What is risotto rice exactly?
Arborio and the others explained
For some people things are simple. Rice is rice. A car is a car. And there is just one color blue. When they make a dish with rice in it, it’s not about the rice. It’s about the vegetables they add, or meat, or the spices they use. And it would be hard to ignore those are important parts. It’s even crucial.
But just how coffee beans have an influence on how you’re morning cappuccino tastes or the French region where grapes grow for a big part decide how your wine is going to be like, so do some rice variety have a big influence on the taste of a dish.
In the blog “History of rice”, I explained how rice spread over the world. And how all these places differ in altitude, soil composition, climate and so on and because of that there are numerous varieties of rice.
But also in the country’s itself they differ. Italy has its own varieties of the major domesticated Asian rice Oryza Sativa Japonica. To be honest, it doesn’t even sound like rice to me. More like an expensive piano or a Japanese battleship. Anyway, so the Italians have their own variety’s and they classify them.
Imagine a farmer inventing a new type of rice. By filling out an application and pass all the requirements the new variety will be classified and registered in the Registro Nazionale delle Varieta di Riso, The National Register of rice varieties. They have been doing this since 1958, so they’re pretty serious about that.
Up to today, there are more than 180 different types of rice registered. I’m not going to write about all of them, of course, this isn’t a university. But you should know about the known ones when it comes to risotto. Arborio, Carnaroli en Vianole nano. Yep, you can leave beautiful names up to Italians
This is the easiest one to find. Usually, when you go to the supermarket and ask for “risotto rice” this is the one they will have. If the package gives you more information than “Risotto Rice”. Because for most consumers buying just “Risotto Rice” will do.
I personally don’t prefer this variety. It has a large grain (classified as Superfino, the largest size) that absorbs a lot of liquid. Which I like. But when you cook it, it loses its firmness a bit fast so it easily can become mushy and sticky.
My favorite. Google this one and you’ll find writers calling it the “Rolls Royce of risotto”, or the “Caviar of rice”. And there is a reason for it. First, the grain is almost as large as the arborio, so they’re both superfine, and carnaroli also absorbs a lot of liquid (thus flavor). But in contrast to arborio, because of the starch composition, it stays firm. For this, it doesn’t overcook fast and that makes it easy for beginners.
From the province of Verona but popular in the whole Veneto region, the northeast part of Italy. Just Like Carnaroli, it stays firm while it has the ability to absorb a lot of liquid. The different is its smaller and rounder, semifino. It also tastes a bit lighter on the stomach. I like to use this rice when I add fish to my risotto or If I make one with just vegetables.
So which one should you choose? Well, as I stated before, Carnaroli is the easiest to start with. But once you know how to cook them all three properly it comes down to taste. Do you want your risotto to be fluent or compact, soft or firm, big heavy bites or small tiny grains? And what ingredients do you want to use? Vegetables or meat. So many choices…
But know that you have an idea about the varieties, shapes, like superfino and semifino, and their characteristics, do you understand how vague it is if it just shows “risotto rice” on the packaging? For all you know it could be different kinds of rice varieties in different sizes.
So what do you look for? Well for one, of course, the name of the variety you’d like. Like the one mentioned above, but there are other ones also. Then you can look at the size of the grain. Arborio and carnaroli are usually Superfino, we know that. Then you have fino, a bit smaller, semifino, like the vianole nano, and the smallest, commune.
Some packages have a transparent piece so you can see the grain. Another thing you can look for, and this is with a lot of Italian products, is the Denominazione di Origine Protetta logo, but you’ll recognize it as DOP. Because lots of products are sold as “Italian” but lack the quality or aren’t even from Italy, DOP is used to ensure the authenticity of Italian products like mozzarella, olive oil or vinegar. And rice.
Verona has its own protected designation called Indiciazone Geografica Protetta. So on packages of Vialone nano, you’ll find an IGP mark.
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I’m Herry. Someone who’s totally in love with risotto.