First the bunny was broken down into three separate sections – the back legs for braising and shredding through the risotto, the saddle for gently pan-frying and laying atop the risotto, and the rest of the bunny to make a rabbit stock for the base of the risotto. For the stock I just used the top of a leek and some parsley stalks to flavour it, and the legs were braised with onion, carrot and a little chicken stock after browning. These were both left to bubble away for the afternoon while we alternated between scrubbing dust from the tops of fridges and such, and eating delicious cake.
I won’t give you the full recipe for making risotto here. I think if you know how, you already have your method, and if you don’t, there are multiple recipes out there. Friday night was risotto night when I lived with my family and it would always be a fight to see whether it would be me or my Dad who would make it. So I have eaten a lot of risotto in my time, some good some bad, and have some hard and fast rules that I stick to, and have been drummed into me by my cooking mentor John Maiorana.
1) Always use Italian rice. They have perfected it. Italian rice has greater absorption properties than Australian-grown rice of the same varieties. The Australian varieties are okay, but tend to break down quicker, meaning a starchy, creamy risotto but no chance of an al dente bite. This may in fact be an urban myth, but still one that I stand by. My favourite variety is Vialone Nano, but I also use Arborio or Carnaroli, depending on what’s available.
2) Toast the grains. First you want to sweat your onions, not colour them, in a little olive oil or butter (I use a combination of both). Then the rice – roughly ¼ – 1/3 cup per person – and allow every single grain of rice to become coated in the oil, and toasty warm.
3) Make sure your pan is hot when you add the wine. You want it to sizzle. PS you don’t have to use wine – I used vermouth for this one, as I like the flavour it gives and I never seem to have white wine hanging about.
4) Stir. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to stand at the stove stirring a risotto for the whole time. You just have to give it a stir every once in a while to make sure things are moving, and the rice isn’t sticking. I prefer stirring to agitating the pan, it feels more like real cooking to me, like I’m in touch with the food.
5) Hot stock! Oh god, the amount of times I have seen cooks adding stock straight out of a carton into risotto. No! It must be hot. Have it in a saucepan, hot and ready to go before you start. If you add cold stock to a hot risotto, it’s going to constantly be lowering the temperature, slowing everything down and changing the cooking process. I’d love to say always use homemade stock but you know what, sometimes that’s just not possible. What I will say is only use a stock that you trust, and that you enjoy the taste of by itself. They say you should never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink; well I say you should never use a stock that you wouldn’t drink. A risotto is all about the rice, not the accompaniments. That rice is going to soak up all its flavour from that stock, and if you use stock cubes your risotto is basically going to taste like 2 minute noodles.
6) Al dente and the spread. Risotto needs bite to the rice. Not chewy, undercooked rice, but creamy rice with just a slight texture to the grain. You also want it to spread once it hits the plate. If your risotto can be piled up on a plate, you’re not doing it right. The easiest way to get these effects I find, is to taste taste taste the risotto and right before it gets to the correct stage, when it has just a bit too much bite to enjoy, add another small ladleful of hot stock, a good handful of Grana Padano, a good knob of butter, and any last minute additions (in this case, the shredded rabbit meat). Then take it off the heat, and rest it for 5-10 minutes. Just don’t touch it. As meat needs to rest after cooking, so does rice. It will absorb the last of the stock, and become creamy and rich from the cheese and butter, and just allow the flavours to really set in and become right. This is when the magic happens. And it gives you the opportunity to gently panfry the saddle of rabbit in some butter, rest that briefly, slice, make a quick watercress salad with an aged balsamic dressing, and set the table. Oh and cover the top of the risotto with a generous shaving of black truffle.
That seems like a lot to remember, and a lot of steps to follow, but if you cut out all my overly explanatory prose, it’s six very simple steps that should result in practically perfect risotto every time. Let’s just say that manfriend did say it’s the best risotto he’s had in a very long time, which includes the ungodly heavenly truffle risotto at Town Hall Hotel we had last week. Though realistically he may have been trying to butter me up to get me to clean up the now very re-messified kitchen, but I’m going to take it as gospel all the same. It was pretty damn good, just to blow my own trumpet.
I’m curious, is there anything I’ve missed? Are there any other rules I should be guided by?