Risotto is the opposite of most rice-based dishes in that it requires near constant stirring while cooking*. You also add the liquid a little at a time instead of all at once. I often wonder, as I stand there stirring my risotto**, why? What would happen if I added all the liquid at once instead of in little batches? What if I turned the heat down and stopped stirring?

Last post I talked about how I view problem solving as a model. One of the components is knowledge.


There are a number of knowledge typologies out there, but I think of knowledge in three categories: conceptual, procedural, and social.


(Why, yes, I do like Venn diagrams!)

When I cook risotto, I have all the procedural knowledge I need right there in the recipe. What I don’t have is much in the way of conceptual knowledge. Sure, I can infer from risotto recipes the principle that constant stirring positively affects the risotto, but I don’t really know how (texture? taste?) or why. Most cookbooks operate at the procedural level.

(In fact, most cookbooks provide only well-structured procedures. Procedures fall on a continuum from well-structured to ill-structured, such as steps for writing your first novel.)

If I did know why constant stirring is important, then I would have conceptual knowledge of risotto. The critical issue is depth. If someone were to tell me that constant stirring makes risotto creamier, I’ve learned something. I could decide if my risotto isn’t creamy enough that I should stir it more. But if someone helped me understand the physics behind risotto creaminess, then I might be able to come up with different ways to achieve the same effect. To design effective instruction, you have to know how deep to go with the content.

The other type of knowledge is social. Social knowledge is all about who you know. If my risotto didn’t turn out, do I know who to go to for advice? Of course, the answer may not be a person at all but maybe a website or a book—but even books and websites are social means of sharing information, just removed in terms of social distance.

Like the other two forms of knowledge, social knowledge is a complex construct, especially in terms of trust and sorting out good information from bad.

* Or maybe not.

** We made mushroom risotto last weekend.

5C chicken broth
1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
2T butter
1T olive oil
2 1/2C finely chopped onions
12 chopped crimini mushrooms
2 cloves minced garlic
1T minced fresh thyme
1T minced fresh marjoram
1 1/2C arborio rice
1/2C dry white wine
1/2C grated parmesan cheese

Bring broth to simmer in medium pan. Add porcini and simmer until just tender, about 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to plate. Cool and chop finely. Cover broth and keep warm over very low heat.

Melt butter with oil in large pan over medium heat. Add onions and sautee until tender, 10 minutes. Add crimini and sautee 8 minutes. Add porcini, garlic, and herbs and sautee 4 minutes. Add rice. Stir 2 minutes. Add wine*** and cook until liquid is absorbed, stirring often, 3 minutes. Add 1 C hot broth, simmer until absorbed, stirring often, 8 minutes. Continue to cook until rice is tender and mixture is creamy, adding cupfuls of broth and stirring. Mix in cheese and season with salt and pepper.

*** Normally, I’m of the “a little for the dish, a little for the cook” persasion. But instead this weekend we made Zeldas.

1oz whiskey
2oz cranberry juice
2oz ginger ale
2oz amaretto


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