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Risotto with Chicken and Caramelized Onions

Onions are naturally high in sugar. Some varieties, such as California Red, Maui, Vidalia and Walla Walla, taste especially sweet even when raw. When these or other onions are cooked to a golden brown, their natural sugars melt and start to caramelize, giving them a delicious flavor with no trace of acidity.

Ingredients:

  • 1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 sweet white onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 leek, white portion only, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup Madeira wine, at room temperature
  • 9 to 10 cups chicken stock
  • 3 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
  • 2 cups chopped cooked chicken (see Note)
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:

In a large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, warm 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Add the onions and leek and sauté until the onions turn golden brown, about 15 minutes. Add the Madeira and deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium heat, bring the stock to a gentle simmer and maintain over low heat. Add 1 cup of the simmering stock to the onion mixture and continue to cook over medium-high heat until the liquid has reduced and the mixture is quite thick, about 15 minutes more. Set aside.

While the onions simmer, in another large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, warm the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Add the rice and stir until each grain is well coated with oil and translucent with a white dot in the center, about 3 minutes.

Add the simmering stock a ladleful at a time, stirring frequently after each addition. Wait until the stock is almost completely absorbed (but the rice is never dry on top) before adding the next ladleful. Reserve 1/4 cup stock to add at the end.

When the rice is tender to the bite but slightly firm in the center and looks creamy, after about 20 minutes, stir in the chicken. Cook to heat through, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, caramelized onion mixture and reserved 1/4 cup stock. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately. Serves 6.

Note: Use leftover roasted chicken (see related recipes at right) or poached chicken breasts. To poach chicken breasts, put 2 to 3 bone-in breast halves in a large saucepan and add lightly salted water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Risotto, by Pamela Sheldon Johns (Simon & Schuster, 2002).