"The Final Frontier": Geoffrey Zakarian's Top 10 Tips for Cooking Risotto

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Geoffrey Zakarian

Given the chilly weather, shorter days and darker nights, comfort food season is at the top of everyone’s mind lately, and while many look to mac ‘n’ cheese or casseroles for hearty satisfaction, most forget that risotto is every bit as rich and decadent as those classic picks. This creamy, cheesy, Italian rice-based dish has been given a bad rap — some claim it's too tedious to prepare at home — but Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian is on a mission to dispel that culinary rumor once and for all.

Catching up with fans at the 2013 New York City Wine & Food Festival last month, Geoffrey assuaged fears of cooking risotto from scratch — something he's deemed "the final frontier" — explaining, "It's nothing more than rice …. It's not that much work …. It's just a technique." He broke down that technique during his live culinary demonstration preparing a mushroom-lobster risotto, and he noted that the payoff promises versatile recipes and can-do results. Read on below to hear from Geoffrey and learn his top tips for mastering risotto at home.

10. If you're new to cooking risotto, stick with a basic recipe featuring chicken stock, cheese and olive oil.

9. Opt for a pan that offers enough surface area to cook the rice. Whether you use a large skillet or deep pot, just be sure there's ample space for the rice to meet the heat.

8. After adding the wine to the rice, it's important to let it reduce. As for picking which bottle to cook with, Geoffrey says, "If you don't want to drink it, don't use it."

7. It's best to start with hot stock — the type (chicken, mushroom, vegetable or otherwise) isn't important — as the heat will maintain the starch content of the rice.

6. There's no need to use precise measurements when adding the stock. Just make sure there's enough in the pan to completely cover the rice.

5. "It's a peaceful, gentle little simmer," Geoffrey says of the heat level. Avoid extremely high flames and rapid boils.

4. Risotto should cook for around 17 1/2 minutes, depending on how much you're making. Be sure not to overcook it, as you may end up with gummy rice.

3. Wait until the end of cooking to add prepared vegetables. Doing so any earlier may make it difficult to stir and properly cook the rice.

2. Instead of serving heaping portions of risotto in a bowl, opt for moderate scoops on a warm, flat plate; the smaller servings will allow you to eat another course after the risotto, while the heated plate helps keep the rice warm for longer.

1. You can avoid a sticky final product by making sure that you don't mix in an excessive amount of cheese before serving and don’t overcook it.

Inspired to cook risotto? Give Geoffrey's recipe a try, or make Ina's risotto with butternut squash or Giada's risotto with peas

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