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Here are some facts: Despite its reputation for being difficult, risotto is really, really easy to make, even using the traditional stand-and-stir, add-the-broth-a-cup-at-a-time method, a technique that I am convinced was invented by Italian grandmothers who wanted to keep the pesky little bambini occupied for 45 minutes at a stretch. In reality, no such stirring is necessary; you can cook risotto in a wide pot at a full boil, giving it just a few cursory stirs at the beginning and end, and it'll come out just as creamy and delicious as if you'd hovered over it the entire time.
And if you have yourself a pressure cooker? Well, then, you're seriously in luck (or, more precisely, you're the type who makes their own luck). The pressure cooker is the fastest, easiest, most reliable, and best way to cook risotto, taking your rice from raw to dinner-ready in minutes.
The technique was first popularized by Modernist Cuisine, but we were skeptics until we tried it for ourselves, with Daniel's recipe for Pressure Cooker Butternut Squash Risotto. His recipe takes a bit of time because it requires you to make a squash purée, but the actual rice cooks in broth, from raw to al dente, in five minutes flat. Five minutes to cook risotto!
Since then, I've become a complete convert, to the point where the only way I'll ever cook risotto another way is if I find myself banished to a remote Italian island with nothing but a pot and a wooden spoon.
For this version, my goal was to get intensely savory mushroom flavor, while making sure that you don't have to dirty any extra pots or pans or spend hours developing flavors. I like this kind of recipe development: It turns the whole thing into a game of optimization and efficiency, with the goal of drawing out as much flavor as possible, as quickly as possible.
Using a ton of mushrooms in my risotto was a given—I use a full pound and a half of mushrooms, going with a mixture of whatever looks best at the market. (This time of year in California, that's wild chanterelles along with farm-raised shiitakes, oysters, and creminis.)
Many recipes for mushroom risotto will have you simply cook mushrooms in the pan, add the rice and the broth, and cook. This gives you rice that tastes like, well, rice, with chunks of mushrooms in it. To get mushroom flavor directly into the rice, my first thought was to infuse the broth (I used homemade vegetable stock, though homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock would work as well) with extra flavors by heating up some dried porcini mushrooms in it.
The fastest way I know to do this is to microwave the dried mushrooms with the stock until it comes to a simmer. This simultaneously softens the mushrooms to the point where you can chop them with a knife to incorporate them into the risotto, while also adding a ton of flavor to the broth. (As a bonus, heating the broth now means you don't have to wait long for it to come to a boil when you add it to the pressure cooker later on.)
As I strained the reconstituted porcini out of the broth, I looked over at the small bowl of mushroom trimmings I'd collected as I cleaned my fresh mushrooms earlier. They were too tough to eat, but they still had plenty of good flavor in them, so I added them directly to the hot porcini broth to steep while I continued preparing the rest of the recipe, creating a sort of mushroom tea to layer on more flavor.
Next up, I sautéed my fresh mushrooms in my pressure cooker. I generally cook my risotto with a mixture of extra-virgin olive oil and butter for flavor and richness, but I found that my butter burned if I added it right from the start. Instead, I decided to cook my mushrooms in pure oil, sautéing them until they release all of their moisture and start to brown significantly. When you do this, you'll see the mushrooms drop in volume by a good 80% or so. This is all good news in the flavor-intensification department.
Once the mushrooms were cooked, I added diced onions and garlic, sweated just until softened but not browned. I almost always like to finish off my sautéed mushrooms with a splash of soy sauce, an ingredient that boosts their umami flavor, making them taste extra mushroom-y. It works well here, too.
When the base flavors were all in place, I added the rice and toasted it until it was just barely translucent, before adding a splash of dry white wine and letting it reduce to cook off any raw alcohol aroma. With a classic risotto, this step is not quite as necessary—even if you add your stock right after adding the wine, a prolonged cook on the stovetop will drive off most of the alcohol. With a pressure cooker, however, very limited evaporation takes place, so if you have funky or alcoholic aromas in the pot when you snap on the lid, those aromas are gonna stay there when you serve it. Make sure it smells good before the lid goes on!
In Daniel's squash risotto, he stirs in a scoop of miso paste to intensify the flavor. I took a cue from him and incorporated the same trick here.
With standard risotto, you use stock and rice in a ratio of about four to one. With pressure cooker risotto, due to the minimal evaporation, you go more like two to one. This may well be the only disadvantage of pressure cooker risotto—with no reduction, you don't get any intensification of broth flavors as it cooks down, which is to say that the broth had better be darned tasty before it goes in the pot! Luckily, the double mushroom infusion accomplishes this.
Once the hot broth goes in, it takes only five minutes at low pressure (followed by a rapid chill, either by running a stovetop pressure cooker under water or by using the steam release on an electric cooker) for the rice to be cooked perfectly al dente. When you first open the cooker, it'll look watery, but give it a few strong stirs and it'll come out as creamy as you could hope for.
Those five minutes of cook time give you the perfect opportunity to quickly chop up some herbs (I like classic French fines herbes: parsley, tarragon, chervil, and chives) and throw some bowls into the toaster oven to heat up. Serving in anything but a hot, hot bowl or plate is the only true cardinal sin when it comes to risotto. A hot plate is the only way to ensure that the rice stays light and creamy the whole time you're eating it.
I like to finish off my risotto with lots of grated Parmesan cheese, and, though traditionalists may scoff, I also like adding a splash of heavy cream at the end to mellow out the flavors. I find that it brings a luxurious smoothness to the whole affair.
All told, even with the double infusion and thorough browning steps, the whole dish comes together in under half an hour, thanks to the rapid cooking of the pressure cooker. Think of all the mischief the bambini could get into with so much free time!
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