The best risotto is rich and creamy, with supple grains of rice, perfumed of wine and Parmesan, and replete with butter. It is the kind of dish best served in a deep bowl with a large spoon for bite after bite of creamy comfort.
Risotto is a dish that is often associated with fancy high-end restaurants, but really, it's the epitome of Italian home cooking and comfort food. Knowing how to make a good risotto is something we think every cook should have in their back pocket, if only because it's one of those dishes that's so satisfying and easy to prepare, and it never fails to impress.
Restaurant Risotto at Home
Risotto also has a reputation for being fussy and time-consuming. It's true that once you start cooking, it does require a fair amount of attention, but it doesn't take more than 30 minutes to make. In fact, true Italian cooks will tell you that risotto should take no more than 18 to 19 minutes from start to finish. One of our chefs in culinary school made us time him, and sure enough, his risotto was done in exactly 18 1/2 minutes every single time!
Key Steps for Risotto
Risotto is more of a technique than a dish. Once you get a feel for the basic steps of making the soffrito, toasting the rice, and adding in the broth a scoop at a time, a whole world of dishes opens up. You can add caramelized onions, ribbons of swiss chard, bits of sausage, wild mushrooms from the farmers market, or any other combination of flavors and textures that suit your fancy.
Use the best rice you can find. Arborio is the most common of risotto rice and readily available at most markets, making for a fine starter risotto. But carnaroli rice is our favorite for texture and reliability — it's harder to overcook than arborio and can be found in plenty of specialty markets. Lastly, vialone nano rice is worth mentioning for its pure silkiness in finished risotto, but you may have to special order it.
Have everything ready before you step up to the stove. This one thing is crucial for a good risotto: Measure, chop, and ready the rice, the wine, your add-ins, and the bowls to serve it in. Risotto waits for no one and is perfect the second it's done.
Warm your broth. This is the secret to faster, creamier risotto at home: Pour your broth into a saucepan and warm it over medium heat. Warming the broth before adding it to the warm rice coaxes more starch out of each grain and prevents overcooking. Cool broth takes longer to warm up in the risotto pan and may shock the grain into holding onto its starches while the rice itself continues to cook.
How to Know When Risotto Is Done
The best way to determine risotto doneness is with both your eyes and your mouth. First take a look at the pan: Is the risotto creamy but not thick, rolling back after the spoon is run through the pan? You're probably very close to done. Now take a bite — the rice should be mostly soft with a small bite on the softer side of al dente.
Just before serving, add a few more dabs of butter and the Parmesan and then serve the risotto swiftly in warm bowls.
How To Make Risotto at Home
Serves 4 to 6
What You Need
shallot, finely chopped
arborio, carnaroli, or vialone nano rice
low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
dry white wine
finely grated Parmesan cheese
High-sided sauté pan (at least 10-inch diameter) or Dutch oven
Ladle or measuring scoop
Warm your stock. Measure, chop, and gather all of the ingredients going into your risotto. You should also warm the broth in a saucepan over low heat, which helps the risotto come together faster. If you need to skip heating the broth, make sure it’s at least at room temperature and not cold from the fridge.
Sweat the shallot. Melt a tablespoon of butter over medium heat in a 10- or 12-inch straight-sided saute pan. Add the shallot and a pinch of salt and cook the shallot, stirring often, until fragrant and beginning to soften, about 4 minutes.
Toast the rice. Pour the rice over the onions and stir until every grain is coated with the butter. Add more fat if needed — this is not the time to skimp! Continue stirring the rice until the edges have turned translucent but the center is still opaque, about 2 minutes. You should also be able to smell the aroma of toasted rice. Avoid actually browning the rice here; toasting the rice is all about the aroma.
Deglaze the pan with wine. Deglazing the pan at this point isn't strictly necessary, but a splash of white wine will add another layer of flavor and help lift up any bits that have caramelized to the pan. Use a 1/2 cup of wine, and simmer, stirring constantly, until the wine has completely reduced and the pan is nearly dry, about 3 minutes.
Slowly add the broth in increments, stirring in between. Begin incrementally adding the broth one 1/2 cup at a time, stirring regularly between additions. Wait to add another ladle until the liquid has been almost completely absorbed by the rice; dragging your spatula through the rice should leave a dry path where the spatula was. This gradual addition of liquid is key to getting the rice to release its starch and create its own delicious sauce, so don't rush this step. Ideally, you want to use just enough broth to cook the rice and no more.
Continue adding broth until the rice is al dente and the broth is creamy. Begin tasting the rice after about 12 minutes to gauge how far it has cooked. The risotto is ready when the rice is al dente (when it still has a bit of chew) and the dish has the consistency of thick porridge, about 20 to 30 minutes total (you might not use up all of the broth). If you run your spatula through the risotto, the risotto will flow slowly to fill in the space. As the Italians say, risotto should be like "la onda," a wave that slowly rolls to shore.
Finishing and serving the risotto. As a final step, add one or two tablespoons of butter and a cup of cheese to enrich the risotto and make it extra-creamy. Serve the risotto immediately. The longer it stands, the more the starches will set and you'll lose the creamy silkiness.
Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
This post has been updated - originally published March 2012
(Images: Emma Christensen)