Crispy Homemade Arancini (Italian Rice Balls)!
If you’ve ever had Italian rice balls (arancini di riso, translating to little oranges), you know how delicious they can be. Crispy, deep fried balls of rice — well, not just rice: cooked risotto — often stuffed with mozzarella cheese or peas, and served with warm marinara sauce.
We’ve enjoyed arancini for years, but it wasn’t until our honeymoon in Italy that we got to know the dish intimately. Anyone can deep fry rice into a tasty snack, but it’s the art of keeping the rice mixture tender and moist (sorry — the m- word was necessary!), with almost a liquid-like center that differentiates the amateurs from the grown ups.
Which is why we’re so excited to share this arancini recipe with you! We think it’s pretty stellar, with it’s gooey, melted mozzarella center and tender rice that is loosely held together by a crunchy bread crumb topping. Totally divine, and one of our all time favorite appetizers and happy hour snacks. We couldn’t love these any more!
Ingredients For Italian Rice Balls
- Short grain rice! While arborio rice is traditional for risotto, grab something even shorter if you’re able to, like sushi rice.
- Unsalted butter
- Shallot or onion, diced
- Dry white wine
- Chicken stock or broth, or vegetable broth.
- Parmigiano Reggiano: Stir in lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese when the risotto is fully cooked.
- Fresh lemon zest, which brightens the flavors of the rice balls.
- Fresh herbs: We love to add chives, though any variety of fresh herbs would work well: thyme, oregano, basil, or parsley! Or add a teaspoon of dried Italian seasoning or oregano!
- Heavy cream + 1 egg yolk: A small amount of heavy cream stirred into the cooked rice will help prevent it from seizing tightly later.
- Mozzarella: Cut a fresh ball of mozzarella into small ¼” cubes for stuffing inside the rice balls.
- Rice flour, though regular all purpose flour is fine! If you use gluten-free breadcrumbs, rice flour keeps the arancini gluten-free, which is nice.
- Traditional breadcrumbs: store-bought or fresh bread that’s been finely ground.
- A light, neutral oil for deep frying: canola oil, vegetable oil, or grapeseed oil work well
- Kosher salt + black pepper: For seasoning!
You’ll need quite a bit of miscellaneous equipment to bring Italian arancini to life: a large pot for cooking the risotto, along with a spatula for stirring, a saucepan for the stock, a ladle, a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, and then a pot for deep frying. We love this spider, but a slotted spoon works just fine.
Trust us, your patience and perseverance will be greatly rewarded!!
How To Make Arancini At Home
Making arancini at home requires time and patience, but it’s really not difficult! The quick break down is as follows:
- Make risotto! You’ll follow the straight forward preparation of a classic Italian risotto: sweat onion or shallots in butter, toast the rice, then cook with white wine, adding chicken broth or stock slowly and stirring continuously. Easy, right?
- Flavor the risotto. You could keep this a simple Parmesan risotto, but in addition we’re going to add lemon zest and fresh herbs because why the heck not?! This is also when you’ll stir in a small amount of heavy cream, an egg yolk, and an extra pat or two of butter, to help keep the rice tender instead of seizing up into a hard ball. See tips below for extra info on this!
- Cool for 1 hour. Pour the cooked risotto onto a parchment lined baking sheet, then use a spatula or wooden spoon to spread into an even layer.
- Form the rice balls. Take ¼ cup of cooled risotto in the palm of your hand, then place a couple small cubes of fresh mozzarella in the center. Form the rice around the mozzarella cheese, trying your best to seal it tightly. Repeat with remaining risotto. This can be done up to 3 days in advance.
- Dredge the arancini. Dredge each rice ball first in the rice flour + water mixture, then into the bread crumbs.
- Fry the arancini. Deep fry in canola or vegetable oil that’s heated to 350F until golden-brown and crispy on all sides! This will take about 3-5 minutes per batch. Immediately transfer to a wire rack lined with a paper towel, then season with a bit of Kosher salt.
We love to serve Sicilian arancini with marinara sauce. Homemade tomato sauce would be great too! Certainly you could enjoy them plain or with a simple dusting of grated Parmesan. They’re so good!!
Tips For The Best Arancini
We spent a good deal of time researching arancini recipes, and here are the major take aways:
- Short grain rice is best! If all you’ve got is Arborio, that will be fine, but if you can get your hands on Originario rice or sushi rice, those are even shorter and are preferred.
- Keep the rice balls moist! You’ve got to add something to the Italian rice balls to prevent them from drying out during frying. Risotto will firm up and harden as it cools, which does not result in light, tender arancini. Serious Eats conducted a bunch of side-by-side tests of rice balls and concluded that adding eggs (traditional) and bechamel (traditional of croquettes, but not arancini) resulted in gooey centers. We’re sure they’re right that this creates superior results, but it’s a lot of extra steps. Instead, we propose stirring in a bit of heavy cream into the cooked risotto — not traditional, not authentic — but it does the trick without having to make an extra sauce!
- Don’t overcrowd the pan! When frying, work in batches of ~4 rice balls at a time. If you add too many at once, you’ll bring down the temperature of the oil, resulting in a longer cook time and uneven browning.
- Drain the arancini on paper towels! This will help absorb the excess oil, resulting in crispy (not greasy!) rice balls! Be sure to season the fried rice balls with a sprinkle of Kosher salt immediately.
How To Freeze Arancini
Allow cooked arancini to cool completely to room temperature, then transfer to a Ziplock bag. Freeze in a single layer for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, reheat in a preheated oven to 375F for 15-20 minutes.
Can I Use Leftover Risotto To Make Rice Balls?
Yes, absolutely! We won’t be able to vouch for the texture of the rice balls, since you’re using a different risotto recipe, but we find it helpful to stir in a few tablespoons of heavy cream and an egg yolk to the filling (the cooked risotto) to give it a more luscious, creamy texture when frying. You can certainly skip this step, but the results might be a more firm rice ball.
Do They Have To Be Stuffed With Mozzarella?
No, you can totally skip this. Or use shredded mozzarella if you want! We prefer the texture of fresh cubed mozzarella, but if you use shredded it will still melt — it’ll likely just be cheesy and gooey throughout the whole arancini versus having a melted, cheesy center.
These are the creamiest, most tender arancini ever! You will love the bright, zesty lemon flavor that shines through, but the melted mozzarella center and the crunchy breadcrumb coating just cannot be beat! We always have Rao’s marinara sauce on hand — it is the best store bought marinara on the planet! — and highly recommend it for dunking or spooning over arancini. So good!!
If you make these Italian Rice Balls at home, please let us know by leaving a review and rating below!
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More snacks to try at home!
Italian Rice Balls
- 2 medium saucepans
- A rimmed baking sheet
- Parchment paper
- Spider or slotted spoon
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter divided
- ½ small sweet onion peeled and diced
- 1 cup sushi rice or other small grain rice, such as Arborio
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ⅓ cup Parmesan grated, plus more for serving
- 1 lemon zested
- 2 Tbsp chives thinly sliced
- ½ tsp Kosher salt plus more for seasoning cooked arancini
- ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 3 Tbsp heavy cream
- 1 large egg yolk room temperature
- 4-6 oz fresh mozzarella cut into ¼" cubes
- ¼ cup rice flour
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- Neutral oil for frying, such as canola oil, vegetable oil, or grapeseed oil
- Marinara sauce for serving
- Warm the broth. Place 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock in a sauce pan, then bring to a simmer until needed.
- Make the risotto. Heat 2 Tbsp butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add chopped onion, then sweat for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, to soften. Add 1 cup of uncooked rice, then cook for 3 minutes, stirring often.
- Add liquid a little at a time. Pour in ½ cup white wine, then allow to cook for 1-2 minutes until most of it has evaporated. Begin adding warm stock 1-2 ladlefuls at a time, stirring constantly. After a couple minutes, most of the stock should have been absorbed by the rice. Repeat, adding more stock and stirring continuously, until the rice is creamy, yet tender, about 20 minutes total. Variation in cook time may be due to the size of your pan or the temperature. You want the rice to be al dente with just the slightest bite. The risotto should move freely around the pan and be more soupy than dry.
- Flavor the risotto. Stir in ⅓ cup of grated Parmesan, zest of 1 lemon, 2 Tbsp sliced chives, ½ tsp Kosher salt, and ¼ tsp black pepper. Next, add 3 Tbsp heavy cream and 1 egg yolk, then stir well.
- Cool for 1 hour. Pour the cooked risotto onto a parchment lined baking sheet, then use a spatula or wooden spoon to spread into an even layer. Refrigerate for 1 hour or freeze for 30 minutes.
- Form the rice balls. Take ~3 Tbsp (or slightly less than ¼ cup) of cooled risotto in the palm of your hand, then place 2 small cubes of fresh mozzarella in the center. Form the rice around the mozzarella cheese, trying your best to seal it tightly. Repeat with remaining risotto. This can be done up to 3 days in advance. If the rice balls seem too loose to move onto the next step, refrigerate or freeze for 10 minutes.
- Dredge the arancini. Combine ¼ cup rice flour and ½ cup of water in a medium bowl, then whisk well. Place 1 cup of breadcrumbs in a separate bowl. Dredge each rice ball first in the rice flour + water mixture, making sure the ball is completely coated on all sides, then into the breadcrumbs. Shake off any excess, then refrigerate or freeze for at least 10 minutes.
- Fry the arancini. Heat enough canola or vegetable oil in a sauce pan to go up about 3 inches. Turn the temperature to medium-high. Begin frying when the oil reaches 350F. Carefully place 3 or 4 rice balls in the hot oil (using a spider to submerge them), then fry until golden-brown and crispy on all sides, about ~3-5 minutes per batch. Immediately transfer to a wire rack lined with a paper towel, then season with a pinch of Kosher salt. Repeat until all arancini are cooked. Serve immediately with marinara sauce on the side.
- Nutrition facts do not include marinara sauce.
- To freeze: Allow cooked arancini to cool completely to room temperature, then transfer to a Ziplock bag. Freeze in a single layer for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, reheat in a preheated oven to 375F for 15-20 minutes.
- We’ve found that smaller arancini work best. When you use ¼ cup or more of rice, the mozzarella doesn’t have time to melt before the outside finishes cooking. Try to use about 3 Tbsp of risotto for the rice balls.