Saffron Risotto

January 1, 2010 at 9:21 pm (Cook's Illustrated, Derek's faves, Grains, Italian, Jack Bishop, Necessarily nonvegan, Spring recipes, unrated, Winter recipes)

My friend Alex and I took a walk along the river Saar this evening.  Despite the cold, the damp, the dark, and the mist, I had a lovely walk.  In the course of our conversation, we started talking about saffron, and I realized I’d never posted one of our favorite risotto’s to my blog:   saffron risotto.  This dish is plain, but very satisfying. The daisy-yellow color and creamy consistency make me feel like I’m eating macaroni and cheese. There’s just something about saffron that tastes like comfort food to me, even though I never had it growing up.  I can’t actually remember the first time I ever ate saffron, but it very well might have been the first time we made this saffron risotto!

The recipe we typically use is based on a recipe from Jack Bishop’s Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook. The saffron flavor is maximized by dissolving it in a little hot stock then adding it to the rice toward the end of the cooking time.  Bishop’s recipe is good, but quite rich.  We usually cut down on the butter quite a bit.

Below I’ve compared Jack Bishop’s recipe to the saffron risotto recipe in Cook’s Illustrated’s The Best Light Recipe.   I believe Jack Bishop works for Cook’s Illustrated, so it’s a bit odd that the recipe aren’t more similar.


Cook’s Illustrated Light Jack Bishop Our recipe
Serves 6. Serves 4. Serves 4.
7 cups vegetable broth 6 cups 6 cups
1 medium onion, chopped fine 3 medium shallots or 1 medium onion, minced 3 medium shallots, minced
1 tsp. olive oil 1 Tbs. olive oil + 2 Tbs. butter 1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt salt to taste 1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. crushed saffron threads 1/4 tsp. saffron threads 1/4 tsp. saffron threads
2 cups Arborio rice 1.5 cups Arborio rice 1.5 cups Arborio rice
1 cup light, dry white wine 1/2 cup dry white wine 3/4 cup dry white wine
2 oz. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano  (about 1 cup) 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 2 oz. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 Tbs. unsalted butter 2 Tbs. unsalted butter 1.5 Tbs. unsalted butter
ground black pepper ground black pepper
1/2 cup frozen green peas

Instructions from Jack Bishop:

  1. Bring the stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan.  Keep it warm over low heat.  Place the saffron threads in a small bowl.  Add 1/4 cup of the warm stock and set aside to infuse.
  2. Heat the oil and 2 Tbs. butter in a heavy-bottomed medium pot. Add the shallots or onion and saute over medium heat until softened, about 3 minutes.
  3. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the rice and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Add the wine and cook just until the alcohol aroma fades, 1 to 2 minutes.
  5. Add 1/2 cup of the warm stock and cook, stirring frequently, until the rice absorbs the liquid.
  6. Continue adding stock in 1/2 cup increments, stirring, for 20 minutes. Add the saffron-infused stock and continue cooking, stirring, until the rice is creamy and soft but still a bit al dente, about 5 minutes.
  7. Remove the pot from the heat and vigorously stir in the remaining 2 Tbs. butter and the 1/2 cup cheese.  Add salt to taste.  Divide the risotto among individual soup bowls.  Serve immediately with more grated cheese passed separately at the table.

Instructions from Cook’s Illustrated, combined with some of their commentary

  1. Same as above.
  2. Combine the onion, oil, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a large saucepan.  Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened, about 8-10 minutes.  Softening the onion and getting it to release its juices is essential to the final flavor and texture of the dish.
  3. Increase the heat to medium, add the rice and saffron, and cook, stirring frequently, until the edges of the grains are transparent, about 4 minutes.  Toasting the rice until translucent at the edges is crucial for avoiding a mushy and chalky risotto.
  4. Stir in the wine and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the wine has been completely absorbed, about 2 minutes.  If the wine isn’t completely absorbed, the final risotto may have a harsh alcohol flavor.
  5. Stir in 3 cups of the warm broth and simmer, stirring about every 3 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is dry, 10 to 12 minutes.
  6. Continue to cook the risotto, stirring frequently (about every 1 minute) and adding 1/2 cup of the remaining broth as needed to keep the pan bottom from becoming dry (about every 4 minutes), until the grains of rice are cooked through but still somewhat firm in the center, 10 to 12 minutes.  Risotto texture is a matter of personal taste, so start tasting the risotto for doneness after about 20 minutes of cooking. When the rice is cooked,  stir in the frozen peas and allow to warm through, about 3 minutes.
  7. Off the heat, stir in the cheese and butter, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Some butter is essential because it diminishes the subtle tacky character of the starchy sauce. Serve immediately in warmed shallow bowls.

My notes

I’ve always used Jack Bishop’s technique, but I’m curious to try the one described in Cook’s Illustrated.  I’ve never tried adding 1/2 the liquid at the beginning, but I bet it would work fine.  I’ve also never tried adding peas to this recipe, but I’m guessing it would be good, as I like the pea/tomato/saffron combination in our recipe for Arroz sin Pollo.

It’s odd that CI only calls for 1/8 tsp. saffron, because in their “normal” higher-fat version they call for 1/4 tsp.   I think 1/8 tsp. of saffron would not taste like much.

The amount of liquid you’ll need depends on the brand of rice you buy, and how high your heat is (i.e., how much of the broth boils away during cooking).  You might end up with some unused broth.  Alternatively, if you run out of broth and your rice is not done just add hot water.

Bishop recommends serving this dish with lots of veggies.  In the Spring, roasted asaparagus would be nice.  In the winter, maybe try it with sauteed kale or a leafy salad with citrus fruit.  This risotto might also go well with my white bean, fennel, rosemary soup, or an Italian-style chickpea or lentil soup.  It would be an odd combination, but I might also try serving this with lightly curried cauliflower.  The yellow vs. yellow could be interesting.

Nutritional Information

Macronutrient breakdown: 25% fat, 59% carbs, 10% protein.

Serving Size: 1/4 recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 420
Total Fat 11.2g
Saturated Fat 5.7g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 21mg
Sodium 659mg
Carbohydrate 59.6g
Dietary Fiber 1.2g
Sugars 1.8g
Protein 9.8g
Vitamin A 6% Vitamin C 1%
Calcium    19% Iron 7%


  1. dawn said,

    this is a fantastic recipe:)

  2. austingardener said,

    I just made my second risotto. This one is a summer squash-lemon one. It came out great.

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