NHCIA Test Kitchen: Mushroom Risotto

My mother hates risotto. “Gloopy, overcooked rice” is what she calls it and, if you’ve only ever had risotto in faux-Italian restaurants, that would be an apt description. Most people (and unfortunately, expert cooks) tend to think that a risotto should be thick and pasty, thick enough to be piled into a mold and hold its shape. Yet others believe that a risotto should be finished with heavy cream, turning their risotto into rice swimming in an Alfredo sauce. Both results are equally unappetizing and ruin the good name of risottos everywhere.

Risotto is commonly seen a starchy replacement for potato puree; Risottos are “sexier” than just regular mashed potatos. To have a risotto as a main course is derided as not being satisfying enough, a claim that I find to be very misinformed. Of my all-time favorites were the mushroom risottos at Eatalian (now defunct) and La Gourmandise (no longer on the menu). Since these are no longer an option, I’ve been searching for a worthy replacement for my mushroom risotto fix.

One example of rice cooked in Alfredo sauce can be had at La Trattoria in Zamalek. What I expected, and what I received, were two very different things. I expected a homogeneous creamy risotto, each rice grain distinct in its texture but not chalky and chunks of hearty flavorsome mushrooms throughout. What I received was the exact opposite, swimming in a Grey pool of heavy cream. Highly un-recommended.

Where good risottos *don't* come from.

Another perpetrator of risotto crimes resides at the Semiramis Intercontinental hotel, at their Italian restaurant, Pane Vino. Their risotto was a dry, cloying heap of overcooked rice, mixed through with raw mushrooms and a heavy handed dose of fresh cilantro. I don’t often send food back, leaving the half eaten portions on the plate speak for themselves, but this time I could not let this aggression stand. The manager was called over, who called over the chef on duty and both listened intently as I schooled them as to how a risotto should be made. Imploringly, they asked me to give their next risotto another try, but the damage was done – I had faith only in their distinct lack of culinary artistry, and that faith is unshakable.

“Physician, feed thyself”

To embrace this motto, I decided it was up to me to make my own mushroom risotto. I knew what my ingredients would be, but felt I needed to study up on the finer techniques of risotto making. I listened to Raymond Blanc, Carlo Gracco and Heston Blumenthal all explain their own recipes and techniques, and in the end, produced a plate of risotto I can be proud of.

Even though I love porcini mushrooms they tend to bully the other mushrooms and flavors and I’ve decided to leave them out of this risotto. But I do love shiitake mushrooms, which play very nicely with button and forest mushrooms; the trick is to know that the woody stalks must be removed or else you’ll be biting into hard bark in the middle of an unctuous and creamy risotto.

At the restaurant, I decided to make an Egyptian risotto, using Egyptian short grain rice and Egyptian mushrooms only and paired this wonderful risotto with a pan-seared fillet of Egyptian beef, seasoned with salt and nutmeg, and flamed in the pan. This little trick gives the beef a roasted aroma similar to a traditional kebabgy’s. When I taught my chefs at the Cairo Jazz Club this technique, they instantly fell in love with it.

You’re welcome.

Shiitake and Forest Mushroom Risotto

Yield 2 portions

Ingredients

  • 75g Arborio rice
  • 300 ml chicken stock
  • 5 Shiitake mushrooms (dried)
  • 10g forest mushrooms (dried)
  • 10 button mushrooms, stalks trimmed and cut into quarters
  • 20g Worcestershire sauce
  • 25g spring onions, finely sliced
  • 10g scallions (the green part of the spring onions, sliced finely)
  • 35g butter
  • 35g Parmesan cheese
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Steps:

  1. Bring chicken stock to the boil, and remove from heat
  2. Add dried mushrooms to the stock and let them reconstitute for 15-20 minutes
  3. In a heavy bottomed sauce-pot over medium-high heat, sautee the mushrooms with salt and pepper and olive oil until dark brown.
  4. Add minced garlic, then immediately add rice; stirring constantly for 5 minutes
  5. turn up heat to high, and deglaze with Worcestershire sauce, and stir till most liquid has evaporated.
  6. add enough stock to barely cover the rice and mushrooms, and turn down the heat to low. Let this simmer for 20 minutes.
  7. Turn the heat back up to high, and begin stirring the risotto constantly, adding a little stock at a time. this should not take more than 5 minutes till the rice is properly cooked and the creamy texture of the risotto is achieved.
  8. finish by stirring in the Parmesan and butter. season to taste and for an extra flourish, add a few drops of truffle oil right before you serve it.

Cooking time: 45 minutes (including prep)

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About Wesam E Masoud
Chef Patron of @chefsmarketmasr, Host of @CBCSofra's #matbakh101. I have one degree in Medicine & 3rd degree burns from cooking.

5 Responses to NHCIA Test Kitchen: Mushroom Risotto

  1. Kailash says:

    Recommend lemon zest to add just a slight sour note to it…

    • Wesam Masoud says:

      At the restaurant, I add a sweet and sour tomato cubes; The lemon zest won’t add sourness per se, it’ll add the fragrance of lemon without the acidity.

  2. Sarah says:

    I was just thinking of risotto today. Love the addition of scallions! Are you using Lea & Perrins? I’d personally avoid a thicker gloopy-type worcestershire sauce. I’ll be giving this recipe a shot. Thanks in advance. 🙂

    • Wesam Masoud says:

      There are two brands i use depending on what im making: Dr. Song’s worcestershire ( chinese brand) is thicker, so i like it for barbecue marinades. I use French’s for everythibg else. Heinz us not bad either, and i have yet to try lea and perrins.

  3. Sarah says:

    Awesome. Thanks for the heads up. I’ll know what to look for when in Cairo. I’ve used French’s before several times but I’m not sure about having tried Heinz. Give Lea & Perrins a go if you find it. Good stuff. 🙂

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