Risotto Milanese – The answer to boring, humdrum side dishes!
The Milanese in the title obviously refers to Milan, Italy but specific to risotto, Milanese usually means that the rice has been flavored with saffron.
It’s hard to describe the flavor of saffron but some people say it smells and tastes a bit like dried hay. While that might not seem the most appetizing description to use, I like to think that saffron tastes yellow. It’s a mild, warm, and golden flavor that lends itself well to paring with more fragrantly seasoned or spiced foods like Chicken alla Diavola.
Making risotto is easier than you think.
The big thing to know is that you have to commit yourself (or some lucky kitchen helper) to quite a bit of stirring. Stirring helps the arborio rice release its starch and soak up the delicious broth. Without vigilant stirring, you would have a gloppy, sticky mess. So grab a beverage and a wooden spoon and get your best zen-like-risotto-stirring-mindset in order.
Here’s what you need:
Arborio Rice, Onion, Olive Oil, Chicken Broth, Water (not pictured), White Wine, Saffron, Romano (or Parmesan) Cheese, Butter, Salt & Pepper.
For risotto you MUST use Arborio rice. It is a shorter, plumper grain and higher in starch than regular long or short grain rice. The starch (and the stirring) is what makes risotto creamy and smooth.
For Risotto Milanese you also must use real saffron threads. Don’t be scared away by saffron. Sometimes you will hear that it is the world’s most expensive spice. That is true but that is also measured by weight and saffron barely weighs more than air.
Saffron threads are the tiny dried stigmas from the crocus flower. The good news is that you don’t need much saffron to make a big impact. This recipe takes a big pinch of saffron or about 1/2 teaspoon.
My store sells saffron in very small packets (about enough for 1 or 2 pots of risotto) that are only a few dollars. Look in the spice aisle as well as the section with the Mexican and Latin foods. You might be able to find a less expensive brand or even saffron in bulk in a Latin market.
Most risotto starts with onion. Finely chop 1 medium onion – about 1 cup.
Heat up 4 cups of chicken broth and 1 cup of water in a medium sauce pan. You want the broth hot but it doesn’t need to be boiling.
Risotto Milanese can be made with either beef or chicken broth. I’m using chicken for a bit lighter flavor and also because I’m serving it with Chicken alla Diavola.
Add the saffron threads (1 big pinch or about 1/2 teaspoon) and allow them to steep or “bloom” in the liquid. You’ll notice that it immediately starts to turn a lovely, golden yellow.
Heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat in a large sauce pan. Add the onions and sauté until translucent and soft but not browned – only about 4-5 minutes.
When the onions are soft, add 1½ cups of arborio rice to the pot and stir them to coat in the onions and oil. Sauté the rice with the onions for 1-2 minutes to get it slightly toasty.
A little cooking hint for risotto is to experiment with different sized and shaped cookware. I have settled on a slightly larger pot that still has high sides like a sauce pan but is a little broader and wider for more surface cooking area on the bottom. If your pan is too small, the risotto will take forever to cook. If it is too large, you risk it sticking.
Cooking only at medium heat, add 1/2 cup of dry white wine.
Stir and cook the rice until all of the wine has been absorbed.
Then add a ladleful of the saffron chicken broth and stir until it has been absorbed.
That’s it. That is the trick to risotto. Add broth just a bit at a time (maybe ½ – ¾ cup) and stir until it has been absorbed. Add more stock. Stir. Absorb. Add more stock. Stir. Absorb.
You get the idea. Don’t be tempted to crank the heat up. You want the risotto to simmer very gently and never get to a full bubbling boil.
Keep an eye on your pot of broth. If it looks like it is running low and your rice is still fairly crunchy, add more water or broth to the pan to warm. I usually end up using between 5-6 cups of broth & water total.
Depending on the shape and size of your cooking pot, your risotto should take between 20-25 minutes to cook. Risotto is done when it is al dente like pasta. Soft but with just the tiniest hint of “bite” in the center. If it is crunchy, keep stirring and adding more broth.
Technically you want to eat risotto right away. However, if we are being honest here, sometimes getting everything prepared and ready at exactly the same time doesn’t always happen. I try not to let my risotto sit too long or it will start to get gluey. However, if you are cooking along and realize that you need to hold or slow down the risotto there is a good trick…
Before you get to down the last of the broth, add some broth so the risotto is quite soupy then turn the heat down to the lowest setting. Cover with a lid and you can let the risotto hang out like this for 10 minutes or so while the rest of your meal catches up. Then when you are ready to go, turn the heat back up, resume stirring, and cook until the liquid has been absorbed, the rice is tender, and the texture is extremely creamy.
Add 3/4 cup of grated Romano or Parmesan cheese. I personally like Pecorino Romano for the salty bite of flavor that it adds.
Stir in the cheese and then at the very end, stir in 1 Tablespoon of butter for extra creaminess.
Season to taste with salt & pepper.
Risotto Milanese is a nice way to get out of the rut of plain rice or potatoes as a side dish. Its gorgeous golden color and warm flavor work well with almost any meat or fish.
The stirrer gets the biggest serving! (And maybe an extra glass of wine.)
Here’s the recipe: