Monday, January 3, 2011

Oh no, Risotto!

I was going to start this post my saying risotto is hard to make. But it turns out it's not! Just like working with yeast, it simply requires a ton of patience.

I like risotto, but I'd never say I love it. That's mostly because every time I've ordered it, it's turned out to be ... gooey. In my head, risotto should be light and fluffy and delicious. But more often than not, the risotto I've experienced has been sticky and heavy and just kind of "eh." I came across a recipe in my "America's Test Kitchen: Cooking for Two" cookbook yesterday, and decided to give it a go because the picture looked so yummy.

Here's the recipe, with commentary included, followed by a couple notes ... and dessert!

Risotto with Chicken and Artichokes
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 (9 oz.) package frozen artichoke hearts
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 white onion, chopped fine
2/3 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
1 ounce parmesan cheese

Thaw artichoke hearts by microwaving them, covered, for about 3 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels.

Heat 2 tablespoons oilve oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add artichoke hearts and cook until lightly browned, about 4 or 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

Pat the chicken breasts dry with a paper towel and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the remaining olive oil in the skillet and carefully add the chicken. Cook until well-browned on one side, about 6 to 8 minutes. Flip the chicken over, and add the broth and water. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover. Cook about 6 to 8 minutes, until the chicken is done. (This is a partial poaching method I'd never tried before, but I liked it. The chicken ends up still having crispy bits because it was browned prior to finishing it off with a poach ... yum!)

Remove the chicken to a cutting board. When cool enough to handle, shred into bite-sized pieces (the easiest way to do this is to pull it apart with two forks). Transfer the cooking broth to a saucepan, bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat and cover. This will be your cooking liquid for the risotto.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and a little salt. Cook until onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring often, until the kernels are transparent around the edges, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook until it has been completely absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Stir in one cup of the reserved broth and continue to simmer, stirring often, until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is almost dry, about 7 to 9 minutes. Stir in a half cup more broth at a time, every few minutes, to keep the pan from drying out. Cook until rice is al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes. (If you don't set timers - and I didn't - you'll lose track of time. Just taste it and when it's a consistency you like, it's ready.)

Off the heat, quickly stir in the remaining butter and parmesan. Gently fold in the arichokes and chicken. Heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Now, there are a couple things about this recipe that gave me pause: first, 2/3 cup rice didn't seem like much, and second, the recipe said you should add additional broth to the liquid used to poach the chicken breasts, but then noted that you might not need to use all of the liquid. It turns out that risotto expands so much that 2/3 cup was perfect for two servings. However, that extra broth wasn't necessary. My risotto turned out to be the perfect consistency, and I had plenty of cooking liquid leftover that wasn't used.

I'm sure where most people go wrong with risotto is in making it too quickly, or not getting the proportions quite right. It was well worth it to take my time, add just a little liquid at a time, and just watch it very carefully.

So, I promised you dessert! Espresso creme brulee sounded like a nice way to cap off this meal. I chose it because I discovered a creme brulee torch in the back of one of my kitchen cabinets the other day. I'm not a huge creme brulee fan because I can think of so many other more delicious things to eat for dessert, but I figured I should try out that torch.

Espresso Creme Brulee
1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch salt
3 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso granules
1 tablespoon sugar (supposedly turbinado sugar, but granulated can be substituted)

Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Bring a full kettle of water to a boil. Place a kitchen towel in the bottom of a metal baking pan. (It has to be metal because you'll pour the boiling water into it - a glass pan may crack.) Set two 6-ounce ramekins on the towel. (BTW, I never discovered the reason for the towel ... but America's Test Kitchen knows what they're talking about, so do it anyway.)

Combine half a cup of the cream, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the remaining half cup cream.

Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl with vanilla and espresso granules. Slowly whisk in half of the cream mixture. (You have to add the cream to the eggs and not the other way around because adding the eggs to the hot pan will most likely end up in scrambled eggs - not so good in creme brulee. And this slowly adding the cream to the eggs is something the pros call tempering, but I'm sure you've seen it on the Food Network, so I won't waste my time.) Add the remaining cream and whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour the mixture through a mesh strainer (this is more necessary if you used a real vanilla bean with seeds rather than vanilla extract, but I did catch a couple loose espresso granules and I swear it made a difference in the consistency of the custards when thye set). Pour the custard into the ramekins.

Transfer the baking pan to the oven and carefully pour enough boiling water into the pan to reach half way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake about 30 minutes, until the centers of the custards are just barely set. Remove from oven, remove ramekins from pan, and allow to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, remove ramekins from refrigerator, remove plastic and carefully blot the tops of the custards with a paper towel. Sprinkle evenly with a thin layer of sugar.

Now here's the part that's supposed to be fun because you're going to light them up with a torch ... but it turns out my torch didn't come with any butane gas, rendering it useless. Stupidly, we tried to use a lighter, but that just resulted in a blackened corner on one of the custards. So we just ate them as is and oh ... my ... god. They were samazing, even without the brulee! Rich and creamy and espresso-y. Yum! Yum! Yum!

Seriously, hands down, the best creme brulee I've ever had. I'll tell you what I told Vito and Lola .. "I'm not bragging, I'm just telling the truth." They believed me, so you should, too.


  1. First off, is risotto a pasta... or a form of rice? (right now I have the feeling I should hide from the embarrassment inherent in having to ask that question!) I don't recall every properly having it. But something about the combo of artichokes, chicken and parmesan is sounding so good at the moment!

    And with my advancing age, anything coffee and/or espresso related gets me every time. And in tandem with creaminess... get me an IV, I'll mainline it.

    When you mentioned using a torch, I instantly thought of the roof tar melting one my dad has around. Then I did some investigating and found this one... more like what you use, righ? That is pretty nifty! Might be almost as fun as making grilled cheese with the iron :p

  2. I think there's a very fine line between pasta and rice because they're both grains ... and risotto masquerading as Arborio rice blurs the boundaries even more! It seems, though, that it's most often described as an Italian rice dish. It probably gets categorized as pasta because that's where it usually pops up on Italian menus.

    And that torch is almost exactly like mine ... except a higher end version :) The issue I'm having is figuring out where to get the butane. Apparently it should be "food grade" butane, because generally butane gas is kind of toxic. But other articles I've read have said you can fill your food torch with the same stuff you use to refill Zippo lighters, so who knows? I need to do more research, but one thing is for sure ... that espresso creme brulee is being put in regular rotation, with or without the torch!