How to make a basic risotto

My Mac’s dictionary defines risotto as “an Italian dish of rice cooked in stock with other ingredients such as meat and vegetables.” For an Asian, that sounds like throwing everything in a rice cooker until everything is done. But it’s not quite that simple.

Cooking risotto starts with choosing the right kind of rice. See, what distinguishes risotto from other rice dishes is its creamy texture and that is something that can be acquired with the use of starchy rice. The Italians cook risotto with the short-grain arborio rice. The name arborio does not really refer to a rice variety but, rather, to a place in Italy where the rice is grown. In short, outside of Italy, it is known by other names. In Asia, the equivalent is the Japanese rice. There are only a few steps in cooking the basic risotto. The first is sauteing — garlic and onions, most often, in butter or olive oil or both, until fragrant. The rice is added and cooked until every grain is coated with oil. White wine is poured and stirred in and the mixture is left to bubble until the wine has been absorbed. Then, the simmering broth is ladled into the rice, about half a cup each time. The rice is stirred often as it cooks in the broth, coaxing the starch out of each grain to make the mixture creamy. Then, another half cup of broth is added, the rice is stirred… the process is repeated until the rice is done — cooked through but still firm. Grated parmesan cheese is stirred in along with a little finely chopped parsley, the seasonings are adjusted and the risotto is drizzled with olive oil before serving. As far as I know, this is the basic risotto ai bianco, literally, white rice. Risotto is a versatile dish as it can include meat or it can be a vegetarian dish. The broth can be chicken, meat or fish broth. In the Venice episode of No Reservations, Anthony Bourdain sampled the famous go risotto — a Venetian classic famous and revered for its simplicity and unpretentiousness. “Go” refers to a variety of fish called, well… go. Small fish. Not expensive, not rare but, in fact, rather common. The fish are simmered whole without stirring and the broth is ladled into the rice. No fish meat goes into the risotto as the only role of the fish is to create the broth. The dish is reputedly incomparable.

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The Author

Hello, my name is Connie Veneracion. I cook, I shoot, I write. But I don't do the laundry. I don't like housekeeping very much either... (more about me)

8 Responses

  1. Michael says:

    This was one of the simplest explanations of how to make risotto I’ve read. I’ve got some short grain rice in the pantry at home and some homemade chicken stock in the freezer, so I think I’ll try it this weekend. Thanks!

  2. John S says:

    Mrs Connie-

    I love your website! However, I have to differ a bit on the risotto.

    – butter should be added in the end with the parmesan to make the rice creamier, not in the beginning to fry the onions

    – no garlic, just onions

    – usually, no white wine is involved. Just the stock.

    – If not the stock, the risotto usually gets its flavor from the vegetables or protein it is cooked with. To do that, you have to let the vegetables or protein cook in the broth with the rice. This means after the rice is coated in oil you add the flavor components (including any herbs you might want to use)

    – Arborio is named after the place where it is grown, but in Italy that is as good as being a type of rice on its own. Japanese rice may be substituted, but risotto produces its own cream, so it almost looks like a thick champorado than anything. (It’s also supposed to be a bit al dente, so I don’t know about using sticky rice)

    I’ve tried risotto many times, and have been corrected by Italians every time one of them tries mine.

    • Connie says:

      “risotto produces its own cream”

      Cream is from animal fat. Risotto has a creamy texture because of the starch.

      Arborio is a cultivar of Japonica (Japanese rice).

      Japanese rice isn’t sticky if cooked as risotto.

  3. Joy says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I haven’t been able to make it yet.

  4. Beth says:

    Hi Ms. Connie! If I remember right from that No Reservation episode….. the Venetian chef actually threw the rice up in the air like in flipping a pancake as he said it will make the risotto creamier! I think if I do that I will make a mess in my kitchen and risk burns in my arms!ha!ha!ha!