Risotto Taste-Off: Store Bought vs. Homemade
Mushroom risotto is an item that's been on my 'taste test list' for a while. Intrigued by all the just add water risotto mixes that are available on grocery store shelves, I wondered if it's really that much easier than making risotto from scratch. Risotto is actually not that difficult to make, but it does require constant stirring towards the end and has to be eaten right away. So with that in mind...
For this taste test we bought two types of packaged mushroom risotto (President's Choice and Uncle Ben's) and compared them against a regular and healthier version of homemade risotto.
First, we got to work creating a risotto from scratch.
Homemade Mushroom Risotto
1/2 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 parsley
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 a 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.
If you're looking for a healthier version, follow the original recipe but just substitute butter with margarine, use chicken stock instead of wine and reduce the amount of parmesan cheese by half.
Recipe by Lucy Waverman (from LCBO Food & Drink Magazine)
Store Bought Risotto #1 - PC Splendido Mushroom Risotto
This product contained two pouches: 1 of rice and 1 of a 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.
Store Bought Risotto #2 - Uncle Ben's Mushroom Risotto
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've ever done that before!
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 that.
The PC Splendido 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 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.
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 Splendido Mushroom Risotto. Plus it was more appealing from a visual and textural 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 because 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 Splendido Mushroom 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 making it from scratch. And packaged mixes are hard to modify (if you are watching your sodium intake for instance).
In general, it's always better to make the homemade version of things because you know exactly what's in it, you can tweak the recipe to your liking and it tends to be cheaper overall. However, there is something to be said for convenience. If you want a quick and easy dinner (while saving time and effort) the PC Splendido Mushroom Risotto is the way to go (especially if you only need enough for two people). It can be hard to sauté such a small amount of mushrooms or find out what to do with the other 3/4 of an onion. One could always make a bigger batch and use the leftover risotto to make arancinis the next day.
If your schedule is busy and you will be eating out for most of the week, the PC Splendido Mushroom Risotto is a great option for a simple meal that you can whip up without having to plan anything in advance. 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 starter chef.
It still takes time to cook, however - approx 15 minutes. Which, interestingly enough is about the same amount of time that it takes to cook homemade risotto (except you are saving on the time it takes to wash, prep and cook the other ingredients. Some people would argue that it's not that hard to prep the raw ingredients but this is also dependent on the skill and comfort level of the individual.
So whether you choose to make risotto from scratch or from a box, both options are acceptable and it's your decision whether doing the extra work is worth it or not. I was however, quite surprised that a packaged risotto mix would give the homemade version a run for it's money.
But you can forget about trying the Uncle Ben's instant risotto that you cook in a microwave. That is one short cut that is definitely not worth taking.
Lisa is a dietitian, food lover and blogger. Check out her other taste tests on confessionsofadietitian.com
Photos by Jane Lee of butteredup.blogspot.ca
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Homemade all the way, nothing taste better! :)
Mmm you just made me hungry! but homemade is def best IMO
I prefer all my foods homemade rather to packaged.
I have tried the PC Risotto and they have a great selection it is pretty good.
I never did like risotto, every time I've ever tried it it seemed to parboiled taste to it that you mentioned.
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