How to Make Perfect Risotto
While risotto can be a bit intimidating, it’s one of those special Italian dishes that’s as comforting as mashed potatoes to the South, and worth learning how to make. I’m here to help you and break it down so you will be able to make risotto with ease.
There are some classic risotto dishes, such as risotto milanese, made with beef marrow and saffron, but truly, you can get quite creative with risotto.
In the pictures shown below, I made three different types of risotto, sweet potato risotto, red beet risotto and kale risotto, all non-traditional versions using the three ingredients most likely found locally in Tennessee. Each had it’s own cooking time, broth amount, and flavor and texture. All were superb, and even wonderful eaten side by side.
I will post each recipe separately over the next few days as part of the rice challenge.
To tell you how to make perfect risotto is quite ambitious of me isn’t it? The truth is risotto making is progressive, but because of all my trials and errors, I can feel good coming here to tell you how I got to my version of perfect risotto. I hope to encourage you to go ahead and make this quite rustic dish often touted as mysterious and too elevated for the home cook.
I wanted to figure out how to make perfect risotto, I relied on my history of recipe development and biscuit making.
Shrouded in fear and intimidation people avoid risotto, because it’s easy to make simple mistakes. I tackled the biscuit by studying many recipes and looking for the key that would tell me why people (including myself) were not having success. I managed to be able to find those answers and my biscuit recipe has been proven with so many people finally happy with success. I decided to do the same thing with risotto, and figure out what the mistakes were that brought risotto disappointment.
I read lots of cookbooks by authors I respect. I looked for patterns and differences. The biggest difference was cooking time and amount of broth, and this is how I discovered the most commonly made mistakes in risotto making.
How to Make Perfect Risotto: What is Risotto?
Risotto is Italian comfort food dish of creamy rice. Rice was originally brought to Italy for medicinal purposes, and was grown for food in the Northern part of Italy sometime in the 15th century, and has been a staple ever since. My grandfather was from Genoa and I remember his love for rice over pasta.
The rice is browned in fat, cooked in broth, and allowed just enough time to release it’s natural starch, called amylopectin. The starch adds a creaminess not found in other types of rice, yet affords the risotto grain to maintain a bite.
This means the rice will be cooked al dente, which is counter intuitive to anyone who eats other rice dishes.
If you want to make perfect risotto you need to use the right rice.
Arborio rice, an Italian rice, from Arborio and is the most available of the type of rice you need for risotto. There are other appropriate rices such as Vialone Nan, Baldo and Carnaoli, which may be a bit better than Arborio, but not readily available. Regular long grain rice will not do.
Arbrorio has a short, plump grain which will absorb the broth well, maintain a bite when cooked properly, and will be firm, creamy and chewy all at the same time. You can order Arborio rice here.
Risotto cooks from the outside in, and we must be willing to allow for the hard body inside to stay firm while allowing the starches to develop its creamy texture. Risotto from start to finish takes approximately 18 minutes.
What Kind of Pan or Pot will Make Perfect Risotto?
Type of pan. I had equal amounts of success using a stainless steel frying pan or an enameled cast iron dutch oven. The pan should be heavy enough to cook evenly and not burn the rice. The sides need to be high enough to take the broth. Use a wooden spoon to stir.
Risotto will begin with fat and usually end with cheese. Many purist recipes use only butter, but you can use both butter and a good olive oil together. The dry rice is added to the fat, which seals it and toasts it. Use a good grassfed butter.
Toast the rice before adding fat, stirring well on medium heat for about 2 to 4 minutes. I never add any fat at the end of the risotto dish. You may see recipes that ask you to add butter and or cream at the end of the dish. Ignore those amateur recipes. That defeats the whole purpose of properly cooking the rice so that it will develop it’s own creamy texture.
I’m not the only person who thinks this. I’ve perused several Italian cookbooks and can’t find any recipes that add butter at the end, and two Iron Chef’s Michael Symon and Mario Batali have both stated that they would never add butter or cream to the end of a risotto.
I can see from my comments that there are lots of opinions about this, which I embrace. I love a good food discussion.
Most recipes ask you to add wine. Once I learned how to add my wine in and be patient, I like this method. However, you use some vinegar (champagne vinegar, white balsamic, apple cider).
I learned the vinegar trick from a chef in Nashville after eating his risotto and thinking it was so perfectly balanced. You CAN add in wine, but if you do, make sure you love that wine, and make sure you add it in the beginning of your risotto before you add any broth and allow it to fully evaporate. Risotto should not taste like wine.
Broth, What Kind and How Much?
Risotto is rice slowly cooked by adding small amounts of broth at a time. The flavor of the broth will permeate the risotto. Vegetable broth can be off putting and for most risotto dishes, chicken broth is best. Some prefer a meat broth, but it needs to be very fresh, and not overwhelming. It should make sense with the type of risotto you are serving.
I use an low sodium organic broth which I will water down a little bit, not wanting to much sodium nor too strong of a flavor. Keep in mind that the rice will take on the flavor of the broth and is a very important component.
Of course, homemade broth is always best to make perfect risotto, but that’s not possible for everyday cooking and risotto should be everyday cooking. Do purchase a very good organic broth that is only chicken broth, and not added in garlic or heavy seasonings. Taste your broth before agreeing to add it in.
The broth should be brought to a piping hot temperature to start, but then reduced to a simmer, before it’s added to the fat. If the broth is too hot when it hits the hot fat, it could explode. (I actually had that happen once, and the broth sustained a geyser effect and stained my ceiling).
To avoid this, when I approach the pan the first time with the hot broth, I have a lid ready, and I immediately cover the pot as soon as I put the first ladle of broth in or if you are adding in any wine. Take this tip seriously, because the splatter could burn you.
Broth Ratio to Rice
The amount of broth is subjective, but I lean conservative. Renowned Italian cooking teacher and author, Giuliano Buglialli uses a ratio of 1 cup of raw arborio rice to 2 cups of broth for a ratio of 1:2. International Italian cooking legend, Marcella Hazan, uses 2 cups of raw arborio rice to 5 cups of broth for a ration of 1:2.5. Judy Rodgers agrees with this range. I tend to fall right in the middle with 1 cup rice to 2 1/4 cups broth. However, you must be the judge, as every risotto pan differs a little.
This fascinated me because so many recipes call for 2 cups of raw rice to 8 cups of broth. This is a huge difference, and compelled me to slow down on the broth, sticking with the conservative approach from authentic Italians.
There is no exact amount of liquid. You have to watch and make a decision, but the range for a nice al dente risotto is probably 2 to 2.5 cups of broth per cup of rice. Too much liquid is going to make a mushy risotto. If the rice is still crunchy after using 2.5 cups broth to 1 cup raw rice, add in a little bit more, of course. This is where it will take practice.
How Much Do You Really Need to Stir?
Risotto cooking technique. Every recipe says you must stir the risotto constantly, making it sound like a super stressful dish to make. Stir a lot, but not constant in that you never stop your arm. That distracts the cook from taking a good look at what is happening in the pan. I made three risottos all at once on my stove and I have only two arms.
This means you must stir and attend, but you can rest your arm and relax a bit. This will be the part of risotto making that will take practice.
Take Risotto off the the Stove Before You think It’s Done
The late Judy Rodgers (Zuni Cafe) is also a proponent of approaching risotto in a more relaxed fashion. She adds 2 cups of broth immediately to the toasted rice and only takes great caution with the risotto for the last half cup of broth. She says the success is dependent the most on the last few minutes, and at that point add only the smallest amount of broth and take the risotto off the stove before you believe it to be done.
As I made three risottos on the stove at once, I took turns stirring, but paid close attention to how the rice was absorbing the broth. All three had different ingredients, were in three different types of pans, and required a different amount of broth and looking after. I might go a whole minute not stirring one of the pans, watching the liquid absorb, then giving a little stir and just as the broth is about to disappear completely, I add a little more broth about one half cup. The key is to avoid a bottom so dry that the rice sticks and burns. All the while it’s cooking, it must stay moist.
The very end of the dish is followed by freshly grated, imported parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano, after the risotto is taken off the stove. Sometimes I’ll add in some other cheese as I did with the red beet risotto, in which I added a little goat cheese. I personally personally prefer the parmigiano over the pecorino as the pecorino can overwhelm and is salty.
Skip the cheese altogether when making a seafood risotto.
Adding Ingredients to Make a Perfect Risotto
You can be creative with risotto, but I prefer to add in just one ingredient at a time. While I used local Tennessee ingredients in these three beautiful risotto dishes, I also like risotto made with summer corn, spring peas and shrimp, asparagus, squash and earthy mushrooms.
Left over risotto can be turned into risotto cakes fried on the stove and become breakfast when an egg is placed on top. Risotto is also excellent stuffed into peppers and roasted. There is always the dilemma as to when to add in ingredients. There are no hard and fast rules, sometimes at the beginning as with mushrooms, and sometimes as with peas, it’s closer to the end.
Flat Italian parsley is a good herb to add, but you can decide on different herbs. I used basil for the red beet risotto, and I would use sage for the sweet potato risotto.
Risotto Can Be First Course, Main Course, Side Dish
Risotto can be any one of these things. This way it can be served immediately without any worry about the timing of other dishes. However, some risottos can include seafood like this shrimp and peas risotto, meat and be used as a main dish.
The three major mistakes made when cooking risotto to make perfect risotto are:
- The biggest mistake is not knowing that risotto must be al dente. Don’t think of this as rice pilaf. It’s not. This does NOT mean the rice should be crunchy. It should just have a bite to it.
- Using too much broth and drowning the risotto. 1 cup of rice to 2 to 2.5 cups of broth is enough. This recipe used 1 1/2 to 3 cups broth.
- Cooking the risotto way too long. 18-21 minutes from start to finish is enough time. Anything more will result in mush.
Risotto doesn’t take the skill set of a culinary expert in a four-star kitchen. It simply takes practice and knowing what your end result is supposed to look like. Remember perfect risotto is never exactly perfect. It’s a rustic, Italian comfort food that will get better every time you make it.
Make Risotto Cakes with the Leftover Risotto
Disclosure: Spinach Tiger is an Amazon affiliate, which means we earn a small commission that does not affect price. We only recommend products we believe in and use or are on our wish list.
- 4 tablespoons of butter (can use half olive oil/half butter)
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 1½ cup of arborio rice
- 3 to 3½ cups chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar or ⅓ cup white wine
- ½ cup parmigiano reggiano cheese
- parsley for garnish
- Heat chicken broth in separate pot. Once hot, turn to simmer.
- Melt butter and In a 10 inch stainless steel frying pan or an enamled cast iron small dutch oven. Add olive oil.
- Add chopped onion and cook until translucent.
- Add in dry arborio rice and toast for four minutes, stirring.
- Add in cider vinegar. or wine. Continue to stir.
- Have a lid ready to immediately cover when you put the first ladle of broth.
- Add ½ cup broth. Cover for a few seconds to avoid any reaction from hot broth hitting the hot fat. Uncover.
- Stir until the broth is nearly all absorbed in the rice.
- Add another ½ cup broth and repeat until there is only ½ cup broth left to add.
- Add in broth ¼ cup at a time at the end, so as to not overcook the rice.
- At the end of about 18 minutes, you should be at the end of the broth. Taste the rice. If it gives yet still has a bite, take it off. If it crunches, then cook another minute, stirring constantly. If you run out of broth and you're sure the rice is not done, add a small amount of water, (tablespoon or so).
- Remove from stove, Stir in grated cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve immediately. Garnish with chopped parsley.
- This will serve 4 big servings.
If you only want to use 1 cup rice, use 2 to 2¼ cups broth and 2 tablespoons butter.
I've also reversed the order for adding the wine. I added the wine to the rice before the broth and let it cook off for a few minutes. This way there is no strong wine flavor, but it's very subtle.