Let’s Talk Risotto

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If you’ve hung out around this blog for a while, you know that risotto is a staple in our house. You might even says it’s my thing. In fact, when I was asked to bring a gift that represented my blog to the Foodbuzz Festival I brought a risotto kit.

So when Marx Foods was looking for people to test and review four different kinds of risotto rice, I jumped on the opportunity. I almost always use arborio rice, both because its easy to find and affordable and because its what I know, but I was super excited to try out the rice that Marx Foods sent me: Vialone Nano, Organic Arborio, Organic Integrale (a brown rice), and Organic Carnaroli. Shawn and I did a blind tasting and ended up ranking the rice the exact same way as each other — and the results surprised us!

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First, the ground rules: In order to keep the results as unbiased as possible, I identified each rice only by the pan that I cooked it in; I didn’t know which was which until the end. I prepared them all at the same time (quite the task!) using a simple recipe that would let the flavor of the rice itself shine through — just the rice, some onion, white wine, and chicken stock. I kept detailed notes as I cooked and tasted and rated each rice on appearance, creaminess, smell, and taste. When Shawn came home from work, he tasted each and ranked his favorites (again, he didn’t know which was which. He also didn’t know that I used the same recipe for each version of the risotto.)

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Clockwise from top left: Arborio, Carnaroli, Integrale, Vialone Nano

My Thoughts…
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…On Cooking: I was surprised by how quickly pan #3 (the Integrale brown rice) absorbed the initial stock that I added. It was the first pan to need additional stock added; however after that it was a while before I needed to make a third addition. On the other end, the rice in pan #4 (Vialone Nano) absorbed the liquid very slowly and was the last to need more added. Pan #1 (Arborio) actually took it’s third addition of stock at the same time that the Vialone Nano needed its second! In terms of total absorption, the arborio needed the most liquid added before it was fully cooked. It also plumped up the most and yielded the most volume of all the varieties.
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The rice all took about the same time to cook, with the exception of the Integrale which needed about 10 minutes longer. One thing to note about the Integrale is that it wasn’t very creamy until the last 5 minutes of cooking — at that time it transformed from a soupy mess into a creamy mass almost instantly! A little patience definitely paid off.
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…On Appearance: Pan #1 (Arborio) was white and creamy. It looked like I expect risotto to look, which made sense considering it’s the rice I always use. Pan #2 (Carnaroli) was also very white, but was drier and had slightly less volume. Pan #3 (Integrale) was light brown and creamy, and had the least volume. Pan #4 (Vialone Nano) was beige, had a slightly drier appearance than Pan #1, and had a nice amount of volume. In terms of creaminess, I ranked the risottos as follows: Arborio, Integrale, Vialone Nano, Carnaroli.
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…On Smell: I don’t really know why I tested this one, but I did. The Arborio smelled very delicate and floral. The Integrale smelled earthy like mushrooms. I didn’t notice any discernible scent on the other two.
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…On Taste: The most important category! Pan #1 (Arborio) resulted in a creamy, chewy risotto. It absorbed the flavor of the chicken stock well, but had the least flavor of the four risottos. It was also very heavy and sticky and created a film in my mouth. Pan #2 (Carnaroli) had a very nice, light flavor. It was less sticky, but not very creamy at all. Major point deduction for the texture, since I like creamy risottos. Pan #3 (Integrale) was very creamy and had the strongest flavor of all the risottos – Shawn described it as being “meaty” and I thought it was mushroomy. It definitely had an earthy quality to it, but it wasn’t immediately obvious that the flavor was that of brown rice. Pan #4 (Vialone Nano) absorbed the flavor of the chicken stock extremely well. It was creamy, but had a little more texture to it and it wasn’t as heavy or sticky as the Arborio.
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And the Verdict Is?
Shawn and I both ranked our favorites without telling the other, and we both had the same ranking! Our favorite was the Integrale, followed by the Vialone Nano, the Arborio, and then the Carnaroli. It’s important to note though, that while the Integrale was our favorite in the simple preparation, its strong flavor won’t lend itself to all risotto recipes. It definitely needs bold ingredients that can stand up to its earthy flavor! (Think mushrooms, bitter greens, beef…) The Vialone Nano is more of an “all purpose” risotto that can be used in any preparation.
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So what are you waiting for? Let’s get cooking! Here are some of my favorite risotto recipes that I’ve posted in the past:
. Roast Steelhead with Citrus and Olives over Saffron Risotto (psst — there’s still time to make this recipe and blog about it for a chance to win $100! See Kitchen-Play.Com for details.)

Comments

  1. I love your review! Although it does make me wonder what would have happened had I let that integrale cook for just five minutes more… Oh well. Thankfully, since I only made 1/4 cup of each i still have some to play around with!

    • Thanks!
      I’d definitely give it another try and let it cook a little longer. It seriously went from soupy to incredibly creamy in a matter of seconds… but a good 5 minutes after the others were done (I had a feeling it might take a few minutes longer since brown rice generally does… I’m glad I didn’t pull it off with the others!). We were both amazed at the amount of flavor it had!

  2. Great tips…I love risotto and for anybody that hasn’t tried to make it, it’s sooo worth the time!

  3. Never tried to make risotto as it’s not a part of our cuisine. I always wanted to try it though. I can start my experiments with the light of this post and your other risotto recipes. Thank you!

  4. I love this experiment, because risotto is one of my favorites and one of my ‘signature dishes.’ I always use Arborio, but I’ll have to check out some of these others…

  5. I like the notes!

    I think that based on the fact that arborio is more readily available to me, i will still be using arborio. :-) but if i ever came across Integrale, i would def give it a try

    • Same here. And Ill continue to base most of my recipes on arborio since that’s the most popular. But I’m hoping that the others will be easier to find now that I know what I’m looking for. Ill admit that if I saw integrale before I probably wouldn’t even have noticed it, since I had never heard of it.

  6. Great review Lauren. I mostly use arborio too but will now be on the lookout for some of these other kinds.

  7. Great experiment…I had always used arborio for risotto until I received Thomas Keller’s French Laundry cookbook for my birthday in July. He likes to use carnaroli, so I bought a bag of it at my local gourmet grocery. I really like it and have used the past few times I’ve made risotto.

  8. Very interesting but not totally surprising I guess based on your description of the rice and your preparation. I’m betting the integrale is better on it’s own in that simple preparation but that my standard arborio is still a great choice for the risotto that is currently my favorite and includes lemon, herbs and tomato.

    The biggest issue is availability. I already know the ONLY place I can find pearl couscous is Whole Foods so sort of hate that I love it so much…what if I love Vialone Nano more too? :)

    • I wasn’t expecting to like the integrale very much at all, so I was surprised that it was my favorite! But yeah, it definitely needs to be done in a simple preparation – you’d probably want a rice with a more delicate flavor for that lemon and herb version.

      I never had a problem with arborio before (obviously, considering we eat it all. the. time.) but it seemed to heavy and sticky compared to the vialone. Yes, branching out might be dangerous if the other rice is hard to find…

  9. great post your such a great cook

  10. I’ve never seen integrale in stores near me — arborio is hard enough to find! I usually have to go out of my way and get it at Whole Foods.

    If I ever see that brown rice, though, I’ll definitely give it a try. I used a short grain brown rice once (Lundberg, I think?) to experiment, and it wasn’t creamy enough for me.

  11. love the testing!

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