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Why Is My Risotto So Bland?

Is your risotto missing that rich, creamy flavor? Discover the top reasons behind a bland risotto and how to add a touch of flavor to your dish.

Risotto: the pinnacle of rice dishes, but also an easy dish to get wrong. Even if you followed the recipe down to a “T,” a wrong turn or two can throw the entire end result off course. 

Nothing is quite as disappointing as standing over a pot of risotto, only to have it end up as bland as a bowl of unseasoned mashed potatoes! Luckily, you’re here, and we’ve written this guide to help.

While there’s no turning back time, even the blandest risotto can be salvaged. Read on to find out how.

What Makes Risotto Bland?

You’ve made the risotto, plated it, garnished it, maybe lit some candles, and opened a bottle of wine. You take the first bite, and it’s as bland as sand. Why is that?

The Salt Content: This one is a bit of a given. Salt is the key to unlocking the flavor of everything from risotto to meatballs. In fact, it’s arguably the most crucial element. 

If you’re thinking, “I did add salt!” my question is, did you use salted or unsalted butter?

Unsalted butter can be wise (since there’s no regulation on how much salt must be added to salted butter), but it can dilute the risotto flavor. If you use unsalted butter, you’ll want to add more salt to make up for it. 

The Broth or Stock: The liquid is perhaps the most important element in making flavorful, tender risotto. Most recipes call for stock or broth since these impart far more flavor than water. 

The bad news is not all stocks are created equal. Both store-bought stocks and homemade stocks can have wildly varying sodium levels. If you’re using store-bought stock, you’ll want to know how much salt is in it. Here’s how to figure it out:

  1. Remember that 1 teaspoon of salt equals roughly 2 g (2,000 mg) of sodium.
  2. Read the sodium content on the nutrition label. If indicated in grams (g), divide that number by 2 to find the approximate number of teaspoons of salt per serving. If in milligrams (mg), divide by 2,000.
  3. Compare the amount of salt in the stock to how much salt is listed in the recipe, and adjust accordingly. 

The Cheese: The ingredient list for risotto is pretty simple, so if one or two ingredients are underutilized, the whole dish can taste flat. Cheese is typically added towards the end of the cooking to add flavor and salt, but not all cheeses are created equal.

Traditional risotto recipes call for hard, salty Italian cheeses. Parmesan and Grana Padano are the milder choices, while Pecorino has the saltiest and sharpest flavor. Keep this in mind when selecting which cheese to add to your risotto. As for how much cheese to add, stick to about ¼-½ cups of grated cheese per serving of risotto.

The Butter: Similarly to cheese, butter is usually added at the end to add texture and body. If you’re unsure how much butter to add, stick to 1-2 tablespoons per serving of risotto. And remember what we said about salted butter!

The Rice Grains: Toasted rice is the secret to imparting a distinct, rich, nutty flavor and aroma to all sorts of rice dishes. While it can make the risotto less creamy, it imparts a subtle bite that is key to many good risottos. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Add one tablespoon of butter to a pan over medium heat. 
  2. When the butter has melted, add the rice and spread it in an even layer. 
  3. Cook the rice, stirring to rotate the grains, for several minutes or until most of the grains have turned solid white in color. 
  4. Add liquid and continue cooking the risotto as normal.

Another plus to toasting rice is that it helps the dish cook more quickly since the rice and pan are already hot. 

The Cook’s Patience: Risotto is a patient man’s game. Liquid has to be added slowly, and the rice has to be stirred continuously until the liquid is absorbed. If too much liquid is added too quickly, you’ll have mushy, under-seasoned rice. 

The Taste Test: Have you ever ordered a dish from your favorite restaurant, taken a bite, then been disappointed because it didn’t taste the way it always does? I guarantee it’s because the chef didn’t taste the dish as they made it. 

Tasting as you cook is one of the most essential steps rarely listed in the recipe. Problems like salt, herbs, and cooking temperatures can be fixed before they ruin the dish, but only if you taste as you cook. 

How to Fix Bland Risotto

What’s done is done, but that doesn’t mean you must waste your efforts! Here are a few tips for how to fix bland risotto:

Turn Up the Seasoning: Return the risotto to a pan over medium heat and add a splash of water, broth, or white wine. Then, add seasonings such as salt, pepper, dried herbs, or even cooked and chopped bacon. 

Add Acid: Add a squeeze of lemon juice and the zest of one lemon to impart a refreshing citrus flavor. Alternatively, you can return the risotto to the skillet and add a splash of white wine. Simmer the alcohol off and kill the heat.

Make It Umami: Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and fish sauce all have high levels of glutamate. They can work miracles by adding an umami flavor to your dish, triggering “the fifth taste.”

To do this, return the risotto to a pot set over medium heat and use sparingly. About 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire or soy sauce per 4 servings of risotto, and only about 1 teaspoon of fish sauce for the same portion.

Add Aromatics: Sauté chopped onion, garlic, or scallions, then stir them into the finished risotto to impart depth and richness. We’re sautéing these aromatics because they soften their potency and add a more subtle, savory flavor to the risotto.

Garnish Some More: Top the plated risotto with a heavy sprinkle of salt, fresh herbs, or grated parmesan cheese. 

Turn It Into Arancini: Arancini is one of our favorite ways to use leftover risotto. They’re balls of rice stuffed with savory ingredients, breaded, then deep fried. Here’s a quick how-to:

  1. Allow the risotto to cool completely. 
  2. Take 2 tablespoons of rice and form it into a ball.
  3. Tuck a cube of mozzarella or a sliced sautéed mushroom into the center and wrap the rice around the filling. 
  4. Make three bowls: one of flour and salt, one of a beaten egg, and one of breadcrumbs.
  5. Dredge each rice ball in the flour mixture, followed by the egg, then breadcrumbs. Set each ball on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. 
  6. Fill a pot with enough oil to cover the pot by ½ inch. When the oil is hot, fry the arancini, working in batches to not overcrowd the pan.
  7. When the arancini are golden brown on all sides, carefully remove them to a paper-towel-lined plate. 
  8. Serve the arancini with marinara sauce or grated parmesan cheese. 

The Takeaways

The main culprit to bland risotto is typically the lack of salt, working too quickly, or not toasting the rice. To make flavorful, restaurant-quality risotto, remember to taste as you go and adjust seasonings as needed. And don’t be afraid to amp up the flavor with acid, umami, or seasonings. 

Know your author

Written by

Olivia is a full-time writer focused on crafting content for food, wine, and travel brands. She’s Level 2 WSET Certified and runs her blog, Liv Eats Local, where she tracks her travel adventures and shares wine guides and recipes. When she’s not writing, she’s often seen wine tasting, bikepacking the Pacific Northwest, or relaxing on her hammock with a good book and her dog, Tater.