Risotto rice refers to a category of rices well-suited because of their properties to be used in the Italian dish known as “risotto.”
All risotto rices are a short-grain rice or medium-grain rice that is quite fat and very starchy, so that the grains can absorb lots of moisture and make the mixture quite creamy. The kernels, despite absorbing all that liquid, still manage to maintain a bit of firmness.
You may find it labelled just “risotto rice” in supermarkets, and really, any risotto rice will do fine. You’d guess correctly, though, that being the people who gave us 10,000 different kinds of pasta, the Italians would have many different kinds of risotto rice.
Types of risotto rice
Types of rice well suited for risotto include arborio rice (common in North American and UK supermarkets), carnaroli or vialone nano.
If you are familiar with any specific kind of risotto rice, chances are it’s arborio. But there is also vialone nono, baldo, padano, carnaroli and Roma. And each of them is graded, in ascending order, as commune, semi-fino, fino and superfino. Risotto rices are mainly grown in Northern Italy’s Po valley.
Arborio is an opaque white, with “whiter” dots in the middle (called “the pearls”.)
Carnaroli is more expensive than arborio; it has a lot of starch, making a very creamy risotto. The type of starch in this rice is more resistant to overcooking than that in arborio rice is, making it easier to cook this rice to the perfect “tender to the bite” consistency that is desirable in risotto dishes.
Vialone Nano Rice
Vialone nano is popular in Venice. Though it is really short, it can absorb twice its weight in liquid. Vialone nano is most often used for seafood risottos. It is even more resistant to being overcooked than carnaroli rice is.
Don’t rinse risotto rice to get any starch off, as you do sometimes with other types of rice. With risotto, starch is the whole idea.
When you are making risotto, always start with stock with has been brought to the boil. Add the stock a ladleful at a time, allowing the rice to absorb the stock it has before giving it more. The cooked risotto rice should still be tender to the bite.
1 cup arborio rice = 7 oz / 200 g
4 cups arborio rice = 750 g
Arborio rice has been cultivated for centuries in the Piedmont region of Italy, perhaps even longer: some scholars believe that rice found in Herculaneum came from Northern Italy, too.