I don’t diligently stand over the stove for long periods of time for just anything. But when making certain dishes I love, I know I need to accept my fate – and that includes this chicken risotto with saffron.
Good thing generations of culinary patience run through my bloodline…
Just like when I’m making my great-grandmother’s tomato sauce, simmered on the stovetop for hours to concentrate all the flavors of the stewed tomatoes we jar ourselves, or when making my parents’ beans and greens with escarole cooked low and slow until the leaves melt in your mouth, risotto is another Italian favorite in my household that needs to be treated with tender loving care and a timid heat strength.
While you don’t need years upon years of obsessively food-focused Italian heritage to learn how to make a killer recipe for homemade risotto, you may still have some lingering questions:
Are the results worth the effort, you ask? Is risotto really that special of a dish, you inquire? Wouldn’t you rather just get a bucket of fried chicken or maybe a hamburger and fries, you suggest?
I have the answers:
The lusciously creamy results are worth the time in the kitchen.
And a big pot of steamy, perfectly prepared risotto is truly an impressive dinner to make.
And, though I am always tempted with the idea of chowing down on my favorite fast-food indulgences, it’s a pleasant and comforting change of pace to serve a made-from-scratch meal for your family and friends.
In this particular version that’s mixed with tender pieces of chicken breast, risotto stars as the main course, rather than the side dish.
Aromatic saffron threads perfume the starchy base, tinting it a beautiful hue of yellow you’ll admire with every spoonful you bring closer and closer to your mouth.
And I can’t leave here without talking about the final touches of dreamy dairy – grated Parmigiano Reggiano and cubes of butter melt into the hot rice mixture for a velvety finish with an essential dose of salty power.
A creamy risotto hearty enough to serve as the main course, this rendition includes tender pieces of chicken breast and aromatic saffron.
- 6 1/2 cups chicken stock, or more as needed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, divided (about 3–4 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and room temperature
- 1/8 cup roughly chopped fresh basil or parsley, for garnish
- In a medium saucepot over low heat, bring the chicken stock to a very gentle simmer. Keep it warm without boiling.
- In a large 4-quart pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the cubed chicken, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is just cooked through, about 3-5 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside on a plate.
- Add the remaining oil to the pot. Add the onion and remaining salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions start to turn translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds, just until fragrant.
- Add the rice and stir frequently until the grains begin to turn opaque and just start to emit a subtle toasted smell, about 1-2 minutes.
- Add the wine to the rice mixture to deglaze the pot, stirring and scraping the bottom and sides of the pot to release any browned bits. Continue to cook for another 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until most of the wine has been absorbed. Add the saffron and stir.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low. Carefully ladle 1/2 cup of the simmering stock to the rice and cook, stirring frequently, until the broth has been absorbed. Continue this process of adding stock in 1/2-cup increments and stirring frequently, being sure to wait until the rice absorbs the stock each time before adding more.
- Cook the rice until it is tender, for 35-45 minutes total. You may not need to use all of the stock. The consistency should be similar to a very thick porridge – if it is too dry for your liking, add more stock. If it is too runny, continue cooking to reduce the liquid until it reaches the desired consistency.
- Reduce the heat to low. Stir in the reserved cooked chicken, 1/2 cup of the grated cheese, and the cubed butter. Cook for 1-2 minutes to warm the chicken and melt the cheese and butter, stirring constantly.
- Remove from the heat, season to taste with additional salt and pepper, and serve warm, garnished with the chopped herbs and remaining cheese.
- Prep Time: 20 mintues
- Cook Time: 1 hour
- Category: Risotto
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Rice
Keywords: chicken, risotto, saffron
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step 1 – Simmer the Stock, Prep, and Measure
Measure out the chicken stock into a medium saucepot, making sure you have extra set aside for later if you need it. I like to have at least an extra cup on hand to be prepared.
Set the saucepan over low heat and bring the stock to a gentle simmer without boiling it. Heat the stock as you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Adding warm stock to the risotto will help to gently and evenly cook the grains at a more efficient rate than you might with a cold liquid.
Measure out the olive oil, arborio rice, white wine, and saffron threads.
I would advise against using a sweet white wine here – choose something drier that would complement a savory dish. You can also echo the Italian theme of the evening by choosing a white wine produced in Italy.
With its zesty and clean palate and hint of minerality, the 2022 Cala De’ Poeti Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie D.O.C is a Wine Insiders recommended pairing for risotto – an easy choice to make to use in this recipe and enjoy afterwards during dinner! You can buy a bottle now from Wine Insiders.
Cube the unsalted butter, and set it aside at room temperature. It will be easier to melt into the warm rice if the butter is at room temperature rather than using chilled and firm butter straight from the refrigerator.
Grate the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese using one of the coarser holes of a box grater. You can use a microplane or zester, but you’ll be grating for a lot longer than you need to! Save yourself the time here – coarsely grated cheese will melt just as easily!
Dice half of a medium yellow onion using a sharp knife and a sturdy cutting board – you’ll get about 1 cup total here, but the recipe will still taste fantastic if your total yield is a bit more or less. Mince 3 cloves of garlic, or use a garlic press.
Cut the boneless, skinless chicken breasts into 1/2-inch cubes. And don’t worry if you accidentally drop the chicken – we have solutions for this emergency so you’ll know what to do!
Save chopping the basil or parsley for when you are closer to serving.
Step 2 – Cook the Chicken
A 4-quart pot or a large pan with sloped sides is an ideal cooking vessel for this amount of risotto. Place it next to the saucepan with the stock on the stovetop – you’ll appreciate this setup in a future step!
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in the pot over medium heat. Add the cubed chicken, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper to the pot.
Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken pieces are just cooked through and slightly browned on the outside, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Check for doneness by carefully removing and slicing open one of the largest pieces – it should be juicy, but with no pink remaining.
You could also use a meat thermometer and insert it into the thickest section of the largest piece – if the thermometer registers 160°F or above, with carry-over cooking in mind which will continue to increase the temperature of the chicken by a few degrees after it’s removed from the pan, the chicken is done!
Remove it from the pot and place on a separate plate. Set the chicken aside while you complete the remaining steps. You can choose to tent the plate with a piece of aluminum foil, but since you’ll be re-warming the pieces in a later step, this isn’t necessary.
Step 3 – Cook the Onions and Garlic
Look at that beautiful fond! Take advantage of all of the browned bits the chicken left behind and continue cooking your other ingredients in the same pot.
Working quickly to prevent burning the fond, add the remaining olive oil to the pot. Add the onion and remaining salt and pepper.
Cook, stirring frequently with a sturdy spoon or spatula, until the onions start to turn translucent. This will take about 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook for only another 30 seconds – you just want the garlic to smell fragrant without browning excessively.
Step 4 – Toast the Rice
Add the rice to the pot and stir frequently for about 1 to 2 minutes. The rice will begin to turn opaque and it will just start emitting a subtle toasted smell.
Again, you don’t want anything to burn here, so this will be another quick step in the cooking process.
Step 5 – Deglaze with Wine and add the Saffron
Add the wine to the rice mixture to deglaze the pot.
Stir and scrape the bottom and sides of the pot to release any browned bits – these are gloriously concentrated specks of flavor that you don’t want to stay stuck to the bottom of the pot!
Continue to cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until most of the wine has been absorbed.
Add the saffron threads and stir to combine.
Step 6 – Add the Stock in Increments and Cook to Thicken
Reduce the heat to medium-low. Carefully pour about 1/2 cup of the simmering stock into the rice and cook, stirring frequently, until the broth has been absorbed.
This is why it is best to set the pot of rice next to the saucepan with the stock – you’ll be able to safely and efficiently transfer the stock to the rice with quick movements.
For easy transferring, use a large ladle for this step – the amount does not have to be exact, as long as you are pouring roughly 1/2 cup at a time.
Add another 1/2 cup of the stock to the pot and stir frequently until it has been absorbed.
Continue this process of adding more stock in 1/2-cup increments and stirring frequently, being sure to wait until the rice absorbs the stock before adding the next 1/2 cup.
Cook the rice using this method until it is tender, which can take 35 to 45 minutes total. But keep in mind that this is simply an estimated time frame. Cooking may take more or less time due to multiple factors.
For example, the power of your particular stovetop, or how quickly the brand of rice you bought absorbs the liquid may affect the cooking time.
The most important point here is ensuring that the rice is tender enough. You will need to taste-test a couple grains to check the texture when you are nearing the end of the estimated cooking time.
If the grains are still unpleasantly crunchy, you’ll know to continue cooking and test again in another 5 to 10 minutes or so. If the grains are soft, perhaps with a little al dente bite if that’s what you like, you know the grains are cooked.
You may not need to use all of the stock. But remember that extra stock you have? This is when it can potentially come into play!
The consistency of the risotto should be similar to a very thick porridge. If it is too dry for your liking, add more stock. If it’s too runny, continue cooking to reduce the liquid until it reaches the desired consistency.
Step 7 – Stir in the Chicken, Cheese, and Butter
When you’re pleased with the rice’s texture and consistency, lower the heat to low.
Stir in the reserved cooked chicken, 1/2 cup of the grated cheese, and the cubed butter. Cook for just 1 to 2 more minutes, stirring constantly, to re-warm the chicken and completely melt the cheese and butter.
Step 8 – Garnish and Serve
When you’re ready to serve, check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
Chop the basil or parsley on a clean cutting board.
Sprinkle the top of the risotto with the herbs and remaining cheese, or wait to garnish individual plats at the table.
Serve and enjoy… finally!
You Are in Charge
This recipe is yours to command! If you have never made risotto before, don’t be intimidated by the cooking method.
My best advice for any risotto novice is to take your time with cooking the rice and carefully follow the directions.
Don’t try to make the recipe on a night when you know you are short on time! Resist all temptations to turn up the heat or add all the stock at once.
Outside of gathering all of the ingredients, you also need to make sure you have two additional things that go beyond the basic grocery list:
You need both patience in the process, and confidence that you are doing it right!
If you require a cheer squad, bring your partner into the kitchen with you. There’s still plenty of white wine in that bottle you opened, so make a fun night of it with minimal anxiety.
Do you have experience with this kind of recipe? What advice would you give to first-timers? Your help will be greatly appreciated, so leave a comment below.
And once you successfully make this saffron-infused Italian favorite, there’s a very good chance you’ll want to try another! We have more risotto recipes for you to try next, ready for all seasons and diets:
- Farro Risotto with Butternut, Mushrooms, and Kale (Vegan)
- A Lemon Asparagus Risotto Recipe to Celebrate the Arrival of Spring
- Homemade Carrot Risotto Goes with Everything
Photos by Nikki Cervone, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on November 17, 2014. Last updated on May 12, 2023.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Nikki Cervone
Nikki Cervone is an ACS Certified Cheese Professional and cheesemonger living in Pittsburgh. Nikki holds an AAS in baking/pastry from Westmoreland County Community College, a BA in Communications from Duquesne University, and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University. When she's not nibbling on her favorite cheeses or testing a batch of cupcakes, Nikki enjoys a healthy dose of yoga, wine, hiking, singing in the shower, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate.