Why It Works
- Leftover risotto is firm and dry enough to form a solid pancake.
- Greasing two plates makes flipping and transferring the risotto pancake easier than trying to flip it from the skillet directly onto a plate.
In just about every country where rice is consumed, some gloriously crispy form of it exists. There are Rice Krispies, duh; and then there's tahdig, the Persian mound of rice encased in crackly golden shell; soccarat, the crunchy layer of rice on the bottom of paella; yaki onigiri, crisp grilled Japanese rice balls; and dolsot bibimbap, the Korean rice dish served in a hot stone pot that's allowed to brown on the bottom before being stirred. Everyone loves some crispy rice.
Here's one crispy rice preparation you may not have heard about much: risotto al salto. Hailing from Milan, Italy, risotto al salto is one of the easiest crispy rice dishes to make. Where tahdig and the soccarat on a paella require you to master the timing and technique to cook the rice through and perfectly brown the crust at the same time, risotto al salto breaks the process up into two easy steps. First you make risotto, ensuring the rice is cooked just right and the seasoning is spot-on. Then you fry your leftovers in a buttery pan until it forms a pancake that's crisp and browned on both sides. The word salto refers to the single flip you'll need to do midway through cooking it.
You're most likely to see risotto al salto made using one of Milan's most famous risotto dishes, the saffron-hued risotto alla milanese. A simple risotto al parmigiano (risotto cooked with a meat stock and finished with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano) is also a popular choice. While you can use a chunky risotto studded with mix-ins, they'll get in the way of a perfectly crackling crust of rice, and, depending on what they are, they may make it more difficult for the rice pancake to hold together.
Your pan of choice for risotto al salto should be a skillet with sloped sides. The straight sides of a cast iron skillet will just get in the way of sliding the rice around and out of the pan, greatly increasing the chances of uneven cooking and a broken pancake. You can use nonstick, but a well-seasoned carbon steel skillet is my pan of choice, since it puts an even crispier crust on the rice.
The first key to success is to make sure your leftover rice has cooled (i.e., it really should be left over). If you were to ladle fresh, hot risotto into a skillet, you'd have a hard time turning it into a pancake, since it would be too creamy and wet. As it cools, the rice continues to absorb excess moisture, and the cheese and thick, starchy sauce firms up. The rice, too, goes through an important change during cooling—its starch retrogrades, which means the molecules recrystallize. This is the same process bread goes through when it goes stale. It's important here because retrograded rice crisps up even more intensely than freshly cooked rice does (this is also why par-cooked rice is sometimes a popular choice for dosa batters).
The hardest part of the whole process is keeping the pancake together as it cooks, and especially when flipping it. Risotto doesn't have an egg or any other kind of binder in it, so it tends to crumble at first. But if you keep patting it down with a spatula as it cooks, and swirling it around in the pan to minimize hot spots and help it brown evenly, it will eventually take on the proper pancake shape.
Flipping the risotto can be especially tricky. I've tried it the more classic way, in which a plate is inverted over the skillet and then they're both rotated rapidly, but I've had my pancake fall apart too many times to recommend this; there's just too much of a drop due to the skillet's depth to guarantee success. Easier is to very carefully slide the pancake out of the skillet onto a shallow plate, then invert another plate on top of that; because the plates don't have the higher sides of a skillet, the risotto pancake is sandwiched between them much more tightly. Once flipped, it hardly has any distance to fall to settle on the bottom plate. Then you can just slide the pancake right back into the skillet to finish the other side; if you lightly grease the plates first, even this sliding should go off without complication. And if, for some reason, your pancake does get messed up, just patch it as best you can, pat it back into shape once it's back in the skillet, and carry on.
To finish, slide the risotto pancake onto a serving plate and shower it with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. If you're like me, you may just start making risotto all the time, just for the leftovers.
2 1/2 tablespoons (35g) unsalted butter
2 cups leftover risotto (475g), such as risotto alla milanese, fully cooled
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, for serving
Lightly grease two flat 10- or 11-inch plates (you can use any oil for this, or even some extra butter). In a well-seasoned 10-inch carbon steel skillet or a 10-inch nonstick skillet, melt butter over high heat until foaming. Add rice and, using a spatula, pat it down to form a round pancake shape.
Continue cooking over high heat, patting the top and sides to form a compact, pancake-like round, and swirling to keep the pancake moving and to avoid hot-spots (it should not stick), until very well browned on on the first side (you can tell it's ready when you see that it has browned around the edges). If the pancake comes apart as you swirl and jiggle it, simply use the spatula to press it back together.
Carefully slide the pancake out onto one of the prepared plates, then invert the other prepared plate on top of it. In one very quick motion, flip the plates, then lift off the top plate. Very carefully slide the pancake back into the skillet; using the spatula to patch up any spots that were damaged during the flip. Continue cooking, swirling, jiggling, and patting with the spatula, until well browned on the second side.
Carefully slide the pancake out onto a warmed serving plate and grate cheese all over. Serve right away.
You need to use a skillet with sloped sides for best results; a straight-sided cast iron pan is not a good choice here, as it will make swirling and flipping the pancake very difficult.
10-inch well-seasoned carbon steel or nonstick skillet with sloped sides, two 10-inch plates
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 2 to 4|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 13g||16%|
|Saturated Fat 7g||37%|
|Total Carbohydrate 20g||7%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||2%|
|Total Sugars 2g|
|Vitamin C 1mg||6%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|