As you read this morning in Katie’s Capital Chef’s Part I, we recently endeavored into the kitchen of Chef Victor Albisu of BLT Steak. He sweetened us up with true Basque-region products and later topped off two steaming bowls of wild mushroom risotto with a quail egg and shaved truffles. We were smitten.
But cooking in the kitchen with Chef Albisu was only half the battle. After jotting down quick notes and approximations of his mastery, I returned to my kitchen to recreate the heavenly, buttery, moist-yet-crunchy wild mushroom risotto. All for you, dear reader.
As it turns out, making the risotto was just as easy as the chef had made it seem. Following a few very important pointers, I’m pretty sure you can get through this with me, and end up all the wiser (or maybe you already knew all of this…) And what’s even better, especially in my opinion, is that I was able to recreate his incredible flavor with a bottle of Trader Joe’s wine, a package of button mushrooms, and some extra garlic.
So you know what a basic risotto is, right? It’s pretty simple. Slowly and evenly cook (arborio) rice with conservative amounts of liquid added at intervals, pulling the starches out of the rice to create the gooey, comforting compound that we all know as Italian risotto.
Well, here’s what Chef Albisu taught us about kicking your risotto into full gear, bringing out the most of the flavor and the best of the texture, without having to include a quail egg or shaved truffles to top it off.
- Use a mild flavored wine like a Pinot instead of a Chardonnay.
- Your choice of mushrooms does not have to be wild. Buy whatever looks good to you, quarter or dice into manageable-sized pieces, and put the densest mushrooms into the hot oil first (shoot me a message if you need more explanation on “densest”).
- Throw in a dash of raw, finely diced garlic at the end. It gives it an extra kick, and the added flavor makes you happier than truffles, dare I say.
- Try a fresh herb that you like or that you have. Fresh sage or tarragon could be a great substitute for the thyme in a fall-flavored risotto.
- As Katie noted in Part I, Chef Albisu believes that you shouldn’t have to use chicken stock if your ingredients are good and fresh. That being noted, if you don’t have any chicken stock, why not try it with water?
- Want to try something other than Parmesan? Use a nutty sheep’s milk cheese.
- Risotto is best created in small quantities. When I made it for a large dinner party this weekend (enough for 9 people), I multiplied the recipe by three and multiplied my pans by the same number. This ensures that the rice stays evenly cooked and doesn’t have to fight for a spot at the bottom of the stock pot. Also – use the pot with the biggest bottom surface area you can find. Chef Albisu and his team create risotto on an individual basis: as soon as one is ordered, one is whipped up. So don’t be afraid to make this just for yourself! But I would still prefer leftovers.
- Most importantly, listen to your pan. When it starts to sound like you are sauteing the rice instead of making risotto, add more liquid. There’s really no other better way to determine when its time to add more liquid.
Wild Mushroom Risotto
Time, including prep: about 1 hour
1 8 oz. package of mushrooms (Shiitake, Cremini or Portobello for the low budget version. Chanterelles, Black Trumpets, Porcini, and Blue Foot Chanterelles for the whole-paycheck variety), roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, whole
1/2 c. onion, finely diced
8 tbsp. olive oil
1 c. arborio rice
1 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic, finely diced
1/2 bottle of white wine, preferably pinot
5 c. chicken stock, warmed (or use water)
1 c. fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 c. parmesan cheese, grated
1 stick of butter, cut into tablespoon portions
- Don’t forget, stir frequently to cook evenly…
- And do all of the prep work in advance. It’s worth it to be able to focus on continually stirring.
- In a shallow pan, heat 4 tbsp. of olive oil over medium to medium-high heat. Add mushrooms when hot. (If adding more than one kind of mushroom, add the densest mushrooms first.) Saute them until lightly browned.
- Add the additional 4 tbsp. olive oil to the pan with the onions.
- Once the onions are translucent, add the arborio rice to the pan to toast. At the same time, throw in the thyme, salt, and 2 cloves of garlic.
- Once the rice begins to become slightly golden, add white wine (or water) to cover. Cook the rice down so that the alcohol flavor is gone.
- When the pan starts to look dry and you “hear it asking for more liquid,” add 1/2 c chicken stock or water. Continue stirring, listening to your pan, and adding more liquid.
- When the rice is not chewy or mushy, but still a little crunchy, remove it from the heat. Make sure you still have a little liquid left and you aren’t in the “dry” stage of the process.
- Remove the thyme sprigs. It’s okay if you can’t find them all.
- Off the heat, add the parsley, cheese, and butter. Stir rapidly, and like crazy, to emulsify the butter into the rice. You will see your rice start to come together at this point and to look like cheesy, yummy risotto.
- Throw in the extra clove of garlic, too.
- You did it!
I’m not going to lie. This came out perfectly. But I guess with a stick of butter, I wouldn’t have expected anything less than perfection.