Thursday, 29 March 2012

Slow cooker risotto - a recipe for success

I love my slow cooker. Regular readers of my ramblings will not be surprised by this revelation as I might have mentioned this before. They are so useful if you want to save money and time, once you learn a different way of cooking - it's not massively different but you do have to adapt recipes for the slow cooker, generally needing less liquid as less evaporates during cooking.

Until recently, I have never considered cooking risotto in a slow cooker. In theory, it should be a prime candidate for slow cooking to save time as risotto does require a lot of attention - constant stirring means you're stood at the hob from the moment you start cooking. After all, I make very passable rice pudding in a slow cooker and the basic ingredients are the same - rice and some liquid. However, I couldn't get over the thought that risotto does need so much attention for a reason - because that attention is what makes it so nice. I'd always steered clear of oven baked risotto recipes for the same reason but people do rave about them.

Putting my prejudices to one side, I decided to give it a go and trawled around some recipes. The first thing that struck me was how many used brown rice, not risotto rice. Maybe I'm a food snob ("Yes!" I hear you shouting at your screen) but I want my risotto to be as authentic as possible and I couldn't see how brown rice could give a risotto that lovely creaminess. Eventually, I found a recipe using risotto. The cooking time  was 2 hours - rice pudding often takes 2 to 3 hours so it sounded right. I put it on one day just before the school run, and checked it after one hour. There was very little liquid that hadn't been absorbed and rice was already well cooked. Overcooked, in fact. By the time it was actually tea time, it was very overcooked. It tasted nice though but the rice needed some work.

I decided to give it another go but keep a closer eye on it to see just how long it needed to make rice that wasn't overcooked (or undercooked, for that matter) because it was obvious to me that it needed much less time. The result I got was pretty much near perfect for my tastes. Husband said it was still slightly different to conventional risotto but the children both loved it and asked for it again!

I use the high setting on my slow cooker. If you want to leave the risotto longer, then do cook it on a lower setting but it can take anything up to twice as long to cook. It might be a case of knowing your own slow cooker to get it right.

I'm making my risotto with leek and mushrooms because that's what we had in. Raw meat should be cooked before you add the onions or leeks.This serves 2 adults and 2 children - if you have 4 adults to feed, or very very hungry children, increase the rice to 300g and stock to about 800ml. The stock doesn't need to be boiling - it will cook quicker that way so only use boiling stock if you really are in a hurry.

Slow cooker leek and mushroom risotto
Serves 4

knob of butter
1 tsp olive oil
3 leeks, thinly sliced (or 1 onion, finely chopped)
200g mushrooms, sliced
250g risotto rice
650ml hot chicken or vegetable stock
50g parmesan, grated

1. Melt the butter in a large pan and add a splash of olive oil so it doesn't burn. Add the leeks or onion and the mushrooms and cook over a medium low heat until the leeks or onions are soft but not coloured, which takes about 3 -5 minutes.

2. Add the rice and stir until it starts becoming translucent, about another 3 minutes. Tip everything in to the slow cooker.

3. Pour in all but 50ml of the hot stock and give everything a quick stir, cover and cook on high.

4. Give it a quick stir if you can after about 20 minutes. After 40 minutes, check the rice to see if it's done  - much like pasta, risotto is best slightly al dente, with a little bite to it. If it's not cooked, test it again after another 5 minutes. When the rice is done, turn off the slow cooker, and quickly stir in remaining stock and most of the parmesan, reserving some for a garnish. Put the lid back on and leave it for 2 or 3 minutes.

5. Spoon into bowls and top with a little parmesan before serving immediately.Buon appetito!
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