Risotto is so comforting yet elegant at the same time. I love that you can make it with virtually any kind of stock or broth you have on hand, stir in whatever vegetables you like, and top it with anything from roasted shrimp to big shavings of Parmesan cheese. But the rice? Buying the right kind is key — here's what you need to know!
Why Rice Is So Important in Risotto
Risotto, at its most basic, is rice cooked in broth. Rice is the star here because it produces starch — the constant stirring during the cooking process rubs the starch off the surface of the rice, where it dissolves into and thickens the cooking liquid. Choosing a rice that doesn't have enough starch means that the hallmark creamy texture of a good risotto will never be achieved.
So what makes a good risotto rice? Look for rice that's short- to medium-grain in size, plump, and has a high amylopectin (starch) content. These types of rice also hold up well to the constant stirring — the final texture is soft, but has a slight chew at the center of each grain.
The 3 Most Popular Types of Risotto Rice
Sometimes packages are just labeled "risotto rice," which is an easy way to find the right kind. Otherwise, here are the three most popular kinds of rice for risotto.
Called the "king" or "caviar" of risotto rice, chefs like to use this one for its great flavor and because each grain maintains its shape. It also produces the creamiest risotto and is more forgiving to cook with.
This variety of rice is not as starchy as carnaroli, but it is the most widely available. This medium-grain rice can be easy to overcook or turn mushy, but with careful attention, can still make a great risotto.
3. Vialone Nano
This shorter-grain rice is grown in the Veneto region of Italy and cannot be grown with chemicals. It has a high starch content, cooks up more quickly than carnaroli, and yields very creamy risotto.
There are other harder-to-find types of risotto rice — such as baldo, cal riso, and maratelli — that are great options, too. You may see superfino, semifino, and fino on packages of risotto rice, but they only refer to the width of the grains, not quality.
Because the rice starch is so valuable when making risotto, never rinse the rice before cooking it.
What Rice to Skip
While the above are the most common types of rice for risotto, you can really use any type of medium- or short-grain rice to make the dish in a pinch — even sushi rice would work if that's what you happen to have in the pantry and you can't make it to the store. While it won't give you the exact same results (and Italian nonnas likely wouldn't approve), it will still be tasty.
The only rice to really avoid is long-grain, like basmati or jasmine, as it doesn't have enough starch content to get achieve risotto's signature creaminess.