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How to Make Risotto Without Wine

I love making risotto, and while I’ve always followed pretty traditional recipes, I’ve wondered how to make risotto without wine.

Traditionally, you would use white wine & chicken stock to cook risotto. The wine gives risotto some needed acidity & balance. However, 1-3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar added to your broth works as a great substitute for those that don’t have or don’t want to use wine in risotto.

After all, for those that don’t drink alcohol, even though the alcohol cooks off, they might not want to keep alcohol in the house.

But there are a lot more things to know about risotto, so let’s dig in a little further. The results might surprise you.

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What is risotto?

Risotto is a traditional Italian dish made with arborio rice.

The rice is allowed to cook in a combination of white wine and stock until it gets tender, creamy, and al dente. There are a million variations on ingredients you can add to it, and over the years, I have made it with the following ingredients:

  • Fresh porcini mushrooms
  • Asparagus
  • Freshly grated parmesan
  • Truffle oil
  • Mussels

But that’s just scratching the surface. If you’ve never had risotto, it is delicious. It’s creamy, and the rice is tender (but not mushy). The flavors meld together well because you add the liquid a little bit at a time instead of just boiling the rice.

Thus, the liquid has time to get absorbed into the rice and other ingredients.

Is Wine necessary for risotto?

The wine provides a nice balance to the stock and other flavors in risotto. It also provides some acidity.

But is wine necessary for risotto? The short answer is No.

It’s not critical and you can make a delicious risotto without it. I would, however, add 1-2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar to the stock just to give it that acidity that the risotto would otherwise be lacking.

Can you use white wine vinegar in risotto?

Definitely not.

Whether made from wine or not, we’re talking vinegar here. By nature, vinegar is EXTREMELY acidic. Wine has a nice balanced acidity, whereas most kinds of vinegar if you drank a cup, would have you puckering for days from all that acid.

If you are making risotto without wine, and want a hint of acidity to go with your chicken or veggie broth, a tablespoon or 2 will do just fine.

But don’t just substitute wine vinegar for wine in this, or any, recipe!

What can you use instead of wine in risotto?

To substitute wine in risotto, we just need that same amount of liquid called for in the recipe. So add that amount of broth instead with 1-2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar to give you the acidity you’ll be lacking.

But let’s review the overall flavors in a good risotto. The cornerstones of flavor in risotto are:

  • Creaminess – from the starch in the rice as well as any freshly grated parmesan you add
  • Acidity – from the wine typically
  • Richness – from the stock you continually add throughout the cooking

Thus, if you are learning how to make risotto without wine, you’ll want to take that into account as you add your stock.

Traditionally, you would use chicken stock to cook your risotto, adding (in small amounts) after you sau·té the rice in oil or butter. You can, of course, use vegetable stock if you or your friends and family are vegetarian.

I would probably steer clear of beef broth due to it’s heavier nature unless the other ingredients would be especially complimented by that flavor.

Can I substitute red wine for white wine in risotto?

Yes. Wine is added to risotto to impart flavor and a hint of acidity into the rice. Red wine may make for a darker risotto, but it will still be delicious.

Adding the wine is typically the 1st step after sautéing the rice in oil or butter. 

Do be mindful of not using super sweet wines (ie: sherry or most rosés). They would tend to cloud the flavor of the risotto in a less-than-appetizing way.

I would also steer clear of any wine labeled “cooking wine”. This is usually just cheap, oxidized wine with added salt. In short, if you wouldn’t drink it; don’t cook with it. You don’t have to break out that $60 bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but don’t use the super-cheap stuff either.

Do you cover risotto while cooking?

Do not cover risotto while cooking. Risotto requires constant stirring and the frequent addition of small amounts of stock. Putting a lid on risotto would cause it to dry out and burn.

The cornerstone of a good risotto is adding stock a little bit at a time (often around 1/4 cup) and then stirring almost constantly to ensure the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Once the liquid gets absorbed, you add some more. You then repeat that process for roughly 20 minutes, stirring the whole time, until the rice reaches the perfect texture.

So covering the pot would prevent stirring, lead the rice sticking (and eventually scorching) to the bottom of the pan. If you just add all the liquid at once, you’ll end up with a big pot of gruel; not what you want in risotto!

What can I use instead of risotto rice?

Arborio rice is traditionally what is used in risotto. If arborio is not available, any of the following types of rice can be used instead:

  • Sushi rice
  • Valencia
  • Bomba
  • Short-grain white rice
  • Carnaroli 
  • Vialone Nano

Arborio rice is perfect for risotto because of its starch content and rounded shape.

It is short-grain rice. When cooked, it is more al dente (chewier) some other kinds of rice which is what allows it to not turn to mush.

When I first started making risotto, arborio rice was sometimes hard to find (granted I worked at Whole Foods Market for 20+ years so it wasn’t usually a problem). But if you can’t find arborio for some reason, don’t just use any rice on hand. This is not the time to let Uncle Ben into the kitchen!

My 1st 2 choices from the list above, which arguably could be harder to find than arborio, would be:

  • Carnaroli 
  • Vialone Nano

Those are both excellent medium-grain Italian kinds of rice with a great texture and starch level and would make an excellent risotto. In fact, some Italian chef’s prefer these over arborio as they are actually higher in starch and retain texture better than arborio.

But for those of you struggling to find arborio, you aren’t likely to see those either.

Definitely steer clear of long-grain, low starch rice like basmati & Jasmine. Also steer clear of any type of converted or quick-cooking rice (typically pre-cooked, then dried).

You’ll end with a (tasty) bowl of mush and your family will wonder why you don’t love them anymore.

Can you use brown rice to make risotto?

Brown rice cannot be used to make risotto if you are cooking your risotto in the traditional method by adding small amounts of stock and stirring constantly. The bran and germ of brown rice prevent the starch from getting released as it cooks. Brown rice also takes substantially longer to cook as well.

Make no mistake, if you Google “brown rice risotto” you’ll definitely see a lot of recipes come up.

Most of them call for baking or boiling the risotto. They may be delicious, but call me a purist; that ain’t risotto!

So if you want to experiment, go for it. But if your Italian grandmother is coming from the old country for a visit, you’ll want to steer clear of any recipes that call for brown rice.

Brown rice, is definitely more nutritious and contains both the bran and the germ, which are stripped away in making white rice. Thus, brown rice has a lot more fiber and nutrition than white rice.

It is also higher in several vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than white rice.

BUT if your goal is to make a delicious, traditional risotto, it just doesn’t work. If you want some nutrition with your risotto, add a beautiful tossed salad.

Final Thoughts

In this article, we took a look at the world of creamy, delicious risotto! Traditionally, you would use a combination of both white wine and chicken stock to make your risotto creamy, flavorful, and balanced in acidity.

But some folks don’t have wine in the house or don’t drink and don’t want the alcohol in their food (although technically, it does cook off).  We also answered the top questions about risotto, including rice choices and cooking tips.

Ultimately, we looked at how to make risotto without wine so it still comes out perfectly balanced in acidity and perfectly creamy.

What’s your favorite risotto recipe?

If you’re looking to buy any small kitchen appliance, don’t forget to check out my Recommended Products Page (click to see my page) which breaks down all my best picks by category.

I always hand select items that I either own, have used, or have researched well to ensure they are great items. I also give not only top of the line as well as inexpensive alternatives so my choices work for any budget.

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Jeff Campbell