It may have started as a joke. One lazy fall afternoon, I had made a slapdash cheese and corn risotto. I had no expectation that it would be all that good. But it was good. Really good. My husband joked that all it was missing was sausage, which is a common criticism from Mr. Meatosaurus. “Sure,” I said. “Let’s just put a bratwurst on top of it and call it Wisconsin Risotto.” But as we unfurled the joke, it became clear: this was a serious and worthwhile task I was charging myself with.
I got to work subbing in the most Wisconsin-y things for traditional ingredients that I could think of. First beer for the white wine that usually deglazes the pan. Using lager was clever, but not all that flavorful. To boost the tangy beer flavor, it turns out you need to stir in an extra quarter cup toward the end to have it taste anything like beer. It has a welcome edge to cut through the richness of the cheese.
Next came cheese. I opted for smoked cheddar to really carry the cheese point home. I used caramelized onions rather than the mild minced shallots that usually start my risottos. Caramelized onions can be purchased in jars at most supermarkets, or you can make you own and freeze any extras. Your omelets and pizza will also thank you.
I used homemade chicken stock, but prepared stock is fine. I’d make it weaker than usual because you want to be able to taste the starring players, rather than a hefty chicken presence.
And yes, we did top it with bratwurst imported from the Wisconsin classic meat counter at Sendik’s Food Market in Milwaukee.
And then, by God, we put butter on it. If the butter seems skippable it is not. Risotto is often garnished with a drizzle of olive oil, and the rice here is crying out for some fat.
Let’s not kid ourselves: this may be more “cheesy rice” than upscale risotto, but I like to think northern Italians—those risotto purists—would be happy to top theirs with fistfuls of melty cheese and sausage if they had only thought of it first.
- 6 cups light chicken stock or prepared broth
- 2 Tbsp. butter, plus more for serving
- 1 cup arborio rice
- ¼ heaping cup caramelized onions
- ½ cup beer, preferably a lager
- 2-4 bratwursts
- 5 oz. smoked cheddar, grated
- Minced chives, optional
In a deep saucepan, bring the stock to a gentle simmer. Keep this on the heat the whole time, as you will be introducing the hot stock ladle by ladle to the rice. If you run low on stock, it’s okay to add more water to the saucepan. Try not to boil it, as that will speed evaporation from the pan.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a separate large Dutch oven or a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add the rice and stir to coat. Allow the rice to become shiny and translucent; this should take about 2 minutes. Add your caramelized onions and a quarter cup of the beer, stirring until it’s absorbed by the rice.
Adding one cup of hot stock at a time, stir the rice until each addition of liquid is absorbed and the rice becomes tender, about 18 to 20 minutes total. The cooking time will depend on on the width of your pot and the strength of your flame. After you add a cup of stock, the mixture should return to a lively but not intense bubble. If the heat’s too low, the stock won’t be absorbed. If it’s too high, it will evaporate before it’s had a chance to get sucked up by the rice. After the final cup of stock is incorporated, add the remaining quarter cup of beer.
Meanwhile, cook the bratwurst in a skillet, and slice on the bias into neat coins. Or leave whole. Reserve.
Taste the rice for tenderness and salt level. Some people like their risotto rice al dente, but I like it fully soft without being mushy. My favorite trick is to beat the rice with a wooden spoon at the end to really draw the starchiness out—you’ll notice the liquid gets quite thick and oozy.
Off the heat, add the smoked cheddar and stir gently.
Ladle risotto into bowls and top with bratwurst coins (or an entire sausage if you’re just goin’ for it) and a pat of butter. Sprinkle with chives, if using.