How to cook risotto with ‘stinky cheese’
By Douglas Elder, Head Chef, Brown Brother’s Epicurean Centre
One of the things that we are lucky about in the NE of Victoria is having the Milawa Cheese Company. Only just down the road from the Epicurean Centre, their cheeses are a constant on the menu, and are used in many other dishes as well. We also receive daily deliveries of the wonderful bread from their bakery. At the recent Brown Brothers Grape Growers’ Dinner, I decided to feature their King River Gold in one of the entrees. A washed rind cow’s milk cheese, it definitely would not be everyone’s cup of tea. ‘’Stinky cheese’’ is usually something that you love or hate, and I am, along with most chefs, certainly a fan. In this dish we made a raviolo of chicken and King River Gold which, when cut up, would ooze the delicious cheese. Paired with some crisp Milawa free-range chicken wings, pickled mushrooms, walnut praline and a dressing made from Milawa seeded mustard, it was both delicious and a great dish to feature the produce of the local area.
Whilst preparing this dish, it made me think of one of my favourite uses of the King River Gold, and that is in a risotto. Everyone loves risotto. It is certainly one of the dishes that confuse people a lot on how to cook it. Whilst there are many opinions out there on how to cook it, the reality is that it is quite a simple dish to make. However, it is certainly just as easy to stuff up. I have taught several risotto masterclasses over the years and there are several common problems that people have when making risotto. If you have any other questions after reading this, leave a comment below and I will be happy to reply.
The rice that you use is the key factor. Like any cooking, the better quality ingredients you buy, the better the end result will be. I could write for pages on the different types of rice, but one steadfast rule to live by; don’t use cheap Arborio from the supermarket. Arborio is the most common rice used in risotto and is ok when of a high quality, but the cheap rice will make horrible risotto no matter how good you are at cooking it. My advice is to not use Arborio at all as it is not the best rice. It overcooks extremely easily and once the rice breaks up and releases the starch, you have that gluggy and gluey risotto we all dread. One minute the rice is not quite cooked, a minute later it is overcooked glug. Arborio is great for Arancini balls though because of this.
There are two types of rice that are of a much better quality and are actually easier to cook, Vialone nano and Carnaroli. These varieties remain much more ‘al dente’ during the cooking process meaning that they are much harder to overcook, allowing you a greater window of opportunity. They are available these days in a lot of stores such as Essential Ingredient or good Italian supermarkets. Don’t be put off by the price, usually between $10 and $15 per kg, as the results you get will speak for themselves.
WET RISOTTO OR DRY RISOTTO
The style of risotto you want will govern what rice you use. If you prefer a wetter, creamier style of risotto, choose vialone nano. It has enough surface starch to make the dish creamy, but will stay quite firm in the centre. For a richer, thicker risotto, use the carnaroli. The ‘king’ of rices, the grain is much harder so needs a longer cooking time but will remain quite firm and dry.
Most recipes call for dry white wine, but try mixing it up. Red wine for more robust ingredients, sparkling wine for delicate seafood risottos, beer, vodka, vermouth and even cider, which is great with an apple-based risotto.
You don’t make friends with salad, and you definitely don’t make friends by making risotto with water. The stocks that you can buy at the supermarket in the tetra paks are fine and is what I use myself at home. Any leftover stock can be frozen for the next time you make risotto. And if you run out of stock right at the end, a ladleful of hot water won’t ruin it.
TO STIR OR NOT TO STIR
One of the greatest of all risotto debates, to stir or not to stir. There are many opinions on this one, so I will give mine. If you stir the risotto only occasionally, you will get a good result, however, if you stir it continuously, you will get a great result. I always stand by my risotto when I cook it, adding more stock, giving it a stir to help massage the rice and release the starch, cutting other ingredients, but it is not strictly necessary to stand there and stir all the time. Let’s say that you should stir frequently but without standing over the pot the whole time.
HOW LONG TO COOK
The cooking time of risotto will vary between 14 and 20 minutes depending on what rice you use, how high the heat is and other factors. It will not be the same every time. However, set a timer for 12 minutes from when you start adding the stock and then that is the time you starting testing the rice for doneness. After the initial 12 minutes is up, if the rice is not quite cooked, only add a little stock at a time so you don’t drown it and have too much when the rice is cooked.
THE K.I.S.S. PHILOSOPHY
Risotto is a dish synonymous with Italy. Unfortunately, just like some of their other famous dishes, pizza and pasta, they have been bastardised by all and sundry. In Italy, a risotto can be as simple as a peasant meal, or one fit for royalty. However it is done though, it generally contains only a few ingredients and is a dish of rice with accompaniments, not the other way around. Keep it to 2 or 3 ingredients, add a cheese and let the rice be the star of the dish. A couple of my favourite combinations; Ham hock and green pea (cook your ham hock and then use the cooking liquid as your stock!), apple, walnut and gorgonzola or chestnut, oregano and goat’s cheese.
Don’t just think parmesan. Try using some different cheeses, such as a washed rind cheese like King River Gold or Taleggio. Pecorino, mozzarella, blue cheese and goat’s cheese are some other possibilities.
FENNEL SAUSAGE, MUSHROOM AND KING RIVER GOLD RISOTTO
I have used the ‘Salcichi’ sausages from Morrison St. Butchers in Wodonga. It is an all-pork sausage with fennel, black pepper, garlic and chilli. I bought the mixture out of the skins and simply rolled them into little balls. If you can’t get them from your butcher out of the skin, buy them normally and then simply squeeze the filling out. This recipe wil serve 4 as a main course. Try matching it with the Brown Brothers 2009 Graciano; the savoury notes of the wine work well with the pepper and chilli in the sausage.
1tbs olive oil
2 onions, finely diced
½ leek, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 litre of chicken stock
400g vialone nano rice
200ml dry white wine
400gm mushrooms, sliced
200gm King River Gold, diced
500gm sausage filling, rolled into small balls
- Cut your onions, leeks and mince your garlic and place in a bowl.
- Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees and place the sausage balls on a lightly greased oven tray.
- Saute the mushrooms in a small amount of olive oil and then set aside.
- Place the chicken stock on the stove and bring to the boil, turn down to a simmer. Don’t let it sit on the simmer for too long without using it as it will reduce. If you aren’t ready turn it right down and then turn up again when you are ready.
- In a heavy based pot, sweat down the onions, leek and garlic in the oil and 50gm butter over a low heat until softened.
- Turn the heat up to medium, add the rice and toast the rice for 1-2 minutes until they are just starting to become translucent. Keep them stirring the whole time so none go brown or catch on the bottom. A good way to tell when they are ready is to try and pick up some rice with your fingers, if they are too hot to handle, they will be ready.
- Turn up the heat to full and immediately throw in the wine. Reduce until the wine is mostly evaporated.
- Add your first hit of stock. I always add a couple of ladlefuls at the start as the rice absorbs more liquid at the start and will slow down towards the end. Stir this through. Turn the heat down to a medium heat, or high enough so that the risotto is on a good simmer. Set your timer for 12 minutes!
- Put your meatballs in the oven, they should be ready when the 12 minute timer goes off.
- Stir your rice, adding stock as necessary, ladleful at a time. Remember that you can always add more stock but you can’t take it out once it is in there.
- When the timer goes off, take your meatballs out of the oven.
- Then start to check the risotto. Bite a grain between your teeth. It should be al dente, soft but still have some resistance. If it is not ready, add a little more stock and check again in a minute or two.
- It is important that you do not add too much stock now as the rice has slowed down its absorption rate and will only take on a little stock at a time. If you run out of stock, use some boiling water.
- When the rice is ready, the risotto should be creamy and slightly runny. Remove from the heat and add the King River Gold and 30gm butter and stir this in well. This process will combine the melted cheese, butter and the stock in the risotto together to make a beautiful cream around the grains.
- Chop the meatballs in half roughly, throw them in the risotto with the mushrooms and check your seasoning. If the risotto has dried out a little during this time, add a touch more hot stock or water to thin it out.
- Serve on some warm plates and garnish with some oregano leaves.