My Mac’s dictionary defines risotto as “an Italian dish of rice cooked in stock with other ingredients such as meat and vegetables.” For an Asian, that sounds like throwing everything in a rice cooker until everything is done. But it’s not quite that simple.
Cooking risotto starts with choosing the right kind of rice. See, what distinguishes risotto from other rice dishes is its creamy texture and that is something that can be acquired with the use of starchy rice. The Italians cook risotto with the short-grain arborio rice. The name arborio does not really refer to a rice variety but, rather, to a place in Italy where the rice is grown. In short, outside of Italy, it is known by other names. In Asia, the equivalent is the Japanese rice.
There are only a few steps in cooking the basic risotto. The first is sautéing — garlic and onions, most often, in butter or olive oil or both, until fragrant. The rice is added and cooked until every grain is coated with oil. White wine is poured and stirred in and the mixture is left to bubble until the wine has been absorbed.
Then, the simmering broth is ladled into the rice, about half a cup each time. The rice is stirred often as it cooks in the broth, coaxing the starch out of each grain to make the mixture creamy. Then, another half cup of broth is added, the rice is stirred… the process is repeated until the rice is done — cooked through but still firm. Grated parmesan cheese is stirred in along with a little finely chopped parsley, the seasonings are adjusted and the risotto is drizzled with olive oil before serving. As far as I know, this is the basic risotto ai bianco, literally, white rice.
Risotto is a versatile dish as it can include meat or it can be a vegetarian dish. The broth can be chicken, meat or fish broth. In the Venice episode of No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain sampled the famous go risotto — a Venetian classic famous and revered for its simplicity and unpretentiousness. “Go” refers to a variety of fish called, well… go. Small fish. Not expensive, not rare but, in fact, rather common. The fish are simmered whole without stirring and the broth is ladled into the rice. No fish meat goes into the risotto as the only role of the fish is to create the broth. The dish is reputedly incomparable.