This is a risotto fundamentals post that will teach you how to make the perfect risotto every time by helping you understand what each step in the cooking of risotto accomplishes.
I include a recipe for a basic risotto at the end but I highly recommend you read all of the notes if you’re looking to master making the perfect risotto at home on your own as I cannot include all of the intricacies of risotto or the reasons behind them in a recipe card. Although, if you must…
I recommend starting with a basic risotto because not only is it absolutely delightful as-is with minimal ingredients, but starting with the basics helps you master making the perfect risotto before moving on to more complicated versions.
I love the simplicity that drives traditional Italian cuisine. I think that simplicity is best demonstrated in risotto, a simple rice dish that can easily go wrong if you do not follow a few basic but key steps.
But why should you listen to me?
No, I’m not a chef. But I have made risotto countless times, constantly working on and experimenting with my recipe. I have notes on what I have loved and what I hated (like red wine.)
Risotto is a passion and obsession of mine. To me, it is the ultimate comfort food. I barely eat grains, but risotto will always be an exception.
So here we go: how to make the perfect risotto every time.
The Perfect Risotto Starts With The Best Meat Stock
Different varieties of meat stock can be used but chicken stock is most common. Vegetable and seafood stock is also used depending on the risotto recipe, but I have actually grown to personally prefer a deeply roasted and flavoured beef bone stock above all when making my own basic risotto.
You really cannot get away with an inferior stock. It will ruin the risotto.
This means homemade or bought from a high-quality grocer that makes real meat stocks from scratch. The stuff on shelves in cartons will ruin your risotto. This is not a stew or soup with many more ingredients added that can mask a less-than-stellar or flavourful stock.
Adding extra gelatin will not mimic true stock either.
So start with making a good homemade stock. If it is your first risotto, I recommend a chicken stock.
Have Everything Ready At The Stove
The risotto will not wait for you. So measure out your rice and wine. Heat up your stock. Finely dice your onions. Microplane your Parmigiano-Reggiano. Cut up your butter.
Keep everything by your stove except the butter and cheese. They need to be kept in the fridge — I’ll explain why further down.
Use High-Quality Risotto Rice
And use only Italian short-grain rice varieties:
The most common of the varieties. Chances are, you will have arborio rice in your local grocery store no matter where you live. It is not as starchy as other varieties and does not absorb liquid as readily.
My favourite rice for risotto and the preferred variety across most of Italy. Carnaroli rice makes for the best, the creamiest, the most perfect risotto. It is also harder to overcook this more forgiving variety. If you can find it, buy it. You will not regret it, especially if you have only ever had arborio rice in the past.
The preferred risotto rice in the Veneto region of Italy, this is my second favourite variety. In my experience, it is only slightly less forgiving and less starchy then carnaroli. It makes for a lovely, creamy risotto. If it weren’t for the rice grains cooking up much plumper than the other varieties, I doubt I could taste the difference in a blind taste-test.
Grown in the Piedmonte in Italy, Baldo is not as starchy as other varieties and thus produces a less creamy risotto where the grains hold more of their structure. I have read that it does not scorch as readily if toasted, but I have never had a problem with scorched rice so I’m not sure about that benefit. I need to experiment more with Baldo to really get a feel for how it is best used.
Remember: NEVER rinse your risotto rice.
Why is this important? Italian risotto rice has a higher proportion of amylopectin, a type of sticky starch that is vital for the final creamy texture of a great risotto. Long-grain rice like basmati has a higher proportion of the less-sticky starch amylose.
Butter or Olive Oil?
I use a mixture of both butter and olive oil to start the risotto, and I always finish off with only butter. I use high-quality grass-fed butter as alongside the stock, the butter flavour comes through in a risotto.
Never finish a risotto with oil after it has cooked. It will just become greasy and unpleasant and ruin any chance for the creaminess you are seeking.
Italian cooks have a passionate aversion to dairy being used in seafood recipes, but I am not Italian and this is one convention I’m firmly against.
Butter is a perfect complement to seafood risottos using lobster, crab, shrimp, prawns, langostino, or mussels. As is Parmigiano-Reggiano much of the time.
Fight me. Or just think for yourself and try it.
If you wish to be a purist, use only olive oil with seafood risottos, but I recommend breaking out of that mould after you have experimented a few times to see how you personally feel about the taste.
Start Your Risotto in a Cold Sauté Pan or French/Dutch Oven
I always use my 4.7L Le Creuset French Oven. If you are using a sauté pan (stainless or carbon steel is fine) make sure it is 10-inches or more in diameter. Do not use anything smaller. And do not use Teflon or non-stick.
Start your risotto by adding the first ingredients (butter and/or olive oil, onions) at the same time in a cold cooking vessel. Then turn on the heat and proceed.
Why? This is a crucial first step to a creamy risotto, which is your ultimate goal. I do not know the science behind this. Perhaps it has something to do with it being easier to not accidentally crisp or brown the onions as you would if adding them to a pan of hot oil/butter.
You do not want crisped or browned onions. You want them to emulsify and completely disappear into the risotto. It happens almost like magic right towards the end, usually just after you’ve decided they won’t and that you’ve done something wrong.
Toast Your Risotto Rice Grains
As the onions turn translucent, add the rice and slowly tickle the grains around the pot with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula. Do not brown the rice or allow the onions to brown either. Occasionally one or two pieces of onion will brown during this step, but this will not ruin the dish. Lower the heat slightly and continue.
As the rice toasts, the developing flavours from the butter/oil/onion begin permeating the rice grains making this an essential step.
The rice will start to crackle and make a low popping sound, as well as an infrequent faint whistling noise. This is what you are waiting for. It will only take 2-3 minutes and then you must immediately add your wine.
Can I substitute shallots for onions?
NO. The risotto will take on a sickeningly sweet flavour. I do not recommend this.
Wine or No Wine?
I always add white wine to my risotto. I actually tried red wine a couple of times to see how it would do — I honestly hated it. The rice grains turned an unappetizing grey colour and the flavour of red wine was too pronounced in the finished product.
But maybe I’m mistaken and someone can point me to a fantastic red wine risotto? I am always open to trying new things and admitting I was wrong.
Some chefs leave out wine entirely claiming it can become bitter. I have never personally experienced that bitterness, but if you do, the culprit may be the wine. So try it without next time.
I have made risottos with and without white wine, but I very much prefer it with. I like a hint of acidity and freshness in the background, and this is what wine brings.
I have tried risotto with freshly squeezed lemon and once with apple cider vinegar instead of white wine — it’s not the worst thing, but it can quickly overpower the other flavours and add too much acidity.
I’m not a purist when it comes to wine variety. I prefer reds for drinking so I only really ever have Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs for whites and this is all I have ever used in my risotto as a result. I’m sure it’s not the best possible choice or a traditional varietal, but I love the flavour.
In any case, the wine is added immediately after the risotto is suitably toasted and it is cooked off completely at a higher heat before you add your stock.
If you are not using wine, you would be immediately adding your hot stock after the toasting step.
Use HOT Stock
Do not use cold or room temperature stock. Do not use boiling stock. Bring your stock to a boil as you do the other steps — and then turn the heat off and leave it. It will come to the perfect temperature by the time you need to use it.
Salt The Risotto
Okay, so this one might be controversial: I salt the risotto as I cook.
Risotto recipes will recommend that you salt at the end or maybe only once at the beginning. If your stock is already salted — this is wise advice. Definitely don’t start throwing salt around like crazy. And remember, the Parmigiano-Reggiano (if using) is also salty so you need to be careful.
My homemade meat stocks are never salted because I use stocks in multiple recipes throughout the week and don’t want to risk over-salting any of them.
If you’re using salted butter (which you absolutely should not, but whatever) then definitely do NOT add salt.
I add a tiny pinch of salt after each step. Yes, it is hard to quantify what a tiny pinch of salt looks like. Unfortunately, it is one of those things that can come with making a recipe so many times.
Err on the side of caution. If you’re unsure, use only a small pinch in the beginning when you add the rice to the oil/butter/onion for toasting. Then taste and adjust at the very end by adding more if necessary.
Italian cuisine makes liberal use of salt, but it does not cross the line into over-salting. You will not be able to recover your risotto if that happens.
If you make note of how much salt you add at the end, you can remember that for next time and salt throughout the cooking process.
And yes I think there is enough of a difference in taste to learn how much to salt throughout the cooking process. Others will disagree.
Finish The Risotto With COLD Butter & Parmigiano-Reggiano
This is the final trick for the creamiest risotto possible. And it is crucial.
This is why it is important to read through the recipe notes, long as they may be, and this is definitely a long post.
(But I did omit meandering stories of my childhood for your convenience although I was very tempted to tell you how in Croatia we call risotto rižot and my mother made the best chicken and mushroom rižot for me growing up) 🙂
Use a microplaner to grate your Parmigiano-Reggiano and then keep it in the fridge while you cook.
For the butter, cut it up into smaller pieces and also store it in the fridge.
When your perfectly cooked risotto comes off from the heat, you will let it rest for 1-2 minutes and then beat in the cold butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano. A silicone spatula works the best for this but your trusty wooden spoon will suffice.
This final step makes for the creamiest risotto ever, I promise.
If you followed these steps exactly, and the onion was not over-cooked but allowed to melt and emulsify with the wine and stock, you will have a restaurant-worthy, creamy, flavourful risotto. And you will now be able to make perfect risotto every time at home by yourself.
Invest in Quality Dried Porcini Mushrooms
After you have mastered how to make the perfect risotto, I recommend trying a risotto with dried porcini mushrooms. Invest in high-quality ones and then add them (in their dried form) at the same time you add the rice grains for the toasting step.
The dried mushrooms will absorb the correct amount of moisture from the stock in just the right amount of time it takes the risotto to cook. This risotto variant works wonderfully with rich beef stock!
I will post more of my favourite risotto recipes over time, but for now — enjoy this basic risotto flavoured only with homemade meat stock, butter, olive oil, onion, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. If you have never had a basic risotto, this is a revelation in how Italian simplicity shines through with quality ingredients.
This is still the risotto I make most often.
Buon appetito/Dobar Tek!
What do you think? Am I missing a vital trip or trick that you utilize to make the best, the most perfect risotto every time? Let me know in the comments.Print
How To Make Perfect Risotto Every Time
A basic recipe that you can use to then make countless variants of risotto. This remains my favourite risotto although I usually make mine with rich beef stock instead of chicken.
This is an elegant and impressive dish that usually replaces the soup course during dinner service.
I hope you read through the recipe notes to grasp certain key fundamental steps!
- Prep Time: 10
- Cook Time: 35
- Total Time: 45 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Sauté
- Cuisine: Italian
- 1 1/2 cups of short-grain Italian risotto rice like Carnaroli, Vialone Nano, or Arborio (in order of my personal preference)
- 1 large onion (approximately 400 grams), finely chopped
- 6 cups of homemade chicken stock (you will not use all of it but it is best to have extra just in case)
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 cup microplaned Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving (kept cold in fridge)
- 4 tablespoons butter (for the start)
- 2 tablespoons butter (for the very end, kept cold in fridge)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Sea salt & black pepper to taste
- Heat up your chicken stock to boiling and then quickly lower the heat to the lowest setting. Keep your hot stock but not boiling as you cook your risotto.
- Add the finely chopped onion, butter and olive oil into a heavy-bottomed French Oven or a large-enough (10-inches+) pan that has not been preheated. Turn the heat up to medium.
- Stir the onions until they soften up and become translucent but never brown. Cook them slowly, stirring, turning the heat down to low if necessary.
- Add the rice and keep the heat at medium. Add a small pinch of sea salt. Slowly stir the rice grains around.
- You will eventually hear popping and clicking sounds and the grains will begin to turn a very pale shade of gold. Touch the grains — are they hot to the touch? Time for the next step.
- Pour in your white wine and turn up the heat to med/high. Cook off practically all of the wine and then immediately ladle in enough of the hot stock to cover the grains completely.
- Set your timer to 18-minutes or make note of the time.
- Fiddle with your heat settings so that your risotto is just simmering gently, not boiling nor just sitting there. You should see gentle movement in the stock.
- Stay close by and stir the rice gently to keep it from sticking. You do not need to be stirring continuously for the entire 18-minutes. A wooden spoon or silicone spatula is best.
- Add more broth as it disappears into your rice. Wait until it is almost practically all gone before adding another ladle.
Be patient. It will require all of the 18 minutes to cook the risotto. If it stops absorbing liquid well before, you have kept the heat too high. The center of the grains will be unpleasantly starchy. If it is not ready yet, you have kept it too low. It will become mushy by the time it finally finishes. Remember to keep the stock and rice simmering and make sure your stock is hot to begin with!
At the 18-minute mark, taste your risotto — it should be al dente, tender and creamy but not mushy, there will be a bit of resistance at the center but no starchy mealiness.
Remove the risotto from the heat and allow it to rest for 1-2 minutes and then immediately beat in the cold butter and Parmesan from the fridge. Taste for salt, add more if necessary, and then add freshly ground black pepper.
Serve on plates kept warm in the oven with a sprinkle of Parmesan.
Important: Once the first ladle of chicken stock hits the pan, set your timer to 18 minutes. Do not overcook the risotto, there is a fine line between creamy and mushy. You want the rice al dente.
You can start the risotto in all-butter, all-olive oil, or a mixture of both — just make sure to finish off with butter, and never oil.
Keywords: risotto, porcini mushrooms, white wine, stock, bone broth, risotto fundamentals, make the perfect risotto