Risotto Milanese Doesn’t Just Happen
By now, we should know that risotto doesn’t just happen in a vacuum, pun intended. It takes focus and serenity. You really have to become ONE with the rice. As I said in the root article, it is very difficult to find risotto prepared the same way from kitchen to kitchen. Even the most familiar variants like Risotto Milanese may still vary widely. When newly hired cooks tell the chef that they know how to make Risotto, the chef will smile politely and say “well, we will show you how WE make it HERE.” Even in Italy, I have seen it served many different ways, wetter, drier, softer, harder, etc.
What if somebody told you that there was only ONE correct way to prepare French Fries? As natives (sort of), Americans KNOW that there are a zillion different things called French Fries, not to mention different brands who execute shoestrings to greater or lesser favor. In that respect, and that respect only, risotto is a lot like French Fries. I can’t even believe I said that.
Have We Crossed the Rubicon Yet?
Today we’re going to make a risotto that is very similar to what many people call Risotto Milanese. Do they call it Risotto Milanese in Milan? Why wouldn’t they just call it Risotto, period? They’re IN Milan, so, of COURSE it’s Milanese. I think that if you’re not in Milan, you really SHOULDN’T call it Risotto Milanese. Once you leave town, it’s just Risotto with Saffron and Cheese. Anyway, this version sure has a lot of parsley in it, what’s up with THAT? Well, I LIKE parsley.
Tradition does call for saffron, but budget conscious chefs have been known to substitute turmeric, or chicken base, *sigh.*. This is a very convicting decision for a chef to make, but I have heard my colleagues say “What difference does it make? Most people don’t even LIKE Saffron, and the rest of them don’t even know what it is!” I pulled the trigger and bought some Saffron, about $20/gram where I got it. They try to soften the blow by saying that a little Saffron goes a long way. That depends on how much you like it. I like it. Almost as much as I like parsley.
Is it Milanese, or is it Memorex?
We’re also going to use Reggiano Parmigiana, another ingredient in the so called classic Risotto Milanese. Pecorino Romano, Asiago, Grana Padano, and others are frequently substituted. Admittedly, Reggiano really DOES go a long way.
I have seen Risotto Milanese with Prosciutto in it, and I’ve seen it without it. We’re going to use some Gabbagool (cured pork shoulder) that I made at home. We’re not actually calling this Risotto Milanese, so we have some latitude. I don’t expect the Risotto Police to come knocking on my door. Authenticists and purists’ may stamp their feet and shake their heads. When the day comes that two cooks or chefs do ANYTHING the same way, the sky will surely part.
- 1 batch Sous Vide Risotto
- 1 cup water or neutral, unsalted stock, you may use up to 2 cups, depending on your taste for texture.
- Saffron. As little as it takes to tint your stock, as much as you can afford to add.
- Parmigiana Reggiano–again, as little as it takes to flavor your dish, as much as you can grate, find a happy medium.
- 2 oz dry cured pork shoulder, smoked, unsmoked, as dry as possible.
- 2 oz sweet butter.
- Parsley, chopped. Enough to provide some green, as much as you can bear chopping.
- S+P, to taste at the end.
- The Sous Vide risotto, all the other stuff. You can just see the Saffron behind the parsley. That tiny, tiny, $20 jar. Nice little jar, though.
- Dry cured meats are not difficult to make–after all, they have been made since ancient times, by people who had no knowledge of food safety. However, there is some required reading to learn how to do it safely and legally. It is unrelated to Sous Vide. It’s best to just buy some Pancetta, Capicola, Dry Coppa, Prosciutto, or Capicola from the butcher, who probably buys it from somebody else, too.
- When it’s nice and dry, it’s easy to cut into 1″ strips.
- Here I come with the parsley, the blessed ceremony.
- Labor saving devices do not work for chopping parsley. However, it is possible to combine a few ingredients, including parsley, and thereby create something that has what appears to be chopped parsley in it.
Making Friction Work for You
- We’re going to use the cheese to do that, but the dry meat could also be used, just something to increase the friction in the hopper.
- Couple of ounces of the cheese.
- I actually took the tour of the cheese factory in Parma long ago. The aroma was quite strong, as you can imagine. Too strong, perhaps. There is quite a bit of ammonia, in addition to butyric and isovaleric acids in dry aged cheeses. Some people felt a wee built ill; they got that urge that you get when you are around somebody who is EXTREMELY ill, if you catch my drift. They offered free samples at the end of the tour, but you’d be surprised how many people declined. Too much of a good thing.
“Do you smell that?” “Yeah, we’re getting close to Parma”
- I cut the cheese into a few smallish pieces, and use one of those miniature food processors.
- And there it is. I really LIKE parsley.
- Hot stock, with the saffron added to it.
- The cheese parsley mixture
- The cured pork
- At this point, things start speeding up. Heat your pan to about 300F
- Add a few drops of oil, and the cured pork shoulder.
- It will sizzle and crisp in a matter of seconds.
- Remove the pork from the pan and reserve on the side.
- This picture depicts a clean pan, but that’s not really necessary. Remove any excess oil from the pan you fried the pork in and don’t look back.
- Add the chopped garlic.
- Sizzle, no pop. It should bubble, but do not brown it (intentionally, anyway–it happens).
- Again, this is really a matter of seconds. It took longer to take the pictures than it took to make the Risotto.
That Is One Heavenly Crocus
- Add the first cup of liquid…it will begin to boil immediately, that’s why you want to have everything close at hand. If you forgot to shred the cheese, there might be a problem.
- I haven’t come up with a term for the pre-processed risotto, and I refuse to call it instant, or even “quick.” A friend of mine suggested “Proto-Zoto,” we” have to see if anybody already has a copyright on that.
- Add the risotto
- Friction is not really necessary, the butter in the risotto will start to melt, and the whole thing will start falling apart.
- Stir lightly with tongs or a spoon, but, again, don’t apply any friction.
- It’s really more akin to just standing there and watching it happen. The risotto is in charge.
- The kernels are all separated, breathe deeply, slowly. The rest is gonna be so easy.
- At this point, you have to approximate whether you have enough liquid to satisfy your taste for texture. Tasting a bit of the risotto is the best way to do this, and, be careful, it is hot, hot, hot.
- Practice will teach you whether to add more water or not.
- Add the ham, but keep a little on the side for garnish.
- Add the cheese/parsley mixture. One thing. Cheese is a complex matrix of protein, water, and fat, emulsified into that awesome and inimitable substance/texture. Boiling this substances unravels the matrix and gives you strings of proteins, with puddles of fat and dreary water. DO NOT COOK CHEESE. Or parsley, unless you hate green.
- Add the butter.
- Just barely coming to a boil, the thickening process is extremely fast by now. Turn off the heat. If you feel it is too thick, you can add a little of the liquid to lighten, but don’t boil it after this point.
- A pinch of the reserved crispy pork provides a little pop.
- Grated Parmigiana at the table, if desired.
And there you have it. I will not pretend to be objective, but this experiment appears to be a booming success. I hope it works for you!