Thanksgiving Risotto: Highly Refined Holiday Porridge

The finished product.
The finished product.

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risotto final

Today we’re getting ready for Thanksgiving. Sarah Alvarez has been writing her food blog The Hungry Alaskan for about two years. And being a food writer, it’s no surprise she gets excited about Thanksgiving.

“I love Thanksgiving, it’s my favorite food holiday. It comes with memories, that’s my favorite part is just the memories you make sitting around the table or even all day cooking,” Alvarez says. And today, she is going to show me how cook one of her favorite holiday dishes. One that her family has been making for many years.

“So today we’re going to make lemon risotto with asparagus in it. On a normal day, it would be great as just a normal meal, but on Thanksgiving it would be a perfect side and a nice way to make your meal a little more sophisticated,” Alvarez says.

Risotto is an Italian rice dish that Alvarez says is kind of hard to describe.

Arborio rice is a special type used specifically for risotto.
Arborio rice is a special type used specifically for risotto.

“It sort of has the consistency of porridge, although porridge doesn’t conjure up images of good-tasting food. Maybe highly refined porridge,” Alvarez says with a laugh. And, to start this highly refined porridge we need to start with a simple base.

“For this risotto you can either use shallots or sweet onions. I think the onions are easier but shallots would be fine,” Alvarez says. Next, comes a cup of Arborio rice.

“And it just goes in with the onions until it glistens. And this is when you have to start paying attention, because it will burn quickly,” Alvarez says.

While risotto may seem like a simple dish, it does require constant attention; most of which is stirring. Once the rice is lightly toasted, Alvarez adds her secret ingredient, white wine.

“I have no idea why the wine is important, but I know it’s important. My mom always said it sealed in the flavors, I don’t know if that’s accurate,” Alvarez says.

Next comes the chicken broth. “A little chicken broth a time,” Alvarez says.

Sarah Alvarez has been publishing her blog The Hungry Alaskan for about two years.
Sarah Alvarez’s has been publishing her blog The Hungry Alaskan for about two years.

From here on out the process is pretty straight forward. Stir the chicken broth into the risotto until it reduces to a creamy consistency, then add more broth. Repeat five to eight times. Alvarez loves this kind of dish for Thanksgiving because she gets to cook, but still visit with people without running around the kitchen.

“It’s a very methodical process, and there’s not a lot of stress involved where as when you’re cooking things that your timing has to be perfect that can stress me out,” Alvarez says. And, standing over this fragrant pot is not a bad gig. “It smells a little bit like onions and butter and there’s a nice nutty fragrance to it. You can smell the richness. It’s much more complex and flavorful than a typical rice dish.”

After about 20 minutes, we add the asparagus which Alvarez sautéed, lemon zest, and about a quarter cup of lemon juice. It’s looking very creamy, and close to finished.

“The way I really know it’s done is by taste, for me that’s the only way to know. So let’s taste it…..that’s great….tada!” Alavarez says, with a satisfied look on her face. “It reminds me of good food, but mostly it reminds me of family. My mom taught me how to make risotto and it’s been part of our family since I was kid. It has really good memories, and I think that’s what’s most important about Thanksgiving: family, memories, and good food.”

But enough chat. Alvarez says it’s a sin to eat cold risotto. “It is a sin, because once it’s cold then the texture doesn’t ever come back to the same consistency,” Alvarez says.

Not shockingly, I think it’s delicious. But what about the chef? Is this a Thanksgiving worthy dish?

“What I love about this risotto is the subtle hint of lemon, it’s so fresh, but also the nuttiness of the risotto combines to make a rich bold flavor. And then I like the freshness of the asparagus with a little crunch. It’s just good eatin.”

For the full recipe, check out Sarah’s blog, The Hungry Alaskan.

Dave Waldron began his radio career in 2000 as a volunteer DJ at UAA’s radio station KRUA 88.1, where he hosted a weekend music show. In 2004 he was hired as the station’s music director, and held the position until his graduation in 2007. He was hired by Alaska Public Media in 2008 and since then has worked as an audio engineer, editor, and producer. He currently runs his own small business AK Audio Pro, and is a host of Alaska Public Media’s Hometown, Alaska.

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