by John Ryan
(All About Making Risotto)
All of us have a fundamental way of looking at life. For me, I see everything as a joke. And I absolutely love to "get it."
I think that's why I've always liked taking lessons of one sort or another. As a kid I didn't know what to call it, but I loved that moment when I was slogging away on some piano piece and it would hit me—I'd understand what the piece was about. Of course, my fingers were still tripping over each other, but everything was different. There was a point to the pages of black dots. Something had emerged...something unwritable and unsayable had come to life.
I had got it.
Poetry is often like that. When I read a poem for the first time I usually find that I understand each word, but can't make any sense of the sentences. But if I read it out loud a few times, maybe even memorize it, that moment of getting it will usually come.
Those are thrilling moments. A rush of energy washes away the frustration of lurching through endless measures or lines of words. Like a good joke, I grab the nearest person and try to tell them. The problem is that they are often hearing the words for the first time. And they don't get it.
The effect of not getting it is far reaching. When I don't get a joke, I feel dull-witted and out of it. When I don't understand a cuisine, I avoid it and the restaurants that serve it. There are whole museums I avoid because I don't get the paintings. And there are recipes I don't try because they don't make sense on paper. But food is like music in that a recipe is written down, but the results are to be tasted, not read about.
Take risotto. For years I avoided it because directions always made risotto seem terribly complicated. And the directions didn't make sense because I'd learned that stirring rice was bad and risotto recipes had lots of stirring. I didn't get it.
Until I made it.
You know how oatmeal cooks? How, as you stir it, it gets thicker and thicker? Or how mashing a few beans against the side of the pot thickens the broth?
That's what's happening with risotto: jostling the rice by frequent stirring thickens the broth. Then letting rice cook without a lid allows the broth to evaporate, which makes the broth even thicker. In other words, risotto is all method. If you cook Arborio rice (the one preferred for risotto) the usual way (1 cup rice, 1-3/4 cups water, covered with no stirring), the rice will come out dry but a little sticky, like any short-grain rice. But if you cook it in too much broth and stir it a lot, the broth thickens up and becomes a lovely, silken sauce.
Once you get it, making risotto is like tying your shoe, complicated to explain, but easy to do.
And when you get it, you'll start ordering risotto in restaurants and making it all the time.
Both chef and musician, John Ryan wrote the Just Good Food blog from 1996 through 2001.
This page created February 2000