I remember the first time I had arancini more clearly than I remember what I ate for dinner two nights ago. I was in college at an event in the upscale Alumni House; the hosts were serving appetizers and asking if I’d prefer a Pinot Noir or a Merlot. I didn’t want to make myself appear too uninformed in front of the small group of tenured professors and experts invited to speak at the event, so instead of asking the server what on earth the fried ball of goodness I’d just eaten was called, I delicately bit into a second and simply said, “thank you!” I opened my laptop the second I returned to my dorm room and googled “fried rice balls.” After a few awkward clicks, I finally discovered the term for the aforementioned fried balls of goodness was “arancini,” and that the dish was simply risotto coated in bread crumbs and fried.
Many years later, I’ve finally concocted my own go-to risotto AND a favorite use-up. To be fair, this isn’t a traditional arancini. If you’re Italian and you’re reading this, please don’t hate me. I’m not trying to disrespect you – I’m just really lazy and I don’t feel like trying to get tiny chunks of cheese perfectly centered inside of day-old risotto. I’d rather load up said risotto with some extra cheese to keep the flavor intact and call it a day.
Seriously, I see nothing wrong with that picture. But if you like, go ahead and stuff whatever you want in the center – though be advised that mozzarella is the traditional choice. I considered a melty Point Reyes Toma but ate it with some bread instead. Oops.
I’m sure you noticed the difference in the color of the crust between the arancini tower photos and the close ups. I promise it’s not photoshopping! I was experimenting with size to see wether a large or small arancini would vary in how well they held together after the first bite. I cooked the larger ones a little longer than the smaller ones to make sure that they warmed all the way through, and the crust got a little darker. Not surprisingly, the smaller arancini were easier to eat with one hand because they held together better.
Aside from just generally being awesome, arancini is another really versatile dish. You can adjust the flavors of your risotto to compliment any meat accompaniment, and you can even shred up leftover meat into the risotto the next day to add some extra protein to your arancini indulgence. I used the lemon-herb risotto I made for this dish – if I’d had any leftover salmon, I would absolutely have added it to my arancini! Another great tip: double the recipe and eat half for dinner the night before (can be made up to 5 days in advance). On gameday, you can even assemble and fry an hour before kickoff and keep warm in a 200 degree oven.
- 1 C minced shallot (2 large shallots)
- 1 TBSP minced garlic (3 medium cloves)
- 1 TBSP olive oil
- 2 TBSP butter, divided
- 3/4 C arborio rice
- 3 1/4 C vegetable or chicken stock
- 1/2 tsp lemon zest
- 1 TBSP lemon juice
- 1/2 C freshly shredded parmesan cheese
- 2 TBSP chopped chives
- 1 TBSP chopped basil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 C panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 C grated parmesan
- 1 C all purpose flour
- 1 egg, lightly beaten with 2 TBSP water
- 2 C canola oil (or other flavorless frying oil)
- Mise en place, and read this recipe all the way through
- Heat stock to a simmer in a large pot. Keep the lid on, and keep the stock warm throughout the process.
- In a large, heavy bottomed pan, heat 1 TBSP oil and 1 TBSP butter over medium low heat.
- Add shallots and sweat 5-10 minutes, until translucent. If the shallots start to brown, you need to reduce your flame.
- Add garlic and cook another 30-60 seconds, until garlic is fragrant.
- Add arborio rice and stir to coat completely in the fat. Cook until the edges of the arborio start to turn translucent. This will take 3-5 minutes.
- Add a ladle of warm stock to the pot, and stir with a wooden spoon until the liquid is absorbed. This will happen very quickly for the first few additions.
- Continue adding a ladle of warm stock at a time and stir as the rice absorbs the liquid until all of the stock has been added to the rice.
- Remove from the heat and add 1 TBSP butter, the parmesan, herbs, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste - but do so after adding the cheese, which contains lots of salt.
- Store in an airtight container and refrigerate overnight (can be made five days in advance).
- Combine panko and parmesan in a shallow dish or plate and mix together.
- Remove 1/4 C of the mixture and add to the cold risotto, stirring to combine completely.
- Portion out 1 TBSP portions of risotto and roll into balls.
- Add 1 inch of oil to a dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed, high-sided pan. Set over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, or until oil reaches 375 degrees.
- While the oil is heating, prepare the arancini for frying. Set up a breading station, with the flour in one shallow dish, then the egg and water in another, and finally, the panko and parmesan mixture at the end.
- Dredge each risotto ball in flour, then egg, then panko. Repeat until all are breaded.
- Use a spider to drop 4-5 of the breaded risotto into the hot oil. This is a shallow-fry, so you'll need to flip everything once the first side is browned.
- Once the arancini are evenly browned, remove from the hot oil - carefully! - and transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet.
- Keep cooked arancini warm in a 200 degree oven as soon as they come out of the fryer and continue to fry until all are complete.
- Keep warm for up to an hour. I like to serve these with a few lemon wedges to brighten up the flavor profile after the fry.
Making the risotto will take about an hour from prep to completion. Assembling and frying the arancini will only take 20 minutes.
You need to shred and grate your own parmesan to get the best flavor and texture - buying it prepared will yield a chalky texture and far less parmesan flavor.
As always, I encourage you to get creative with this dish! Pick leftovers to use up and try to adjust the aromatics in the risotto to complement them. Tell me what you come up with in the comments below!