How To Add Extra Ingredients To Risotto Without Overwhelming The Flavor

Risotto is a blank culinary canvas. There's a lot of room for creativity, but one of the common mistakes you're making with risotto when you customize it has to do with this dish's order of operations. Risotto's creamy taste develops as toasted rice, which turns sweet and nutty as it's cooked in stock, white wine, butter, onions, and Parmesan cheese. But adding the final ingredients to risotto without ruining it or overwhelming the flavor may not be intuitive. You want to cook those extra ingredients like chicken, peas, and zucchini separately and add them once your basic risotto has been cooked. This will allow them to impart a mild umami without taking over the overall flavor.

With the exception of salt and pepper, most ingredients need to be added at the very end. This includes all those lovely, fragrant herbs that make this dish unique. When your risotto has reached the end of its cooking process, this is the time to add in your fresh chives, rosemary, oregano, or basil — right before you put it in bowls and serve it. It's also the time for all those proteins and vegetables to find their way into this dish. 

The exception to this risotto rule

Why? Not only will your risotto become over-flavored if you try and add them in at the beginning of making your go-to recipe, but those extra ingredients might have a penchant for overcooking, which could not just ruin their taste and texture in the process, but the overall taste of your risotto.

Consider your strategy for making a classic mushroom and garlic risotto. If you like these fungi, salt and cook them before you add them to your risotto towards the last few minutes of cooking so they are not at risk of becoming rubbery. Truffles are also a wonderful addition to this dish, but you should wait and shave them over your risotto once it has finished cooking for a balanced taste. 

Vegetables like asparagus and butternut squash also benefit from a last-minute add so they don't become mushy and fall apart in this rice dish. Lobster, shrimp, and even pancetta may make your risotto quite hearty and tasty but cooking them separately ensures they do not dry out or overcook.

However, there are some ingredients that you need to add as you are building up those arm muscles stirring the stock. Lemon zest, which will balance the savory as it cooks, can be grated into the pot as you add the stock, as can salt and pepper.