What's The Difference: Paella Vs. Risotto

Both are delicious rice recipes.

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ILLUSTRATOR Mixi Ignacio

Kanin is life! There are many ways you can cook and serve rice but the most common way is also the simplest: plain and steamed.  

Steamed fluffy white rice is a staple and eaten at almost every meal but there are some feasts where the rice should be as celebratory as the occasion that is being held. For these moments, plain fluffy rice may not be the kind of rice you want to serve. 

When holidays, birthdays, and even a special date you want to celebrate deserves a delicious meal, you may want to serve rice that's more than just steamed rice. You can go all out and make a paella or risotto depending on what you're craving. 

The differences between the paella and the risotto make each rice dish deliciously different. These are the characteristics that can help you choose which rice dish to make: 

1 Paella is Spanish in origin while risotto is Italian. 

The most obvious difference is the origin of the two rice dishes. The paella originated in Spain where the pan that is used to make the rice dish, the paellera, is a shallow frying pan used to cook over an open fire. The result is a rice dish that is cooked quite aggressively depending on how hot the flames are. 

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The risotto meanwhile is Italian in origin. It's a dish from the northern parts of Italy where a special kind of rice is simmered and cooked slowly in a broth. 

The paella is traditionally cooked over a wood-burning fire.
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2 Paella is traditionally cooked over a roaring fire. Risotto can be cooked on the stove. 

The way that these two dishes are cooked is also quite different. Traditionally, the paella is cooked over an open fire where the width of the paella is important in ensuring that the heat is more evenly distributed so the rice can cook evenly. The temperature of the fire is important in how the paella is cooked.

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The risotto meanwhile is more home cook-friendly where a stove, a cooking utensil, and a shallow pot is all you need to make it. 

3 Paella is not stirred as it cooks while risotto requires a lot of stirring. 

Both paella and risotto traditionally use short-grain rice. Both need a special type of rice. For the paella, it's the Spanish bomba rice. In Italy, it's the Arborio or the Carnaroli. These are all a kind of short-grain rice that easily absorbs liquids while retaining its shape without becoming too mushy and soft. This is an important attribute of both rice dishes because of the way it's cooked and served. 

Another characteristic that makes the kind of rice used important is how much liquid is required to cook the rice to make the dish. For paella, the rice needs to be able to absorb a lot of liquid but not as much as risotto rice needs. Both require a lot of water and this is because the rice needs to be loose when cooked, not sticky and too soft. Where the paella is usually not stirred soon after the rice is added, the risotto is stirred almost constantly. This contributes to the creamy texture of the dish for the risotto where you'll notice that the rice are not sticky but are still loose and separate from each kernel.

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This creamy rice dish is an Italian risotto.
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4 Paella has a crunchy crust. Risotto is creamy. 

One of the best reasons to have paella is the crispy bottom, also known as tutong or socarrat. This is the prized part of the paella, so to make sure you have that, cook the paella as directed but place it on top of the stove over high heat to crisp up the bottom well before serving. 

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The risotto meanwhile is usually creamy. The creamy texture is actually not because of the rice but because of the cheese that's added to make the "sauce" that binds the rice together. 

5 Paella is loaded with toppings. Toppings of risotto are gently stirred in. 

A quick look at both dishes reveals another vast difference between the two rice dishes. Where the paella is loaded with all manner of toppings, from fresh seafood of the traditional Valenciana to the meaty chunks of sausages, the risotto is the more understated of the two. Any toppings are usually stirred into the risotto, usually as an accent rather than a topping. 

The paella is basically a one-pan meal while the risotto is can be served as is or with another dish at the table. 

Want to try making either of these two rice dishes at home? Here are recipes to try: 

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