Picking the Right Rice: A Guide to Risotto

When picking rice for your Italian dishes, you are probably under the impression that Arborio rice is the highest standard. In fact, as it is well known in Asian culinary cultures, each rice variety has different characteristics that make it more apt for one dish or another.

A picture of Vialone Nano grains

Risotto rice is made of two types of starches: the one on the surface, amylopectin, is soft and it will dissolve during cooking, giving the risotto its beautiful all’onda texture. The second starch, called amylase, makes the kernel of the rice grain, it’s firm and it’s what makes the risotto al dente – slightly firm inside. Depending on how much of each starch is contained in a grain, it is more apt for one dish or the other.

All risotto rice is also classified in three varieties based on the size of the grain: semifino, the smallest, fino and superfino, the largest. Within each category there are different rice varietals, but the main ones are Arborio and Carnaroli, both superfino, and Vialone Nano, a semifino.

Arborio rice, rich in the outside soft starch, tends to become too pulpy when cooked in a risotto. Since the amylopectin breaks in great quantity, it will be a great addition to soups- minestrone in particular, since the dissolved starch in the stock will tie the ingredients together. It will aslo make a perfect ingredient for rice puddings and cakes, as a sticky final texture is necessary for the perfect making of these dishes. For risotto, it is preferred to use a rice that is able to absorb more water in the kernel instead of dissolving in the surface, keeping the risotto creamier and lighter. Vialone Nano, very hard to find, and Carnaroli are perfect for risotto.

A Risotto with recipe attached- Click to find out more!

Vialone Nano has a round, thick grain and a kernel that is very unlikely to break. It is best used in risotto with robust ingredients- and it is my personal favorite. In the Bay Area, I have seen it (so far) only on the shelves of the Pasta Shop. Carnaroli, on the other hand, is easier to find- A.G.Ferrari carries it, and so does the Pasta Shop, Lucca, and Draeger’s. It has a thin and long grain very well balanced in the two starches, so it is fit for risotto with more delicate ingredients that are added at the last minute, like it is the case for seafood risotto.

In a beautiful risotto all’onda, the rice grains look like little pearls, similar to what they look like raw. A balance of the starches in the grain will give you a perfect risotto every time, without worrying about your recipe to turn in an ugly mess!

8 Responses to “Picking the Right Rice: A Guide to Risotto”

  1. [...] add your rice to the soffritto with no liquid, so that each grain gets warmed up. This is where picking the right rice becomes really important! Tostatura will ensure uniform cooking of the grain, so it’s a [...]

  2. [...] also have an extensive selection of bulk rice, among which Arborio. They carry Carnaroli rice in very reasonably priced packages if you need to stock up for your [...]

  3. [...] Joe’s also carries some veryday items: Semolina flour, carnaroli rice (for the best risotto), Illy caffe’ and quite a wide selction of different Gorgonzola! You [...]

  4. [...] Bowl is a bounty for rice- you can find carnaroli here, and more importantly, vialone nano is on the shelves! Not many places carry it, and none, for sure, at this [...]

  5. [...] a bit more common but still authentic: amarene, savoiardi, farro and barley, Umbrian lentils and carnaroli rice. Just in case you needed a stop to stock your [...]

  6. [...] series that starts with real Italian appetizers and ends with desserts, passing through pasta, risotto, scaloppine and fish [...]

  7. You wrote: “The second starch, called amylase, makes the kernel of the rice grain, it’s firm and it’s what makes the risotto al dente – slightly firm inside.”

    I think you mean amylose.

    Amylase, also present, is an enzyme, not a starch, that reacts with the latter to break them down into simpler sugars.

  8. Grazie!!

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