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Rice for Risotto – Perfect Rice Varieties

Rice Types – Introduction

When we are choosing the rice for risotto, our thoughts turned to the massive topic of rice and its place in the cuisines of the world recently when we opened a packet of vacuum-packed Carnaroli rice from Acquerello in Piemonte, Italy.

One of the discussions was about rice varieties. In other words, what is the best rice for risotto.

We are used to discussing grape varieties in our work with natural wines. Different grape varieties produce wines with different characteristics. For example, the Tannat grape variety produces red wines with a high level of tannin. The Savagnin grape variety produces white wines which can be exposed to oxygen to produce the amazing yellow wines of the Jura region of France and so on.

The same applies to coffee bean varieties. Coffee beans tend to reflect the terroir in which they are grown. They are quite responsive to climate, altitude and the soil in which they are grown whether they are the caffeine-laden Robusta or the more refined Arabica or one of the many sub-species thereof.

As mentioned above, the rice variety that we bought from Acquerello is Carnaroli which is very well adapted to making the famous Italian dish of risotto. There are many different rice varieties that are used throughout the world and the varieties allow the expression of different dishes that take advantage of those varieties’ features.

For example, in Spain they use the short grain Bomba rice for making the famous paella dish because this rice variety has the ability to absorb large quantities of liquid without breaking up. If we move to India we find a different variety of rice (in fact many different varieties) of which Basmati rice is common due to it long grain and fluffy texture when cooked. It also absorb spice flavours making it the perfect accompaniment for curry dishes.

Moving to China and South-East Asia there are also many different rice varieties including Jasmine rice and the famous glutinous rice which is used for congee – the long-cooked rice porridge that we crave so much. Interestingly, every Sunday morning we head for the local farmers’ market in Hobart where Adam from Rough Rice serves a stunning congee made from a high-quality brown rice grown in Australia. He accompanies this dish with a selection of his famous ferments that catapults the dish to a higher level!

When we visit Japan then our thoughts turn to sushi for which a sticky rice is used to ensure that the individual rice grains stick to each other and hold the sushi together. The best varieties for sushi in our experience are Koshihikari and Sasanishiki.

These are just some of the rice dishes and the varieties of rice, but there are many, many more and each has different characteristics that lend themselves to making different dishes.

Rice for Risotto

We now return to the Carnaroli rice variety that we bought from Acquerello as the rice for risotto.

There are three main rice varieties that are used widely in Italy for making this famous dish. There is the Arborio variety which is widely used as a rice for risotto and there is Vialone Nano which is also prized for its long grain and creaminess that it imparts. It is commonly used in and around Venice, in the Veneto region. And the third is the one we bought which many people think is the best of all, particularly for imparting creaminess to the risotto due to the starch levels in the grains.

Making a great risotto

There are many things to consider when making a risotto, so we will go through each step that we use and explain the rationale in each case. Note that we are very keen on developing many “layers” of flavour whenever we cook a dish and risottos are no exception.

You need to consider the last few minutes of making a risotto which is the emulsification phase. This is when you rapidly stir grated Parmesan cheese and butter together in the finished rice dish to enhance the creaminess of the dish. So you need to cut about 60 grams of butter (more if you are making a large batch) and grate about a cup of Parmesan and set aside.

The first step is to chop one or two onions fairly finely and sweat them in some butter or oil (or both) in a heavy pan until they are almost transparent. This provides a base layer of flavour that only onion can provide.

When the onions are nearly transparent add one or two cloves of garlic which have been finely chopped.

The next step depends on what type of risotto you are preparing. If it requires cooking out of an ingredient such as a vegetable or meat then these can be added now. We will use zucchini as an example because we love using fresh zucchini in season and making a “two texture” version with some of the vegetable long-cooked and some added at the end for heating up but not cooking for very long.

At this stage alternatives might be tomatoes or corn or peppers or asparagus or Brussel sprouts or green peas or eggplant as just some examples.

So, as this is going to be a zucchini risotto, chop half a zucchini into small dice and add it to the onion mixture and stir while it is cooking. After a few minutes add a healthy amount of salt and pepper (at least a teaspoon of each). So, this is another layer of flavour!

Now add the rice and some butter to coat the grains. You will need between quarter of a cup and half a cup of rice per person depending on how hungry everyone is and also depending on whether you want leftovers – it is easy to reheat this dish and it is delicious the second time around! Stir the rice until it is coated with the oil and butter.

We now turn to the stock we will use for making the risotto. We often use a chicken stock to maximise the flavour of the final dish, because chicken stock complements most vegetables and meat and even fish. However, it is definitely OK to use a vegetable stock or any other stock provided it is not too strong – you want to be able to let the flavours of the vegetables or meats or fish shine through.

Add about a cup of simmering stock to the risotto and stir to ensure that the rice is not sticking to the pan. Turn the heat down so that the stock is just bubbling. You don’t want it cooking too rapidly.

Set a timer for 6 or 7 minutes. Relax!

When the timer warns you, stir the mixture and add another healthy dose of stock – about another cupful. Stir for a little while then set another timer for 6 or 7 minutes.

When the timer goes off again you now need to concentrate. Depending on the rice you are using it should now only need a few minutes for the rice to be cooked. Test by trying a couple of grains. It should provide some resistance to the bite, but not be too soft.

Keep adding stock if it is getting low until the rice is cooked. Then add the butter and cheese in one go and stir vigorously so that the butter and cheese are fully incorporated in the dish creating a rich creamy texture.


The process outlined above is for zucchini, however it is a general process that you can use for just about any ingredients. We often cook a fish risotto using fish stock or the chicken stock we mention above where the fish is added towards the end after the two 6 minute sessions where the rice is being cooked. If the fish has been cut into bite size pieces it will only take 3 or 4 minutes of stirring of the rice dish to cook the fish.

And of course it is very important to use the right rice for risotto, as the final dish depends very much on the starch level and the variety being robust enough to withstand the fifteen minutes of cooking or so.

You can find more information about the Carnaroli rice and how it is prepared for sale by Acquerello here.

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