Cracking the code for a great brown rice risotto
This Jan. 16, 2011 photo shows creamy brown rice risotto in Concord, N.H. For extra flavor and color, you can add sauteed mushrooms and bell peppers, though you certainly could substitute with vegetables of your choice. (AP Photo/Larry Crowe)
I've always resisted making risotto part of my regular dinner rotation.
And it's not a time factor. Though risotto has a reputation for being laborious, the reality is that it can be mostly painless and totally weeknight friendly. My reluctance mostly stems from all that white rice and fat, the combination of which generally doom the dish to being a sometimes treat.
Over the years I've tried various techniques for making brown rice risottos, but always with disappointing results, even using brown sushi rice. It's a problem of starches. Brown rice doesn't release nearly the volume of starch that white rice does. And risotto's signature creamy goodness relies on lots of starch.
Brown rice also is agonizingly slow to cook, at least using traditional stovetop risotto cooking methods.
Pondering this on a recent snowy day (and why not?), I wondered. Why not simply add starch? And why not partially cook the rice before trying to turn it into risotto?
Both hunches paid off. I boiled some long grain brown rice until it was just nearly cooked, then used it in an otherwise conventional risotto recipe (adding the rice to a sauté of onions, then adding white wine, chicken broth and Parmesan cheese). The rice texture was perfect, though on a second attempt with starchier brown sushi rice proved even better.
For the starch, I simply added 1/2 tablespoon of cornstarch (mixed with 1 tablespoon of water) right at the end. The result was perfect.
The other beauty of a brown rice risotto is that it actually is more forgiving than when using the more traditional white arborio rice. When using white rice, you can easily overcook the risotto and end up with porridge. Brown rice retains a firm texture much longer.
For extra flavor and color, I added sautéed mushrooms and red bell peppers, though you certainly could substitute the vegetables of your choice. I also liked finishing the dish with a drizzle of truffle-flavored olive oil, though that's obviously a flourish easily ignored.
Finally, a way to feel good about serving risotto as often as you like.
Creamy Brown Rice Risotto
Start to finish: 40 minutes (20 minutes active)
1 cup short grain brown rice (or brown sushi rice)
2 cups water
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
12 ounces mixed mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 cup white wine
1 red bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups chicken broth, room temperature
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Truffle-flavored olive oil (optional)
In a medium saucepan over medium-high, combine the rice and water. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat, leaving it covered. The rice will not be completely cooked and there will be some water in the pan. Set aside.
In a large skillet over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the onion and mushrooms, then sauté until just starting to brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the wine and stir vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes to deglaze the pan. When the wine comes to a simmer, add the bell pepper and the rice along with any liquid in the pan. Stir well.
Add the chicken broth and stir well. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, until the liquid has thickened and reduced, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch mixture, then cook for another minute. Stir in the cheese until melted. Season with salt and pepper. If desired, drizzle with truffle oil just before serving.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 332 calories; 66 calories from fat (20 percent of total calories); 7 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 47 g carbohydrate; 13 g protein; 4 g fiber; 728 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Food Editor J.M. Hirsch is author of the cookbook "High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.