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School of Medicine
Dub C Med School CA USA

A med & grad student who used to work the line in LA, NYC, SF and Napa talking about the science of cooking and cooking with science. Harold McGee's On Food And Cooking - The Science and Lore of the Kitchen never satisfied my kitchen curiosity and more than one Chef grew exasperated with my asking "Why?" I'll try to stay on topic, but you may see a kvetch or two about the school & hospital.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Recent Comments
Comment by BeckonsAttore in EMR - Electronic Medical Records

Well, so emr software has it's problems, not like making them public wouldn't cause them any more trouble as it normally would in a paranoid mind, as this yannisguerra's perspective here. I've delv. . .Read More
Aug 08, 2013, 9:35am
Comment by Brian Krueger, PhD in Happy Birthday, Julia!

I'd gladly take on that burden if you were my roomie ;) . . .Read More
Aug 15, 2012, 4:25pm
Comment by JaySeeDub in Happy Birthday, Julia!

If it makes you feel any better, it could be worse. My roommates complain about expanding waistlines. . . .Read More
Aug 15, 2012, 2:33pm
Comment by Brian Krueger, PhD in Happy Birthday, Julia!

Your posts always make me so hungry and its 9am! I saw that amazon now has reruns of "The French Chef" available for streaming.  It made me want to go back and check some of them out.  I remember. . .Read More
Aug 15, 2012, 8:15am
Comment by yannisguerra in EMR - Electronic Medical Records

I feel your pain. It is really bad. Even worse when half of those pages are non important informations (like 5 copies of the same lab, including who ordered it, when, where, etc) So wastefu. . .Read More
May 10, 2012, 6:56pm
Friday, December 17, 2010

Many families have Sunday Dinner, or its equivalent.  That one meal, at least, you don't get to miss.  The rest of the week may involve trekking back and forth between sports practice, band rehersal, late nights at the office (or in the lab), and who knows what else.  For me these were sizeable get togethers of family – core, extended, friends and neighbors.  These insane Filipino fetes that no one got to miss.

When I first moved out to Big Public SoCal School, I took that tradition of a big meal with friends with me.  They didn’t fall on Sundays, but through necessity and logistics became Fridays.  My criteria for these dinners were that it was cheap, filling, moderately difficult and could easily be timed.  There was no wagyu beef, no black truffles or caviar making appearances.  These meals also couldn’t be boxed or IQF either.  It had to wow without being expensive.  After graduation, the meals moved around as we all became busy.  But to this day one of the dishes that still seems to delight is one that is incredibly simple – risotto.  Rice cooked slowly with lots of liquid over a longer period of time, in relation to steamed rice.  It fit all my criteria, and if you make it badly everyone knows.

The key to good risotto is the right rice and the stirring.  The rice has to have the right ratio of amylose to amylopectin.  If there's too much amylopectin, the rice will end up pasty and not the creamy consistency needed.  If there's too much amylose, the rice will end up overcooked and thin.  I like carnaroli for this, as it's got a nice ratio (24.1% amylose, 75.9% amylopectin) and it's incredibly forgiving.  It's a little pricier than the more popular arborio, but trust me on this.  Your risotto will come out restaurant quality.

Both amylose and amylopectin are storage devices for plants, glycogen is the animal counterpart (but you guys knew that already).  The differences between the two are in structure.  Amylose is a straight chain.  Linear.  Doesn't deviate in any way.  Amylopectin branches and deviates more and more the further you get from the reducing end of the starch.  Many people used to think that amylopectin was what made risotto creamy, that the highly branched starch "trapped" water in a network that made things smooth and luscious on the tongue.  Not so.  The amylopectin stays in the granules, and the amylose is ejected out into the liquid to make the gelatinous texture.  By finding and using rice with a careful ratio of the two, you’re able to avoid overcooked and thin risotto or thick and goopy messes.

The stirring gives you a way to control the process.  If you add all the liquid all at once and come back later, you’ll find yourself with rice soup.  The granules will have lysed, there’s excess liquid, and the bottom is probably burned.  In fact, what drew you back was probably the smell of something burning.  Stirring gives you a way to control the process, because a lot of the liquid you’re going to use has to evaporate.  It lets you gently coax the amylose out and distribute those thin threads into a workable network.  It lets you gently cook the rice to the point where it’s al dente.  Just a bit of resistance to your bite, before exploding with absorbed flavor.

Knowing the amylose/amylopectin content in your starch is useful for a lot more than just risotto.  It’s these same compounds that help you thicken a sauce or gravy when you throw in some flour and butter into a pan you’re deglazing, or when you’re making the roux for any of the French “Mother Sauces.”  Heck, it’s why some fast recipes call for cornstarch to be added to sauces.  If you can control that ratio you can use it to time any gravy or reduction and really come up with a sauce that perfectly coats the tongue.

My favorite take on risotto follows.  No pairing suggestions aside from a glass of lambrusco.  The wine and the dish come from the same region, why not pair them together?


Risotto with red wine and mushrooms

  • 2 cups carnaroli rice
  • 1-1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • ½ lb of mushrooms (coarse dice), any
  • ¾ cup of pecorino cheese (or any other hard Italian cheese you like), finely grated
  • unsalted butter, a lot
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • Italian parsley
  • 6 – 8 cups beef stock
  • Mascarpone cheese (optional)


  1. 1.  Heat an appropriate sized pan on medium heat.  When hot, throw in 2-3tbsp of olive oil.  Cook the onions until translucent.  In a separate pot, heat stock.
    2.  Once the onions are translucent throw in 4tbsp of butter and allow to melt.  Once melted add the rice and stir, covering with oil and butter.  Salt.  Let toast for 5 minutes.
    3.  Once the rice has toasted, remove pan from heat and pour in wine.  DO NOT POUR THE WINE WHILE THE RICE IS ON THE STOVE!  That’s a great way to start a fire.  We don’t want to start a fire.  When that alcohol hits the hot pan, it will vaporize.  If it’s near heat, that vapor will flare up into a nice fireball, quite possibly catching your kitchen drapes, your hair or your clothing on fire.  I am not about to get blamed because you started a fire in your kitchen that resulted in the whole block going up.  Stir the rice in the wine.
    4.  Add mushrooms!  Let these simmer for a few minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
    5.  Add first aliquot of stock to the rice.  I have a 1-cup dry measuring cup that works well for this.  Find something you like and stick with it.  Some use ladles.  Some use teacups.  Any vessel to move only small portions of liquid from the stockpot to the pan will do.
    6.  After the first aliquot, you have to start stirring.  Maybe not constantly, but regularly.  If this is your first time, ignore the previous statement and stir constantly.  You need to see what the rice will look like.  Once the first portion of liquid is gone, stir in the next.  And keep going.  Taste the rice before pouring in more liquid after the first 4 cups have gone in.  If the rice is still dry looking, and hard, keep going until you start to see the rice take on a creamy texture.  Taste as you’re going at this point to see if it needs any more salt or pepper.  Once the rice is cooked, but still slightly firm (al dente), you’re ready for the final part.  If you're into it, you can add some mascarpone cheese at this point.
    7.  Add cheese.  Pull off the heat and serve.  Mound the cheese on top and start stirring until that cheese melts into the rice.

Finished product plated and ready to eat.

Congratulations!  You’ve made risotto, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as you thought it was, was it?  To serve, garnish with a pinch of parsley and more cheese to taste.

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Blog Comments

Jason Goldman
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I am not about to get blamed because you started a fire in your kitchen that resulted in the whole block going up.


Dub C Med School
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If you make my risotto and start a fire, can you take pictures?

Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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I think this is my favorite new blog, anywhere. Great stuff!

Dr Becca, Ph.D.
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Re: Mascarpone - I am into it!

Hannah W
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I'm super pumped on your blog! I learned a ton from this post. Keep teaching me, please!!

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