Before the financial meltdown when chefs indulged in high-flying nonsense such as edible gold in ice cream sundaes, a risotto of escargots (the most expensive in the world, on a room service menu, where else but in France) would have tickled our fantasies. Now, it just makes us go ugh at the waste of it all. A risotto is, and should be basic, wholesome food—just like the khichdi is in India, a lightly seasoned “porridge” of dal and rice, usually fed to the ailing.
But, of course, unlike the khichdi that is never served on restaurant menus, you can make a very nice meal of a risotto even in a posh restaurant. I realized this truly when I met Luciano Parolari, who goes under the name of “King of Risotto”, a chef at the Villa d’ Este group of hotels who has fed Hollywood celebs and so forth with his simple creations. His saffron-flavoured risotto had nothing show-offy about it. But its perfection lay in its very simplicity. Parolari, who got his title when he fed Pope John Paul some of his cooking, is appalled at the use of cream in Indian restaurants attempting the risotto. Besides, what he can’t understand is how the dish can be served as part of buffet menus (just as how can already-cooked pasta feature in such menus is beyond my comprehension). His tip to whip up a perfect risotto is to keep the grains of rice (Arborio) intact. Using those yardsticks, here’s a list of restaurants in India, where you can eat a good risotto:
… And best restaurants in India for a risotto meal
- Olive Beach, Bangalore: Chef Manu Chandra who is quite a capable chef here points out that Indians are uncomfortable with anything perceived as “kachcha”, uncooked, or al dente, if you please because of our own distinctive traditions of cooking rice. (Traditionally, food cooked in the fire was held up to be better than uncooked food in the scriptures, which may also explain our aversion to raw fish, sushi and sashimi, and cold cuts, which is just as well keeping in mind the swine flu…) The baby lobster risotto (cooked in a seafood bisque) is divine.
- Italia, Bangalore and New Delhi: In Bangalore, Italia’s annual risotto festivals are a hit with interesting recipes such as Campari flavoured risotto, scuttle fish ones or even those using apples and mascarpone a big hit. The restaurant has a new branch in Delhi.
- San Gimignano, Delhi: At the Imperial hotel—their squid ink risotto is my favourite.
- Salt Water Grill, Mumbai: The best-seller here is the four cheese risotto. Though the chef also occasionally experiments with Indian flavours such as a lemon and turmeric flavoured risotto—like the Indian lemon rice if you please.
Tips to making a perfect risotto:
- Add the stock in stages, add some white wine and finally top with parmesan and cold butter when the rice is cooked. DO NOT use pre-cooked rice.
- Don’t agitate the grain too much while cooking or it will break.
- You can substitute the white wine with balsamic vinegar—the sweetish flavour may compliment the final dish.
- Cool the rice for a couple of minutes before stirring in the butter and parmesan. Some chefs even put the rice on water and ice to do this.