Oh what a night

Sometimes things just don't go my way when I cook. I undercook an egg, I burn the crap out of some bacon, or I try to make a dish that is way over my head and flop miserably. Well the latter happened recently when I tried to make a mushroom risotto. I must have been feeling “on” that night because while knowing the concept behind a risotto and having done risotto-esque things before, I had never tried a real risotto before. You know, the kind where you patiently “feed” stock to Arborio rice little by little until the rice has absorbed all of the stock and puffed into a creamy, tender version of its old self? Yah, apparently it's harder than it sounds.

The funny part about the whole experience is that the biggest problems didn't come from my technique in making the risotto, it was actually in two retrospectively dumb decisions that I made immediately prior. First, the decision to keep making it even after realizing that I didn't actually have any Arborio rice. I had basmati rice. I had brown sushi rice. But no Arborio rice. Bummer, guess that plan is out the window. Nope. I used the sushi rice anyway – that starchy, uncooperative sushi rice!

Second, and this one's going to make you giggle, I didn't even have any soup stock. Julia and I always joke about having too much stock and never using it. Well apparently we ran out and never noticed. I was expecting to find twenty-something things of vegetable stock or even one chicken stock, and the cupboard was quite bare. So that was the end of the risotto, right? Nope, I decided to make my own vegetable stock! I heated some water with salt and pepper and olive oil and onion and celery and garlic and a massive amount of a bunch of other spices – and then boiled the hell out of it and strained it. Ugh. Well it looked pretty and the flavor was actually nice – until the bowl-you-over kick hit you. What WAS that? Some concentrated heat. Why did I put something SPICY in there? I couldn't even think of what it could have been. So I added more water and salt to the stock, since it didn't taste like it had that much salt before and I wanted to try to soften the flavor. Bad idea.

As I nursed stock into my rice in my big sauté pan, the rice actually seemed to be absorbing it, albeit slowly. Before long, I had ladled in over three cups of liquid for one cup of rice and there was little more than a couple millimeters of liquid in the pan. So it WAS absorbing, but the rice barely changed. The texture went from raw-crunchy to slightly-cooked-crunchy after an hour. Not good!

Of course by this time I had invested way too much in this dish to scrap it, having done the stock, sautéed mushrooms and onions and actually making the risotto. With all the stock was gone I added in some huge amounts of nonfat Greek yogurt to try to artificially add some creaminess to the risotto. It did help it thicken a little bit and further cut the spice of the stock. Unfortunately, having worked so hard to eliminate this pungency I didn't realize that the other flavors had concentrated as the liquid cooked out and I was left with salty, artificially creamy, undercooked, yet good-tasting risotto. Weird.

At this point I realized we were eating this no matter what and to make the best of it, so I plated it with some greens and shaved Reggiano Parmesan. And eat it we did. Well, at least me. The texture was not as bad as I thought it would be. The saltiness was a little much though, but it was edible, and at this point that's all I was hoping for. So a partial failure, but I hate any cooking failure.

Next time? Arborio rice. Store-bought vegetable stock. A risotto recipe. Hey, we live and learn. Risotto night will be better. Next time.

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