The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

A Look at Risotto

Posted on | June 18, 2010 | Written by Tida Lenoel | No Comments

One of the most misunderstood dishes, risotto is definitely one of my favorites. Some people think that risotto’s wonderful creamy texture comes from the addition of cream and butter, but really it’s just the natural composition of the rice itself. Starch, the main component of rice, is composed of amylopectin and amylose, and different kinds of rice have different percentages of these two starches. The rice used in risotto is short-grain rice and this type has a higher percentage of amylopectin, which is the sticky starch that results in the creamy texture. Medium-to-long grain rice, such as Jasmine and Basmati, has a higher percentage of amylase, which is why they seem to be fluffier. There are several types of risotto rice, but not all of them can be found in the US. Two of the most common are Arborio and Carnaroli.

Arborio rice gets its name after the town where it was originally grown in northern Italy’s Po Valley. Arborio is the easiest to find in the US because it’s now being grown in parts of California and Texas. It has a relatively low percentage of amylose for a risotto rice, which means it takes longer to cook because absorbs liquid less efficiently, and it will make a starchy and sticky risotto. Since it does not absorb liquid quickly, Arborio requires careful tending because it will go from undercooked to overdone very suddenly.  Anyone who has eaten mushy risotto will attest to its unpleasantness.

Carnaroli, known as the “king of rice,” is the most common type of Risotto used in Italy and originates from the Piemonte towns of Novara and Vercelli. Of all the risotto rice, Carnaroli has the highest percentage of amylose, which makes it absorb a lot of liquid and makes it less likely to overcook quickly and get mushy. Carnoli is usually designated “superfine” to indicate its high ratio of length to width, though it can also be labeled “semifinos” to show that the grain is rounder. Carnaroli is harder to find in the US, but you can locate it in most specialty stores.

The biochemical composition of the rice helps explain the ineffable connection between risotto’s raw ingredients and the fragrant, gleaming pool of risotto lounging on the plate in front of you. With this knowledge, you may understand risotto a little better—and appreciate this mysterious, beautiful and delicious dish even more.

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