top of page
  • Megan

Cookbook Challenge: Anthony Bourdain’s Risotto

Updated: May 27, 2023

I received Anthony Bourdain’s Appetites: A Cookbook in 2017 as a birthday gift from Nick.

It took me until the second day of 2021 to cook something from it.

I was intimidated, you see. The book is as much a provocative art piece as it is a cooking manual; its contents include defiant hero shots of hairy pig heads and goose-pimpled whole ducks. On one page, the scaly talons of a freshly killed chicken peek out, curled and stiff, from inside a red plastic bag.

I wouldn’t call it off-putting—the images provoke more fascination than disgust—but I also wouldn’t call it accessible. Still, I have deep respect for the man who wrote it, and it was about damn time I attempted one of his recipes. I chose the saffron risotto, which I deemed less challenging than a meat or seafood dish, but challenging enough seeing as I’d never before made risotto. I ended up tweaking the recipe based on ingredient availability, so I’ll share with you Bourdain’s original recipe as well as what I ended up making.

As for how it went?

Risotto is hot and laborious. It keeps you glued to the stovetop, ladle in one hand, wooden spoon in the other. It’s a half hour of stock and steam, a final flourish of butter and parm. And at the end of it all, you sit down to a bowl of umami porridge, lumpy with soft rice pearls. You pour a glass of prosecco, dip a spoon into the porridge, and bring it to your mouth. Is it dinner? Extravagant dessert? Sick-day balm wrapped in a thick blanket?

The flavor was underwhelming at first (what I get for going off book), though as the risotto cooled off, I picked up more of the nutty cheese and earthy mushroom. But the taste was almost an afterthought; the texture was what overwhelmed me. It was sumptuous. It was comfort.

Maybe one day I’ll get some saffron and make this risotto as Bourdain intended it.

Anthony Bourdain’s Saffron Risotto

1 ½ quarts chicken stock

generous pinch of saffron threads

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 small yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 ½ cups carnaroli rice

½ cup dry white wine

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks

½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

salt to taste

1. Pour half the stock into a small heavy-bottom pot and add the saffron threads. Bring to low simmer over medium-low heat to begin to infuse the stock with the saffron.

2. In a medium heavy-bottom pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat and add the onion. Stir with wooden spoon to coat onions with oil and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion and soft and translucent but not browned, about 5 minutes.

3. Stir in the rice, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the rice smells slightly toasty.

4. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the wine. Stir regularly until the wine has been absorbed by the rice and the sharp alcohol smell has cooked off.

5. Add the saffron-infused stock, a ladleful or two at a time, stirring regularly and adding more as each batch becomes absorbed.

6. Once all the saffron stock has been added, heat up the remaining stock using the same pot; continue to add that stock to the rice, stirring with each addition.

7. Check rice for doneness: it should be tender and cooked through, but not mushy. The mixture as a whole should be runny enough to cover the bottom of a bowl; add more stock as necessary so the risotto doesn’t sit up in a stiff lump.

8. Beat the butter and cheese into the hot rice mixture with the wooden spoon. Your goal is to incorporate some air into the mixture to lighten the texture.

9. Taste and season with salt. Serve immediately.

Megan’s (Based on Anthony’s) Mushroom Risotto

1 quart chicken stock plus ½ quart vegetable stock

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 small yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 ½ cups arborio rice

½ cup dry white wine (I used sauvignon blanc)

4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small chunks

½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

8 oz sliced mushrooms, cooked in olive oil and seasoned with salt

salt to taste

I basically followed the directions above, with a few changes:

1. I cooked the sliced mushrooms before starting the risotto and then set them aside. Then I added them to the risotto right before serving. Two notes on cooking mushrooms: once your oil is hot, put the mushrooms in the pan in a single layer and let them brown on one side before stirring them. Once cooked through, put the mushrooms on a plate and then salt them (you don’t want to salt them while they’re cooking, because salting draws out moisture, which inhibits browning).

2. I omitted the saffron threads, so I heated up the stock by itself.

3. I used arborio rice instead of carnaroli because it’s all I could find at the store. Apparently carnaroli is a longer grain with a higher starch content and firmer texture; it’s said to be less prone to overcooking compared to arborio.

To convey the long-winded process, I’ve released my most long-winded video to date. Please enjoy as I flounder and swoon amid the toil of risotto, a finicky camera lens, feline distractions, and a failure to recall basic wine terminology.

This one’s for Anthony.


bottom of page