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I love risotto. Like, I could eat it every day. A good risotto is a little al dente, with a creamy sauce and a slightly nutty flavor, even though it’s made with neither cream nor nuts (usually). Risotto is a delicious, hearty, satisfying dish. Maybe even a little more, according to Seinfeld.
To Stir or not To Stir?
Some recipes for risotto that I use regularly call for the traditional method of standing at the stove and stirring almost constantly for about 25 minutes, adding warm liquid (usually a mixture of broth and water) in half-cup increments. Some people swear that this is the only way to get a creamy consistency from risotto.
But I never really believed this, because a recipe for risotto that I frequently use calls for the “no stir” method, where you add the liquid all at once and lower the heat, letting the risotto simmer for about the same amount of time as it takes with the traditional method, with just an occasional stir. And while I’d never tested the traditional and no-stir methods side by side, I knew that whichever one I used, I ended up with a delicious, creamy dinner.
But I’d been hearing a lot of chatter online about using the Instant Pot to make quicker risotto, and I was intrigued. Could the Instant Pot make something that was not only quicker and easier than either of my methods, but also as good? My rule is that I don’t make something in the Instant Pot unless it is as good as (or better than!) traditional methods. I needed to find out if this qualified. I have to admit, I was pretty sure the answer was going to be no. I took my favorite recipe for risotto, which adds some vegetables and cheese at the end, and set off to prove myself wrong.
I did two tests using all three methods. I prepped the same amount of ingredients I would normally use to make a big dinner-sized batch of risotto, but divided it in three, using the same exact ingredients for each method, with one exception: each method needed a different amount of liquid.
When using the traditional method I use the most water, because I’m cooking it over medium heat or a little higher, and a lot evaporates. For the no-stir method I use less, since it cooks over a lower flame and loses less to evaporation. I tried using the no-stir amount of liquid in the Instant Pot the first time, and it was just too much. The first Instant Pot batch was a total disappointing dud.Risotto: is all that stirring really necessary? Click To Tweet
Somehow I’d managed to end up with risotto (if you could even call it that) that was too dry/not at all creamy, and mushy at the same time. The rice had soaked up all of the liquid, leaving no sauce, and was completely overcooked. So for the second test I lowered my cooking time from what I was seeing most people use online, and used less liquid. (And I’m not saying that the other recipes out there are wrong – I was trying to adapt MY recipe to THEIR Instant Pot cooking times. Follow their recipes start to finish and you’ll probably be fine.)
The results of the second test? Really, really good!
In fact, when I had my husband and daughter do a blind taste test after my second round of cooking, they both picked the Instant Pot risotto as their favorite!! I mean, I’d picked it as my favorite as well, but I don’t really count my opinion because I knew which was which.
It’s worth noting that all three of them were really good. So if you have a method that you like, use it. And the advantage of using the traditional method is that you can wing it a bit more. With both the no-stir and the Instant Pot methods you’re adding all of the liquid at once, so you have to add the right amount. With the traditional method, you can just stop adding liquid when the rice is the perfect texture.If you have an Instant Pot, you can have quick risotto without all that stirring! Click To Tweet
But it’s a bit quicker in the Instant Pot, with a good nine or ten minutes where you don’t have to pay any attention to it at all, giving you a little time to clean up or put together another dish. And according to our taste test, it has a fuller flavor and better texture. Plus you’re not working with an open flame, and since we’re approaching hot weather time here in the northeast, that’s an added benefit.
I mean, just look at that creaminess. Instant Pot magic.
So here’s the thing: this post was supposed to be up Tuesday at the latest. I’d done all of the cooking and taste-testing and picture taking last week, I’d written the post and done a bigger batch of risotto in the Instant Pot to confirm amounts and times, and I thought all I had left to do was process the pictures and write up the post and do all of the back-end stuff.
But then yesterday I went in search of confirmation of my theory that the stirring doesn’t matter, after having a conversation with a very skeptical friend who believes that the traditional method is the only method. I found this article from one of my absolute favorite food writers, Kenji Lopez-Alt. And holy hell do I wish I’d read this before I did my tests.
What Kenji found in his extensive tests is basically three things: 1) The creaminess comes not from the stirring, but from the starch on the outside of the rice. 2) Toasting the rice makes the flavor better, but the finished product is less creamy. And 3) Heating the liquid first is not necessary.
While I’d been skeptical of the stirring, I’d taken the heating of the liquid as gospel. If you don’t have to heat the liquid, you save yourself an extra step (and one dirty pot) that may not be necessary. However, it gets more complicated with the Instant Pot because the temperature of what you put into the Pot affects how long the Pot takes to pressurize (the colder the ingredients, the longer it takes). Would the increased pressurization time with cold liquid affect the finished product in the Instant Pot?
On the other hand, Kenji also gives us an extra step (plus two dirty bowls and a strainer) by first rinsing off the starch from the rice, then toasting the rice, and then adding the starch back in with the cooking liquid. Is that step really worth it? I don’t have the most refined palate in the world, to put it mildly. Would I even notice the difference?
After reading all of that, I decided that I needed to do more testing. But after two tries I still don’t have the Instant Pot liquid amounts and cooking time right for Kenji’s method. Plus, my family is getting really sick of risotto. So I’ve decided to post my initial results and then do more testing. Consider this phase one.
I’ve also included a bonus recipe for Shrimp with Lemon and Garlic. If you have a family like mine, with different eating habits, the shrimp is a great accompaniment for this risotto for two reasons. One, it uses two of the same ingredients as the risotto, making prep easier (and if you want to make it really easy, just skip the parsley and you’ll have practically no extra prep). And two, it cooks in the exact amount of time that the risotto is being left to its own devices in the Instant Pot! I ate the risotto as made, and my husband and daughter mixed the shrimp into theirs. (My son had a bagel. Don’t even get me started.)
For the Newbies
Like my previous three Instant Pot posts, this one is aimed at people who are new to using their IPs, so please excuse the super-specific instructions. Unless you’re one of the IP Newbies, in which case, you’re welcome! :-)
We’re going to be using a function on the Instant Pot today that we haven’t used in the three previous recipes: Sauté. The Sauté function is a great way to brown meat and sauté aromatics without having to use a separate pan on the stove. In this recipe we’re also going to be using it to toast the rice.
You turn on the sauté function by pressing the “Sauté” button – easy enough! There are three sauté levels: Low, Medium, and High. You can cycle through them by pressing the “Adjust” button, but only immediately after pressing “Sauté.” Once you’ve left it on a temperature level for a few seconds, you need to press “Cancel” and then “Sauté” and “Adjust” all over again to change to another temperature.
Still getting your Instant Pot bearings? Please check out my first three IP posts, where we go through the parts of the IP and make fluffy and flavorful Mashed Potatoes, then the easiest peeling Hard Boiled Eggs ever, then the quickest most delicious Potato Salad.
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