Here is the traditional recipe of saffron risotto (Risotto alla Milanese), probably one of the most famous risotto recipe. Creamy and tasty, saffron risotto, according to the Milanese recipe, is made with saffron, butter, beef or chicken stock, dry white wine and Parmigiano cheese.
The choice of the type of rice, for the excellent result of the Milanese risotto, is really important. The rice traditionally used in the city of Milan is the Carnaroli variety, which is produced in Lombardy. In other regions they prefer Vialone Nano, which is more refined but more difficult to cook; both are excellent but for this recipe we used Carnaroli rice that we consider the best choice for the best result.
This dish, typical of northern Italian cuisine, in the authentic recipe includes the use of beef marrow. Not all the people like it in fact this ingredient is optional. So we’ll show you how to cook saffron risotto with or without the marrow, Risotto Milanese with marrow is naturally much tastier, in fact it’s not a coincidence that you often find this dish matched with ossobuco. For the Milanese ossobuco recipe click HERE.
Authentic Italian saffron risotto is usually made with homemade meat stock (beef or chicken). For vegetarians, replace it with vegetable stock (the recipe HERE).
Finally, saffron risotto, made according to the traditional Milanese recipe, wants butter in a fair amount (not oil…). If you prefer a slightly lighter dish, you can reduce the quantities until you use only a knob of butter for the soffritto and a knob of butter for the creaming; maybe slightly increase the doses of Grana Padano/Parmigiano Reggiano to make the risotto tasty and creamy.
How to Make Saffron Risotto
- 350 g (12 oz) of Carnaroli rice
- 2 liters of beef or chicken stock
- 1/2 teaspoon of saffron threads
- 90 g (3 oz) of butter
- beef marrow (optional)
- 30 g (1 oz) of onion (or shallot)
- 100 ml dry white wine
- 60g (2 oz) of grated Grana Padano cheese (or Parmigiano Reggiano)
Step 1) – First of all, make beef or chicken stock. It must be tasty, so try it before making saffron risotto. If necessary, season with salt. When the broth boils, reduce the heat and hold at a gentle simmer covered with a lid: the stock must be poured really hot into the risotto. Meanwhile, cut the onion into small pieces, if possible “as big” as a grain of rice (when cooked, it must not be possible to tell onion from rice).
Step 2) – Place half the butter (about 45 g) in a large pan. Use a pan that is right for cooking risotto, a non-stick pan made in aluminum like the one we used to make this recipe would be perfect. Now add the marrow (or you can decide whether to add it in the final creaming as if it were butter), but only if you like it. We preferred to add it as an optional ingredient even if the traditional Italian recipe for saffron risotto requires marrow. Finally add the onion.
Step 3) – Simmer for 2 minutes on medium heat, till the onion is soft and traslucent, stirring from time to time. Now add the rice and cook for 2 minutes, always stirring (till the grains are slightly glassy).
Step 4) – Then add the white wine, stir and let it evaporate, over high heat. Even this ingredient you could consider optional: if you don’t like the acidity that releases the white wine, do not add it and go to the next step.
Step 5) – Add the boiling stock. At first, there will be a sizzle: part of the stock, in contact with the hot pan, evaporates then immediately add another ladle. During cooking, the rice must always be covered with stock; in this way it releases the starches and the grain does not break. The stock must be at the level of the rice: not too little, which you struggle to stir it, nor too much because you run the risk of the boiled rice effect. How long does it take for a perfectly cooked rice? For Carnaroli rice about 14 minutes, plus 3 for creaming. So let it cook and stir occasionally until ready.
Step 6) – While the rice is cooking, crush the saffron threads between two sheets of parchment paper then dissolve the powder in half a ladle of hot stock. After about 14 minutes of cooking, the stock will be almost completely evaporated and the risotto is almost ready, so turn off the heat.
Step 7) – Now with the heat off, add the saffron and mix thoroughly. Saffron is thermolabile, that is, it loses its aroma if it remains in contact with heat for a long time. For this reason it’s better adding it to the risotto just after removing it from the heat, stirring well until it is evenly distributed.
Step 8) – Finally, add the butter (the other half). As mentioned above, if you like marrow , you can add it now (cut into little pieces), instead of butter.
Step 9) – Then add the grated cheese. Now stir. Parmigiano reggiano or grana padano must be grated on the spot, with the grater. The cheese is not minced in the blender, it’s not used if it has been grated for some time and it’s not bought already grated. It must be absolutely fresh and of excellent quality. Like the butter. This is the secret of the perfect creaming.
Step 10) – Saffron risotto is ready, creamy but al dente. Serve immediately.
How to Store Risotto Leftovers
Just store saffron risotto closed in an airtight container and placed in the refrigerator, for a maximum of two days. Freezing is not recommended. (You can use saffron risotto leftovers to make succulent rice balls)
Saffron Risotto: Some Tricks and Tips for a perfect risotto
The wine and the stock you add to the rice must be the first at room temperature, the second always boiling, in order not to slow down cooking.
Use a high quality rice, possibly Carnaroli: it has a nice elongated and rather large grain. Among its qualities there is the percentage of starch which is very high (12-14% of normal rice up to 22-24% of carnaroli). So it keeps cooking better and releases a lot of starch giving the dish a natural creaminess.
When on the rice box it reads “cooking time: xx minutes” it means for boiling rice. When calculating the cooking times of the risotto, the 3 minutes of creaming must also be included.
If the rice is cooked for 18 minutes, the heat should be turned off after 15 minutes and then add 3-4 minutes for creaming.
How to serve saffron risotto?
Once ready, the risotto should be served immediately, otherwise you would risk bringing to the table an overcooked risotto (cooking would go on for as long as it is left to rest).
You can serve it with many dishes: in addition to the typical combination with Ossobuco alla Milanese, it’s also excellent with mushrooms, in particular porcini mushrooms, sausages but even shrimps and other seafood.
What kind of pan to use to cook risotto?
To cook risotto it’s better to use a large pan with one or two handles, with the flared border 6-8 cm high, possibly non-stick in stainless steel or aluminum. This will allow not only to distribute the rice well and to obtain a uniform cooking, but will facilitate the creaming.
How to make Vegetarian Saffron Risotto
The traditional Italian saffron risotto recipe wants beef or chicken stock. If you are vegetarian you can make it with a vegetable stock. The flavor is less rich but it’s good all the same. Without the addition of cheese and using extra virgin olive oil in place of butter, you will eat a great Vegan Saffron Risotto.
Saffron Risotto History and Curiosities
Rice is an ingredient from all over the world. But risotto is an Italian preparation, widespread and made famous in the world by Italians.
The origins of the recipe are lost in the eighteenth-century legends. In the days of the construction of the Milan Cathedral. Legend has it that the famous mastro Valerio di Fiandra was the responsible for the stained glass windows of the Cathedral.
One of his assistants was called “Zafferano” (Saffron) because he was obsessed with putting a little of this spice in each color mixture (at the time it was mostly a dye), for more lively results. Valerio di Fiandra made fun of him, saying that sooner or later he would put it in the dishes too. So on the wedding day of Valerio’s daughter (in 1754), for a joke – then much appreciated – Zafferano agreed with the cook to add it to the rice on the menu. It was a success.
However, according to several recipe books, risotto is a much more recent invention. Until the end of the eighteenth century, in fact, the only way to cook rice was to boil it in water. The first official recipe of Milanese risotto as we know it today is by Giovanni Felice Luraschi: dated 1829, this version includes most of the classic ingredients of the Milanese risotto: marrow, saffron, stock and grated cheese.