With a few tricks you can make a restaurant-quality risotto at home.

By Chris Malloy
February 02, 2021
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Spoiler alert: Learning to cook and eat risotto is an incredibly easy process. Where great homemade pasta takes a significant amount of practice in the kitchen, risotto actually has a much friendlier learning curve. With the right starting ingredients and a few pointers, an intensely rich rice in the Northern Italian style is never more than 40 minutes away.

Risotto refers to a finished dish, yes, but also a cooking method. It's a way to give certain strains of rice a deep creaminess, no cream in sight. To do this, you transfer hot broth from one pot to a second pot where risotto rice is cooking. You then stir the rice as it absorbs the stock. Once your first addition of stock has been absorbed, you add another, and repeat. Sounds complicated, but it's actually pretty simple.

Whether the next time you cook risotto is your first or your fifty-first, consider these tricks for a better pot. And if you're in search of risotto recipe ideas, try our Creamy Parmesan Risotto, Lemon-Parsley Risotto, Sweet Potato Risotto Recipe, Low-Maintenance Risotto, or (the easiest) Instant Pot Risotto.

1

Using a standard white rice won’t produce a knockout risotto. This is thanks to chemistry: The stout rice varieties traditionally used for risotto have a starch casing that, when stirred and cooked, produces creaminess. The most common risotto rice is called arborio. There are others, like vialone nano and carnaroli, some with major price tags. Some of the more boutique rice growers near risotto-loving Venice even age their rice. While next-level options abound, a $4 bag of arborio does the trick.

Take note, too, that you can skip rinsing this rice. The purpose of washing rice is to clear little pulverized rice bits that create unwanted stickiness. With risotto, you want some of that sticky, creamy, binding quality.

2

Most recipes begin with cooking allium, usually onions, in butter or oil. Next up, you toast rice in the mix before adding stock. Recipes tend to call for a toasting time of a minute or two—but try dragging that out to three or four minutes. Stirring frequently to prevent burning, you can typically build more flavor with an extended toasting.

3

Don’t skip this step in a risotto recipe that calls for wine. In fact, you might want to consider adding a small amount of white wine, say a quarter cup for every cup of rice, to recipes that don’t call for it. This not only builds flavor and nuance, but it makes your kitchen smell amazing—which helps you get through all the stirring (see tip #5).

4

Before you do anything else, get your stock to a steady simmer. It seems small, but this happens to be key. If the stock is cold, it’ll have to warm up every time you transfer some to the rice pot. This means risotto will take much longer to cook.

On the other hand, you don’t want stock to be flirting too closely with a boil. Stock that’s too hot will evaporate from the pan quickly, meaning less stock (and flavor) will be absorbed by the rice.

5

Some recipes call for minimal stirring. I find that risotto gets creamier with frequent, almost nonstop stirring. This is the old-school way. Yes, it can be time-consuming stirring for pretty much the entire time the rice cooks, but it can also be a nice time to unplug.

6

Once rice grains reach the bite you like—which usually takes 20 to 25 minutes of cooking—keep cooking for just a shade longer. You want to cook any last loose liquid down. This lets the risotto stay thick, with minimal runniness on the edges once scooped onto plates.

7

While your rice is done, your risotto isn’t. There are still two opportunities to build flavor.

The first is to fold in puree, especially for a vegetable risotto. For instance, an asparagus risotto gains a huge boost if finished with a puree of asparagus, olive oil, and maybe a touch of broth if needed to create the puree. Same for risottos made with squash, peas, root vegetables—stir in a puree of the matching vegetable at the end. If you take this road, you might need to cook the risotto for a minute or two longer to reach desired thickness.

And with or without a puree, finish with a pat of butter or dousing of olive oil. At last, cut the heat, stir in ample aged grating cheese, spoon onto plates, and enjoy.