Cook-off: Mushroom risotto

This taste test involved preparing three types of mushroom risotto using three different methods: From scratch, from a package over stove top and instant using a microwave. We also tried making a ‘lower fat’ version (using margarine instead of butter and chicken stock instead of wine). 

Mushroom risotto (cooked from scratch)
by Lucy Waverman – recipe available from LCBO Food & Drink Magazine
½ cup (125 mL) dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup (250 mL) boiling water
8 oz (250 g) fresh mixed wild mushrooms
2 tbsp (25 mL) olive oil
2 tbsp (25 mL) butter
1 tsp (5 mL) chopped garlic
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp (25 mL) chopped parsleyRisotto
5 cups (1.25 L) chicken stock, approximately
2 tbsp (25 mL) olive oil
2 tbsp (25 mL) butter
½ cup (125 mL) finely chopped onion
1 ½ cups (375 mL) Carnaroli rice
½ cup (125 mL) white wine
1/3 cup (75 mL) Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Place dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl and pour over boiling water. Let sit for 30 minutes. Strain liquid into a bowl, chop mushrooms and reserve liquid and mushrooms together.
  2. Remove stems from fresh mixed mushrooms and discard. Slice mushrooms. Heat oil and butter in skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sliced mushrooms. Sauté until mushrooms are tender, about 3 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and chopped parsley. Leave in skillet to reheat.
  3. For risotto, bring stock to simmer on stove. Heat oil and 1 tbsp (15 mL) butter in a heavy pot on medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 3 minutes or until softened. Add rice and sauté until rice is coated with oil.
  4. Pour in wine and cook until wine is absorbed. Stir in mushroom soaking liquid and dried mushrooms and cook, stirring until most of liquid is absorbed. Add 1 cup (250 mL) stock, stirring until most of stock is absorbed. Continue to add stock in 1 cup (250 mL) quantities, stirring most of the time until rice is creamy with a slight bite in the centre, about 18 to 20 minutes. Reheat and stir in mushroom mixture a few minutes before rice is cooked.
  5. Remove from heat. Stir in remaining butter and Parmesan cheese. Season well with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Mushroom risotto cooked from scratch – healthier method
We pretty much followed the original recipe but just substituted butter with margarine, used chicken stock instead of wine and reduced the amount of parmesan cheese by half.

 

PC Splendido Mushroom risotto (cooked from a box)
This product contains two pouches – 1 of rice and another of a dry spice mix. The directions indicate to bring 2 2/3 cups (650mL) of water to a boil in a medium sized sauce pan, stir the contents of both pouches into the boiling water and reduce the heat to medium and simmer uncovered. Stir occasionally, for 14-17 minutes, until rice is al dente (tender but firm) and the water is completely absorbed. Remove  from heat and stir in 1 Tbsp (15 mL) grated Parmesan cheese and 2 tsp (10 mL) unsalted butter, if desired. Serve immediately.

I love the fact that everything is pre-measured with this product and you don’t have to continue to add chicken stock as the rice cooks. It’s nice to know that all the measurements have been pre-determined and calculated to work out perfectly.

Uncle Ben’s Mushroom risotto (cooked by microwave)
This product requires you to gently squeeze the pouch to break the rice apart, tear off the top of the pouch and add 100 mL water. Place the pouch (it stands up) in the microwave and cook it on high for 2 minutes. Stir and allow to stand for 1 minute before serving. That’s it! Microwaveable risotto that you cook in two minutes? I can’t say that I’d ever done that before!
My observations:
The Uncle Ben’s risotto was the easiest to prepare but it was unevenly cooked and had that harsh parboiled rice after taste. I don’t think rice (whether it’s plain or in risotto) should ever taste like this.

The PC Mushroom Risotto was very easy to make and came out perfectly. You just have to follow the instructions on the back of the box and you actually end up with a decent product. However, because the flavour comes from a seasoning pack mix you don’t see the actual pieces of mushroom that the homemade versions have. The overall appearance and texture wasn’t all that interesting but the taste was more than acceptable (but maybe a little salty).

The homemade risotto definitely required the most effort because we had to measure, wash and cut the garlic, mushrooms, parsley and onions as well as grate the cheese. It tasted really bland initially because we used salt-free chicken broth and forgot to add the salt back in afterwards by seasoning to taste. However, once we seasoned the risotto adequately it tasted just as flavourful as the PC instant version plus it was more appealing from a visual and texture standpoint due to the pieces of mushroom, parsley and onion that you could actually see and feel.

 

The healthier version tasted bland in comparison (as do many things that are lower fat) even after we added salt. This is due to the fact that both butter and wine carry flavour. The healthier version was still acceptable but you would have to add some additional flavours (like more seasoning or more mushrooms) to kick the flavour up a notch.

The PC Risotto is a pretty good bet for a beginner/inexperienced cook although some people may find it to be a little salty (the panelists didn’t find it to be that bad). It also saves the time and energy of having to buy the raw ingredients. However, with anything packaged, you usually only end up with half the yield for the same amount of money compared to if you were to make it from scratch. And packaged mixes are hard to modify (if you are watching your sodium intake for instance).

Bottom Line:
In general, it’s always better to make the homemade version of things because you know exactly what is in it, you can tweak the recipe to your liking and it tends to be cheaper overall. However, I do value convenience. If you want a quick and easy dinner (while saving time and effort) the President’s Choice Splendido Mushroom Risotto is the way to go (especially if you only want to make enough for two people). It’s also a great ‘starter’ risotto (the instructions are simple and it turns out well) whereas making risotto from scratch requires a number of additional steps which might be intimidating for a newbie cook.

Clockwise starting from top left: PC, Homemade (lower fat), Uncle Ben’s, Homemade (regular)

So whether you choose to make risotto from scratch of from a box, both the from scratch and PC boxed risotto options are acceptable. It’s your decision whether doing the extra work is worth it or not depending on your situation. I am quite surprised however, that a packaged risotto mix would give the homemade/from scratch version a run for its money.