Why it Works: Through Thick and Thin
Think of risotto as savory rice pudding. Rice pudding achieves its texture as the rice cooks and releases starch to thicken the surrounding milk. Unlike rice pudding, risotto is characterized by slightly firm rice. Because the rice does not cook through, there is not enough time for the starch to thicken the broth. Several techniques are used to solve this problem. Short-grain rice (usually Italian Arborio or Carnaroli) is used for its greater amount of surface starch. And the rice is constantly stirred as it cooks in broth. The friction of each grain hitting its neighbor pushes more starch into the surrounding liquid. For that reason, broth is added a little at a time; if it was added all at once, you would lose the friction and the creamy consistency.
Recipe Rx: Mushy vs. Creamy
Risotto is not something that most of us eat on a daily basis. It is a cooked very differently than regular rice and spotting the right finished texture can be tricky. The final consistency you are looking for is creamy but not runny or mushy. The Italians (who invented risotto) say that the right texture is all’onda, which roughly translates as “with waves”. This means that when you stir the finished dish it should still be thin enough to create a small wave in the pot. In the end, though, it is your pot of risotto. Find the texture you like and enjoy.