Risotto Milanese

James Beard

Author and Educator

The classic recipe for Risotto Milanese calls for saffron, one of the most expensive spices in the world. Saffron comes from the dried stigmas of the Crocus sativus, a fall-blooming crocus primarily cultivated in Spain and Portugal. Its high cost is due to the miniscule yield from each flower and its labor-intensive harvesting methods. Saffron is generally sold in small, individual packets, and fortunately, most recipes call for only a pinch. Don’t omit it, though; its yellow color and unique flavor impart a delicious quality to not only risotto, but also to such dishes as arroz con pollo, paella, and Indian biryani.


  • 1 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice
  • 6 tablespoons plus 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 pints hot chicken broth or stock
  • Pinch saffron, steeped in 1/4 cup hot chicken stock
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese


Melt the 6 tablespoons butter in a heavy saucepan. When it bubbles, add the onion and sauté until just wilted down to a delicate pale gold. Add the rice and toss it around with a wooden spoon to coat it well with butter, but do not let it brown.

Add the wine and let it reduce until it is nearly evaporated, with only about a teaspoon left. Start adding the broth, about 1 1/2 cups at a time, and let each addition cook away rather briskly, stirring the rice often. As the rice absorbs the stock, add more. Continue stirring and adding stock until the rice starts to get tender, then add saffron. Stir it into the rice completely, so it dissolves and distributes its lovely flavor and color.

When the rice is tender to the bite and almost dry, stir in the rest of the butter and Parmesan cheese. The grains of rice will be soft and creamy, yet separate.


4 servings