.
The best types of rice for risotto is arborio or carnaroli. Most speciality supermarkets here such as Meidi-Ya and RedMart.com stock them.
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The semi-round arborio or carnaroli rice absorbs liquids and flavours, releasing starch far better and giving risotto its characteristic texture. Never wash the rice before cooking as every bit of starch on the grains helps create that creaminess.
The dish can be enhanced with many flavours.
Strips of chicken, chopped vegetables, sliced mushrooms and seafood are all great, but even a plain risotto can be delicious.
The tricky bit comes when you have to add stock as the risotto cooks. The hot stock has to be added one ladle-full at a time, allowing for it to be absorbed by the rice before the next ladle goes in. The constant stirring is what gives the risotto its delightful texture.
A good risotto is creamy and maintains the internal nuttiness of the rice grains.
The Italians developed many versions, usually based on regional produce that create distinct tastes. So, I have been experimenting with many ingredients for an Asian twist.
Some experiments have been more successful than others, but one in particular has become a favourite in my household. Essentially, it involves spicing up a basic traditional Italian risotto with Thai- inspired flavours such as ginger, chilli, fish sauce and red curry paste.
Besides stock, I also add coconut milk for extra creaminess, then finish it off with soya sauce and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.
PRAWN RISOTTO WITH THAI FLAVOURS
Serves four to six
850ml chicken or fish stock (or 650ml stock and 200ml white wine)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 brown or red onion, finely chopped
3 cloves fresh garlic, finely sliced
2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
300g rice (arborio or carnaroli)
2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
200g cooked prawns, shelled and deveined
1 tbsp fish sauce
100ml tinned coconut milk
Handful Thai basil, chopped
Lime or lemon wedges (optional)
1. Place the stock (or stock and wine) in a medium-size pot and heat until almost boiling. Reduce heat to low and allow to gently simmer.
2. Place the olive oil, onion, garlic, ginger and chilli in a medium-size frying pan or wok. Fry over medium heat for several minutes until they start to soften, but without letting them brown or become crisp.
3. Add rice and continue frying for several minutes until the rice becomes slightly translucent. Stir in the curry paste.
4. Add one ladle-full of hot stock and wine mixture and cook over low to medium heat, stirring continuously until the stock is absorbed into the rice.
5. Continue adding stock one ladle-full at a time and stirring after each addition. Repeat this until all the stock has been used and the rice granules are thick and glossy. The texture should be soft and creamy, but not mushy.
6. Stir in the prawns, fish sauce, coconut milk and Thai basil. Cook for about two minutes.
7. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for several minutes before serving.
8. Spoon risotto into serving bowls and garnish each serving with a lime or lemon wedge.
This story was originally published in The Straits Times.