Almost Hands-Free Risotto with Chicken and Herbs

On a cold February evening 10 years ago, I made my regular saffron-mushroom risotto for dinner using the traditional technique; i.e. keep stirring and stirring. According to family lore, it was so delicious that my 9-month pregnant, Panamanian wife wouldn’t stop eating it. My mother-in-law warned her to stop eating, but she stubbornly kept eating and eating, moaning about how delicious it was. Of course, a few hours later at 3AM we found ourselves driving through the Holland tunnel across town to Beth Israel hospital.  So my risotto gained the reputation of spontaneously triggering childbirth.

Nico, now 10 years old and himself a devoted risotto-lover, gives Chris Kimball’s Almost Hands-Free Risotto with Chicken and Herbs a full 5-stars, but my more critical view gives it a delicious 3-1/2 stars.  I really loved the addition of lemon juice; it really brightened the dish. The chicken certainly made the meal a bit more hearty, though I disagree with the implication that every “real meal” must contain meat. Though delicious, it falls to 3-1/2 stars for the very thing that sets this recipe apart, the fact that it is almost hands-free. By adding the full 5-cups of chicken broth at one time, I gave up the ability to simply stop cooking the risotto once it hits al dente. I had do continue to cook until the extra liquid had evaporated. In my case, that meant the texture was too mushy.

Hopefully the last of the cell phone photos; sorry.

This recipe swaps the traditional skillet for a Dutch oven, which distributes the heat more evenly.Chris Kimball tried adding half the 5-cups of chicken broth in the beginning, but by the time he was ready to add the second half the bottom rice was overcooked on the bottom, but still wet on the top.  I just saw the ATK episode last night (made the recipe a few days ago) , and his rice also looked too mushy for my taste, though Chris called it “creamy.”

Issues:

  • While the technique of trading in a skillet for a Dutch oven proves effective, adding the 5 cups of water in the beginning means losing control over the moisture level. Because all Arborio rice is not created equal, in my case, that lose of control meant mushy rice.
  • But Chris Kimball was able to “simplify” the recipe (his stated goal). The Dutch oven retained heat and heated more evenly that a traditional skillet. It was still very good and only needed a small fraction of the 25 minutes of constant stirring required by the traditional technique.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $4.50.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 5:40 PM. Ready at 7:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original is here.  He has a Saffron Chicken version here. The descriptions of how I cooked it today are given below:

5 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 bone-in, skin-on chicken breast halves (about 12 ounces each), each cut in half crosswise
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion , chopped fine (about 1 1/2 cups)
Table salt
1 large garlic clove , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
2 cups Arborio rice (about 1 pound)
1 cup dry white wine
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Ground black pepper

  1. Boil chicken broth and add 2 cups of cold tap water in a large saucepan over high heat. When it begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and maintain a gentle simmer.
  2. Add olive oil to Dutch oven and preheat over medium heat until the oil is shimmering. Cook the chicken, skin-side down, without moving for 5 minutes. Flip the chicken and continue cooking for 2 more minutes. Add the partially-cooked chicken to the saucepan of simmering broth. Cook in gently simmering broth for 15 minutes (ensure that the thickest part of chicken reaches 165 degrees). Remove chicken and place of a plate.
  3. Meanwhile dice the onion, and peel garlic.
  4. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to Dutch oven (still should be over medium heat). Once melted, add the diced onion and 3/4 teaspoon of salt. Sautee until the onion is softened for 4 to 5 minutes, but don’t cook so long as to allow the onion to brown. Push onion to side and press garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
  5. Add rice to Dutch oven and cook for 3 minutes; stirring the whole time.
  6. Add wine and cook until the wine has been fully incorporated; about 3 minutes.
  7. Here, Chris Kimball says to stir in 5-cups of chicken broth. I’d suggesting cutting that down to 4-cups to allow more flexibility to attain the proper al dente texture.  Reduce your burner to medium-low, cover your dutch oven. Simmer for about 16 to 18 minutes; stirring twice during cooking.  Towards the end of cooking make sure that the rice doesn’t dry out.
  8. If the texture of your risorro can handle another 3/4-cup of chicken broth, add it and stir for final 3 minutes of cooking. Add Parmesan cheese, stir, remove the pot from heat. Cover, and let everything rest for 5 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, through away the chicken’s skin and bones from chicken. Using two forks, shred the chicken into bite-size pieces. Add the shredded chicken, 2 more tablespoons of butter, juice from 1 lemon, parsley, and chives into risotto. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
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