The Restaurant Secret for Quick, Make-Ahead Risotto

A simple, common restaurant trick that allows you to prep and cook risotto ahead of time.

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Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt

You sit down at an Italian restaurant and order the special of the day: risotto alla milanese. Ten minutes later, it's sitting in front of you. Perfectly al dente individual grains of rice, in a creamy sauce that flows across the plate like liquid-hot magma. Delicious.

But wait a minute.... Anyone who's made risotto at home knows that it takes at least half an hour to cook, and that leftover risotto turns mushy even a few hours later. How the heck did they get that perfect risotto in front of you within 10 minutes?

It's a pretty simple and common restaurant trick, and one that I employ at home when I know that I've got a tight week coming up and want a no-prep, 10-minute meal ready to go in the fridge. Here's how it works.

As hot risotto sits, rice grains start to absorb excess moisture, going from perfectly al dente to mushy. Meanwhile, the saucy liquid binding them together suffers doubly as it gets robbed of water and cools down, turning from creamy to stodgy in no time. There's no real way to fix this. The key, instead, is to undercook the risotto and cool it rapidly to prevent that rice from overcooking, so you can easily finish cooking it later.

At home, I generally start by cooking up a batch of risotto on the stovetop. When the rice is about 75% cooked—no need to be precise; it should be starting to get tender but still have a chalky, raw bite in the center—I pour it out into a wide vessel. Quarter sheet pans are perfect for the job. The key is to spread the rice out into a thin, uniform layer so that it cools rapidly and evenly. Giving it a few gentle stirs as it starts to cool can hasten the process.

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Once it's cooled, you can transfer that half-cooked risotto to sealed containers and keep it in the fridge for up to a week.*

*If you're cooking your risotto in a pressure cooker, just cut the cooking time down by about 25%, and leave out the last spoonful of liquid.

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When you're ready to serve it, just scoop the half-cooked risotto into a skillet and add a ladleful of stock or water.

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Heat the risotto, stirring the whole time. If your risotto recipe uses heat-sensitive ingredients, like green vegetables or seafood, it's a good idea to leave them out of the initial cook and stir them in fresh when you're reheating.

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Keep stirring and cooking, adding liquid a little at a time, until you hit that perfect point at which the rice is tender, but still retains some bite, and the sauce is creamy. Depending on how far you took the risotto the first time, this should take between three and five minutes.

Finish off the risotto however the recipe calls for it to be finished (generally with a grating of Parmesan cheese), and you're good to go.

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If you want to streamline your week even more, try cooking a double batch of risotto and scooping out half the rice onto a rimmed baking sheet three-quarters of the way through cooking. Then let it cool so it's ready to go for later in the week, while you finish off the other half on the stovetop and serve it for dinner. One prep for two meals is a pretty solid formula for good eating with minimal effort.

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