When you think of risotto, you probably think of laboring over a pot (or two, actually) with a spoon constantly stirring. And that's kinda what it is. It's a labor of love. Sure you can make risotto in an instant pot or even in the oven. But there's something about being so involved with the food.
It's not a dish that you make if you're in a rush (though I have tried) or when you're not really into cooking. It's something you make because you really feel like creating in the kitchen.
So open a bottle of wine, pour yourself a glass and let's get cooking.
Types of Rice for Risotto
Risotto is a dish, not a type of rice. Though you do need one of a few specific types of high-starch rice to make traditional risotto.
Arborio - The most widely available risotto rice, this short-grain rice makes excellent risotto but does require careful attention to not get mushy.
Carnaroli - Often preferred by chefs, it is a large, pearly grain. Carnaroli is more difficult to find and can be expensive, but it is thought to make the creamiest risotto. It is also plumper than arborio, and a little more forgiving.
Vialone Nano - A thicker, shorter grain than arborio or Carnaroli, this rice from the Veneto region of Italy is hard to find, but cooks quicker, with excellent results.
Roma, Baldo, S. Andrea - You may also a few other "official" Italian specialty risotto rice varieties. All will produce excellent risotto.
Really almost any short- or medium-grain rice can be used to make risotto in a pinch, though the results may not be as creamy. Just avoid long-grain rice (like basmati or jasmine), which definitely lacks the required starch.
It is also possible to make a risotto with other small, starchy grains. Farro makes fabulous risotto, but pearl barley, brown rice, spelt or buckwheat are also options. The result may not be as creamy, but can still be tasty. And you can match specific grain flavors to the dish.
What You Need
- Two pots (one small and one larger); I like to use a 4-quart Dutch oven for the risotto and a smaller 2-quart pot to simmer the stock
- Sauté pan for the mushrooms or a sheet pan if you are roasting them
- Ladle to transfer the stock to the risotto
- Wooden spoon or spatula for stirring
- High-starch rice like arborio or Carnaroli
- Olive oil
- Dry white wine (wine adds some acidity to the dish, which helps balance out the flavors from the richness and brighten it up; lemon juice can be used as a substitute)
- Yellow onion, diced
- Stock (chicken or vegetable; preferably homemade)
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (yes, you need the real stuff here)
- Mushrooms (a variety is great)
- Fresh herbs such as thyme and chives
- Unsalted butter
Make It Without Wine?
Wine is totally optional. Sure, the alcohol cooks out, but if wine isn't your thing or you just don't have any on hand, leaving it out will be just fine. You could add a squeeze of lemon juice (about 1 tablespoon) to the first ladle of stock that you add. This will still add some acidity to the dish and add some needed balance.
Make It Ahead and Save Time
Restaurants do this, and you can too! Since risotto is going to take you about 45 minutes of hands-on time, it's not the most convenient dish to put together when you are in a rush or have guests over. The good news is there's a restaurant technique you can utilize that will have your risotto prepped and ready to go in a flash, if you prep and plan ahead.
The secret is to cook the risotto ahead of time, but not all the way. You will stop the cooking process when it is very "al dente," or about 75% cooked. Then transfer it to a parchment-lined sheet pan or baking dish and cool it down quickly.
When you are ready to serve it, heat up some stock to a boil, add the risotto and break it up with a wooden spoon and continuously stir to warm it through. Add a few more ladles of boiling stock to finish the cook. When it's ready, remove it from the heat and finish it just like you would for the regular recipe.
You can also roast or sauté the mushrooms ahead of time, cool them and then just heat them up on the stove when it's time to serve.
Any type of mushrooms will work great. Go with a variety if possible.
For this dish, I went with chanterelle and crimini. Morels, oyster, shiitake and standard button mushrooms are also great. The more variety, the more flavors and textures you will get.
You can either sauté or roast the mushrooms. Either method works great. If your oven is already on, going the roasting route is more hands-off and you can do more at one time.
Mushrooms love high heat and some fat to turn golden brown after sweating off their liquid. Use either butter or olive oil. Just keep cooking them over medium-high heat until their liquid has evaporated and they turn golden. Then they are ready to go.
Don't season your mushrooms with salt too early. This will draw out more moisture and prevent browning. Instead, wait until they are browned before adding salt.
Finish them up with some butter and fresh herbs (thyme is my favorite).
A mushroom brush comes in handy for cleaning the mushrooms. Personally, I don't like to rinse mushrooms unless it's absolutely necessary since it adds more moisture and makes it more difficult to brown them.
How to Make Mushroom Risotto (The Basic Steps)
See the recipe card below for the full recipe.
- Sauté onions with some olive oil over medium-low heat until they are translucent.
- Toast the rice for a few minutes, by stirring in the pot before adding any liquid.
- Add white wine and cook until it is absorbed. Increase the heat to medium. Ladle in hot stock, ½ cup at a time. Stirring constantly so it evenly incorporates. Add more once it is absorbed.
- Sauté or roast the mushrooms while the risotto cooks.
- Continuing adding stock, stirring and cooking the rice until it is al dente (still firm and not mushy).
- Remove from heat and stir in grated Parmesan, butter and fresh herbs. Season with salt and pepper.
The Consistency of Good Risotto
Risotto should be a very thick liquid, not runny or overly gooey. Perfect consistency for risotto is tricky, as the time it takes really depends on a lot of factors, like the type of rice, the temperature of the stock and the precise temp of the risotto itself.
The best way to tell if it's done is by tasting: A grain of rice should still have a bit of bite to it in the center, not completely smooth. When in doubt, err on the side of cooking it less; you can also add some more time, but you can't un-cook it if it's overdone.
- Prep ahead if know you'll be in a time crunch that evening.
- Risotto has wine in it, so should you. A glass of wine is great company when you are stirring the pot.
- Use homemade stock if at all possible. One of the main flavor components of risotto is the stock, so you want it to taste great and not be loaded with salt.
- Hot stock = happy risotto. Adding cold stock will slow down the cooking process. Add hot stock to keep that rice absorbing the whole time.
- Don't rinse the rice. You want the starch, which is what makes it naturally creamy.
- Don't add too much stock at a time. No more than half a cup (4 ounces) at a time is optimal, and wait until it is absorbed before adding more.
- Don't add the cheese until the pot is off the heat.
- Taste test before serving: Like always, you want to taste it for seasoning. Maybe it needs a little more salt or Parm.
- Serve immediately: Risotto that sits gets extremely sticky and loses its magical, creamy texture.
Serve it up with an arugula salad with Parmesan and a bright lemon vinaigrette.
- 1 lb+ mushrooms (cleaned and sliced)
- 2 tablespoon olive oil (divided)
- 4 tablespoon unsalted butter (divided)
- 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock (preferably homemade)
- ½ onion or 2 shallots, diced
- 1 ½ cup arborio or Carnaroli rice
- ¾ cup white wine
- ½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Fresh herbs such as thyme and chives
- Extra-virgin olive oil
Sauté the Mushrooms
- While you make the risotto, sauté the mushrooms: Heat a heavy-bottom skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 2 tablespoon of the butter until melted. Then add the mushrooms.
- Sauté, stirring every few minutes, until they are golden brown and tender. Season with kosher salt, pepper and finish with fresh herbs.
- Bring the stock to a simmer in a small saucepan.
- In a separate 4-quart dutch oven or pot, sauté the onions with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch of salt over medium-low heat until they are translucent, about 4 minutes.
- Add the rice, stir for 1 minute until it starts to become semi-transparent.
- Increase the heat to medium and carefully add the wine. Cook down until it is almost completed evaporated, about 2 minutes.
- Start adding stock about ½ cup at a time. Stirring until it is almost completely absorbed each time before adding more. Stir the risotto frequently during the process and continue until all of the stock is used or the rice is al dente. Add only enough stock the last time so it doesn't become too thick.
- Remove from the heat and finish by stirring in the remaining butter, grated Parmesan and fresh herbs. Taste (careful, it is hot!) and season with salt and pepper.
- Plate the risotto into warm bowls, top with the mushrooms and a drizzle of high-quality extra-virgin olive oil and serve immediately.
- Rice-to-stock ratio - The ratio of rice to stock is about 1 to 4. Use this for scaling up.
- The mushrooms - Use a variety of wild mushrooms and white button with different textures. You can leave some whole, slice some and quarter others to also change the texture.
The mushrooms can also be roasted. Simply toss the sliced mushrooms in a bowl with olive oil, then place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and put in a 400° F oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Rice doneness - You are aiming for "al dente," which leaves some firmness to the rice and a slight bite. You don't want it to be mushy. If the rice hasn't cooked enough, just add more stock or hot water until the desired doneness is reached.
- Risotto texture - The finished texture of risotto should be creamy and be slightly clingy. It shouldn't be dry or super runny. If you need to adjust at the end, just add more stock or some hot water to loosen it up.
- More veggies - Peas also go great with the mushrooms if you want to add a veggie. Just add them toward the end to warm them through.
- Reheating risotto - Store risotto covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days and gently heat it up in the microwave, for not too long at a time. Stir between heating cycles.