My microwave is reserved, almost exclusively, for reheating leftovers. Occasionally I’ll use it to thaw frozen meat or melt chocolate, but I have never felt particularly inclined to actually cook anything in it. Needless to say, I had some serious reservations the first time I made microwave risotto. But, as it turns out, you can make a pretty convincing risotto in your microwave—even if it is totally cheating.
Risotto is one of those simple dishes that manages to feel fancy despite its (mostly) humble ingredient list. In its simplest form, a risotto is made from just rice, broth, wine, cheese, and butter, though endless variations, featuring different aromatics, vegetables, and meats, exist. At its best, a risotto is creamy and packed with flavor, but the rice itself remains al dente. Containing no cream at all, its rich texture is purely a product of a slow cooking process that requires near-constant stirring.
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Microwaving risotto eliminates the most laborious aspect of the traditional method: the minimum 20 minutes of stirring. It also speeds things up considerably and frees your hands for more productive tasks, like prepping the rest of dinner and doing the dishes. To be honest, the idea of microwaving something for 18 minutes straight sort of freaked me out, but it was so easy and hands-off compared to the traditional method that I felt inclined to look the other way.
In all fairness, my version of microwave risotto does not happen exclusively in the microwave. I still sauté my aromatics and rice in a skillet on the stove, and I also keep a saucepan of broth simmering throughout the process. So, yes, this method technically uses more dishes than the old-fashioned way—but if I’m on a tight schedule or hoping to multitask, it’s well worth the extra clean-up. The time not spent stirring is abundantly useful, and every time the microwave dings, all there is to do is stir in a little more liquid and cook it a little longer.
To figure out my ideal microwave risotto recipe, I tried a few different methods. Most of the recipes I found online opt for the most hands-off route possible, wherein all of the ingredients are combined and cooked together in one go. I found the resulting risotto to be surprisingly tasty, but not particularly creamy. A lot of recipe reviews recommended stirring in a splash of cream after the risotto is done cooking to help enhance the texture. As any risotto aficionado will tell you, this is a complete no-no, but since the rules were already out the window by this point, I decided to give it a shot. Rather than contribute any “creaminess,” however, the cream just made the risotto feel and taste a bit greasy.
I found that a slightly more hands-on technique yields better results and is still easier and quicker than a traditional stovetop risotto. Cooking the risotto in three bursts (adding liquid and stirring well after each interval) definitely improved the texture, but the creaminess factor was still lacking. The secret, I realized, is reserving a good amount of hot broth to stir in at the very end, after the risotto is done cooking and out of the appliance entirely. Only after figuring this out did I become a true microwave risotto convert.
My biggest challenge was finding an appropriate vessel to cook my risotto in: something microwave-safe with a two to three quart capacity, ideally with a lid. I ended up going with an 8×8-inch Pyrex pan (which easily held two to four servings) and covering it with microwave-safe plastic wrap. If you opt to use plastic wrap, make sure it’s labeled as microwave-safe and leave a tiny vent hole somewhere—you just don’t want it to be too well sealed, or you risk the plastic wrap bursting.
Is the risotto that comes out of your microwave exactly the same as the kind that’s been lovingly cooked on the stove? Not quite, but it’s pretty convincing, and the leftovers make for the easiest arancini you’ll ever cook. Will your Italian grandma freak out? She might. So don’t tell her. Keep this secret between you and your microwave.
The directions are designed for a 1000-watt microwave. If your microwave is very powerful, either adjust the power settings or reduce the cooking time by a few minutes. It’s a good idea to check on the risotto a few times during the cooking process the first time you make this recipe, just to make sure things aren’t moving too fast.
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium shallot, minced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup arborio rice
- 1 small pinch of saffron threads
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 ¼ cups chicken or vegetable broth, divided
- ¾ cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ½ cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer then reduce the heat to low.
In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallot is softened and translucent. Add the rice, saffron, and salt and cook for about 1 minute, stirring often.
Transfer the rice mixture to a 2- to 3-quart microwave-safe dish. Spread the rice into an even layer and add 1 cup of the hot broth. Cover the dish with a lid or microwave-safe plastic wrap (if using plastic wrap, make sure to poke a few tiny small holes to allow steam to vent). Microwave on high power for 5 minutes.
Carefully uncover and stir in the white wine. If your wine is fridge cold, microwave it in a separate cup for 20 to 30 seconds to heat it slightly before adding it to the risotto (adding something cold to a very hot glass, ceramic, or Pyrex container can result in thermal shock and a shattered dish). Microwave, covered, for 10 minutes. Test the risotto for doneness—it should be slightly al dente. If it’s still a bit crunchy, microwave for an additional 1 to 2 minutes.
While the dish is still very hot, stir in the remaining broth, a little at a time, until the risotto is creamy. You may not need all of it—however, as the risotto sits, it will continue to absorb liquid, and you may wish to add an extra splash of broth just before serving. Stir in the butter and cheese, and serve immediately. Store tightly covered leftover in the fridge for up to 3 days.