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.


  • 4 cups (32 ounces) low-sodium chicken broth or stock
  • Pinch saffron
  • 9 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


In a medium sauce pan, bring broth to a boil and lower heat to keep warm. In a small bowl, combine saffron and a ladle of stock; set aside to steep.

In a heavy saucepan, melt 6 tablespoons butter over medium heat. When it begins to bubble, add onion and sauté until softened and translucent, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the rice and toss it around with a wooden spoon to coat it well with butter, but do not let it brown.

Add wine and stir until it reduces and is nearly evaporated.

Add 1 or 2 ladles of warm stock. Stir continuously until rice absorbs the liquid before adding more. Continue to add remaining stock in the same method, stirring until rice is tender and creamy. Stir in the saffron-infused stock until it is well combined and distributes its lovely flavor and color.

When the rice is tender to the bite and almost dry, stir in the remaining 3 tablespoons butter and Parmesan cheese. The grains of rice will be soft and creamy, yet separate. Serve immediately. Garnish with additional freshly grated cheese, if you’d like.


Adapted from James Beard's original recipe. Recipe photo and food styling by Judy Kim.


4 servings