Milanese Acquerello Risotto (Risotto alla Milanese), Ikura and Bone Marrow

Millanese Acquerello Risotto (Risotto alla Milanese), Ikura and Bone Marrow

Watermarked Risotto

Risotto alla Milanese is a rendition of risotto which is just flavoured with saffron, and is arguably the most famous dish that originates from the Lombardy region of Italy. The Lombardy region of Italy is the richest of the twenty administrative regions of Italy and encompasses Milan, the second biggest city in Italy. It was here in Milan, that the Risotto alla Milanese was invented. The exact origin of this dish is unknown and is surrounded by many stories, some which contradict each other. The first known recorded instances of this recipe started appearing in books around the 1800s. Prior to this, recipes for cooking rice in Italy usually consisted for the rice being boiled, compared to the risotto we know nowadays, where rice is first cooked in a soffritto of onions and butter in order to coat each grain in a film of fat (known as tostatura), before deglazing the pan with white wine. From the recipes from the 1800s, we know that Risotto alla Milanese back then was cooked with stock slowly being mixed in, with the gradual addition of cervellata (a beef and veal sausage stuffed with cheese), and coloured with saffron. The dish today however, is made without the traditional sausage and is instead enriched with bone marrow.

The widely told story of how Risotto alla Milanese was invented begins with the construction of the Milan cathedral, now the third biggest cathedral in the world. In the 1700s, the daughter of Valerio della Fiandraleads (the painter of the great glass windows of the Milan cathedral), was getting married. During that time, saffron was widely used to colour stained glass gold as a symbol of prosperity. The story goes on to attribute one of Valerio della Fiandraleads’ assistants decided to surprise him by adding saffron to the risotto served at his daughter’s wedding, and the rest is history. This story is likely to be a folklore than has been spread by word of mouth over many generations and is unlikely to be true as records of the dish only appeared during the 1800s.

Watermarked Collections flowers

Rice first entered Italian cuisine in the early 1200s when the Moors (the muslim inhabitants of southern Italy), settled in Sicily. From here, the cultivation of rice spread northwards to the Po Valley river, which provided enough water for semi-aquatic rice to grow all year around. This spread northwards was made possible by the strong political connections between the two powerful royal families that ruled at that time, the House of Sforza in Milan and the House of Trastámara (Aragon) in Naples. As rice dishes evolved into risotto as we know it today, risotto started to be served as a first course (il primo). Risotto alla millanese however, is usually served together with ossobuco alla milanese (a dish of braised cross-cut veal shank) as a second course (il secondo).  

As this dish is relatively plain, the quality of ingredients used in the dish matters even more in making a truly exceptional dish. The most common variety of rice used to cook risotto is Arborio rice, while Carnaroli rice on the other hand is usually considered more superior as it has a higher starch content which is vital in making a creamy risotto. Of all the different estates that produce Carnaroli rice, the most sought after Carnaroli rice is made by the Acquerello farm in the Piedmont region. The Acquerello rice farm was first started in 1935 by Cesare Rondolino and rose to fame due to its use of aging and heating techniques to produce rice of superior quality. During production, harvested grains are aged under temperature control for 1.5 years, with 1% of the grains being aged up to 7 years. This aging process allows the rice to develop a deeper and richer flavour similar to aging wine. After aging, the rice is unhusked and polished down in a process similar to polishing japanese rice for sake. In a process unique to Acquerello, the germ layer removed from the rice is not thrown away, but instead slowly heated up and gently mixed back into the rice grains, combining the nutrients contained inside the germ with the white rice. This produces a white rice that has the nutrition of brown rice, while also being enrobed with a layer of starch. This mean that when cooking Acquerello rice in risotto, one does not need to constantly stir while adding stock. The stock can actually be added all at once, with the vigorous mixing due to boiling motion of the stock being enough agitation to create a rich and creamy risotto.

Watermarked Aquarello rice
Acquerello Rice aged for 7 years

Saffron, which is the key ingredient in Risotto alla Milanese, is the world’s most expensive spice, costing up to 7000 British Pounds per kilo, with Vanilla coming in as the second most expensive spice, costing up to 500 British Pounds per kilo. This can be explained by the amount of labour required to obtain saffron combined with its extremely low yield. Saffron is derived from the stigma (female part) and styles (male part) in the flower of Crocus sativus. The stigmas and styles are carefully removed from the flower and dried before being sold. As each flower contains 3 stigmas or styles, it takes as much as 300000 in order to produce a kilo of saffron. Thus making an extremely labour intensive spice to produce. This in turn has generated an underground industry of fake-saffron, using strands from turmeric flowers or bits of hay in an attempt to dilute genuine saffron in an attempt to increase yield. This is especially common in Iran, which is responsible for 90% of the world’s saffron production. Saffron production in Iran is made possible due to the low-cost of mainly female labourers, combined with a suitable sunny climate. Saffron itself grows best in the sun, with flowers grown in the sun producing lower quality saffron. However, saffron needs to be harvested in the early morning in order to protect the harvest from the heat and therefore workers start their days as early as 3 or 4 in the morning. 

The taste of saffron is like hay-ish iodine caused by its two main chemical compounds, picrocrocin and safranal. Some people describe it as floral and honey like but in my opinion the flavour of saffron is hard to describe, with nothing that taste close to it. If you want to taste true authenticity in your Risotto alla Milanese, there really isn’t a substitute. Saffron of course, is more famous for the bright yellowish-gold colour that it impart in food due to the high concentration of the carotenoid pigment, crocin, it contains. Not all saffron is of the same quality, with the highest quality saffron being grown in the Navelli Valley in Italy’s Abruzzo region, near L’Aquila, as it as the high concentration of safranal and crocin. To get the most out of your saffron, it should not be added directly to a dish, but instead soaked in luke warm water in order to extract the flavour and colour from the strains before adding it to the dish.

My take on Risotto alla Milanese is the same base recipe you find everywhere, including the addition of bone marrow into the risotto itself, with the difference being the addition of additional bone marrow served as it is (not mixed into the risotto). This allows you to enjoy the flavour of bone marrow on its own and makes the dish more substantial to eat on its own without other dishes such as osso bucco. I also add some ikura (salmon eggs) on the side, as the burst of salty acidicness from the ikura helps balance out the bone marrow.

Watermarked Saffron
Spanish Saffron sold in 1g packets

Millanese Acquerello Risotto (Risotto alla Milanese), Ikura and Bone Marrow

  • Ikura
  • 50g Grated Parmasan Cheese or Pecorino Romano
  • 700ml Chicken Stock/Vegetable Stock
  • 1 medium sized shallot
  • 250g 7 Years aged Acquerello Rice (or normal Carnoli/Arborio Rice)
  • 30g Unsalted Butter
  • A dash of olive oil
  • 100ml White wine
  • 2 pinches Saffron
  • Bone marrow still in bone (beef or veal)
  • Red Amaranth as garnish
  1. First, add the saffron to warm chicken stock to infuse for 10 minutes.
  2. While the saffron is steeping, Mince the shallots as finely and evenly as possible, as evenly cut pieces will cook uniformly, preventing bits of the shallots browning faster than others.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Place the bone marrow in a tray and salt with salt and pepper before covering each bone marrow with tin foil. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Reserve some bone marrow in bone for plating the dish.
  4. To start the risotto, scoop out the bone marrow from the bones and add this to the butter in some olive oil, heat the mixture before adding the minced shallots to sweat.
  5. Once fragrant, add in the Acquerello Rice and toss in the butter for around a minute until well coated. (A process known as tostatura)
  6. Pour in the white wine to deglaze the pan and continue to cook until all the alcohol has evaporated (when you can no longer smell alcohol).
  7. If using Acquerello rice, pour in 600ml of stock (including saffron strands) into the pot and set to a rolling boil. Once most of the stock has evaporated, use a spatula to stir the rice to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. Taste the risotto and add more stock if it is not cooked enough for your taste.
  8. If using any other rice, add in the stock (including saffron strands) one ladle at a time, only adding another ladle once the previous ladle has been absorbed into the rice. Remember to always stir the rice constantly. You do not have to add all the stock into the pot.
  9. Taste the risotto once in a while to see if it is cooked to you’re taste. If not, continue to add stock to the pot and cook until soft enough for your taste.
  10. The risotto is done when the rice grains are translucent and you can see a white centre inside each individual rice grain. This means the rice is al dente, and still has a bite to it. 
  11. Just before the risotto is done, add in the parmesan cheese in 3 separate stages and mix till melted.
  12. Plate and serve the risotto with a tablespoon of ikura and a bone marrow still in bone at the centre. Garnish with red amaranth.


Street Performer, Milan


  • Making your own stock at home can be incredibly time-consuming so feel free to use stock cubes at home. Some of the best chefs I know use stock cubes at home themselves.
  • If you’re in Asia and can’t find risotto rice, sushi rice is a possible substitute for risotto rice.
  • The point of stirring the stock constantly is to allow the friction between the rice grains to release their starch, causing the risotto to take on its classic creamy character.
  • You do not have to stir the rice constantly if you’re using Acquerello rice as the agitation from the boiling is enough to cause the rice to release its starch.
  • We cover each piece of bone marrow in tin foil the prevent the bone marrow from burning.
  • The goal of cooking the shallots in the fat is to reduce the water content in the shallots and concentrate its flavour. We are not trying to caramalise the shallots so try not to brown them.


Elio Altare’s Barolo

Wine Pairing:

As Risotto alla Milanese is quite a rich and fatty dish, I would pair this dish with wines of high acidity that are lighter in style in order to balance out the weight of the dish. Wines without new oak would also be preferable to not drown out the taste of saffron. Sticking with regional wine pairings, for white wines I would suggest a Pinot Bianco with the not overtly fruity nature but high enough acidity to match the dish and bring out the flavour of the saffron. 

For red wines, I would suggest a good Nebbiolo from Piedmont. Nebbiolo tends to be in a very light style similar to Pinot Noir from burgundy, with similiar notes of undergrowth and red cherries. The main difference however is that Pinot Noir has relatively low tannins while the tannins in Nebbiolo tend to be overpowering. However, with such a rich dish full of cheese, the tannins in the Nebbiolo would definitely pair well. When considering a Barolo vs a Barbaresco, I would go for the Barbaresco, which is typically harvested a fortnight earlier and thus would be slightly lighter in style. Old style producers of Barolo would also be recommended over new style producers who tend to use new french oak barrels compared to the traditional large oak botti which impart less oak flavour over many years of use. The strong oak flavour will overpower the taste of saffron. A Valpolicella from the Veneto region might just work with this dish as it can be light and fruity but I would advise against choosing a Ripasso or Amarone to pair with this dish. 

Kurume Tonkotsu Ramen 久留米ラーメン



Whenever I meet up with an old friend that I haven’t seen in a long time, we never catch up on each other’s lives over a cup of expresso in a dimly lit chic cafe, instead I’d much rather reminiscence the good old days over a piping hot bowl of ramen with a pint of beer. In my books, nothing beats sinking my teeth into a melt-in-your-mouth thinly sliced piece of chashu, slurping up the hot noodles from the lip smacking fatty soup, before washing it down with a swing of beer. This of course, follows with the mandatory noodle top up to go with the remaining broth! This system of having a second helping of noodles is known as Kaedama (替玉). My personal favourite ramen is Tonkatsu ramen, with it’s creamy pale white broth. While some people may find it a little too heavy compared to Shio ramen (salt based) or Shoyu ramen (soy sauce based), a well made Tonkatsu broth, contrary to the general conception, is not extremely fatty, but broth that balances collagen, gelatin and fat.

The recipe that follows is my take on Kurume Tonkatsu Ramen which originates from Fukuoka, a Prefecture on the Kyushu island of Japan, which is known to be the original Tonkatsu Ramen and thus the most authentic.  Fukuoka is definately known as the capital of Tonkatsu Ramen in the world and here, it comes in three distinct styles, Nagahama, Kurume and Hakata. Kurume style tonkatsu is boiled longer than the other two styles and the resulting broth is so rich that it doesn’t require the addition of fat at the end. Historically, Kurume style ramen is also different as the previous day’s excess stock is added to the next day, in the same way traiditonal unagi shop’s sauce pot is never emptied.

This recipe is definitely for the love of labour as I have tried to make it as close to the original as possible. The characteristic creamy colour of the Tonkatsu broth comes from an emulsion of rendered fat, collagen and gelatin, whereby the gelatin acts as a surfactant that emulsifies the fat. This is made by vigorously boiling down pork bones for a long period of time. In addition to this, the main ingredient that sets apart the original Kurume Tonkatsu Ramen from other Tonkatsu Ramens found around the world is their use of entire pig skulls in the broth. This is because by boiling down pig skulls, the the brains and eyes are rendered down and dissolve into the broth, giving the broth a uniquely delicate sweetness to it as well as an umami boost (similar to the addition of prawn heads to shellfish stock).


Before I go into the details of making the broth. We first must talk about what makes a bowl of ramen. A bowl of ramen has 4 primary components, the noodles, the tare, the broth and the toppings. All 4 of these components play an important role in making up an authentic bowl of ramen but in my opinion, the broth is by far the most important as it serves as the base flavour on which the chef is able to layer other flavours onto, like a painter on a sheet of canvas. While the broth may be the most important, let me first elaborate about the tare of a ramen, which in my opinion is the hardly ever discussed, yet alone mentioned, even when it is one of the primary components. The tare is the base seasoning added to the broth to add saltiness and complexity to the dish. It usually consists of a concentrated salty liquid that is added to the broth at around a 1:10 ratio of tare to broth. Tare can be made from concentrated dashi, soy sauce, and salt. In the case of Shio ramen, the tare used is dry and in the very best restaurants is made from several different kinds of salts to give a complex flavour compared to using plain salt.

The noodles used in Japanese ramen also originates from China and similarly, they have an alkaline element added to it. This gives them their unique taste but more importantly a different mouth feel. For example, most industrial ramen makers use kansui, or lye water, to give the noodle’s its bounce. This is in contrast to french pâtisserie, which ocassionally uses Ascorbic acid to increase the bounciness of their pastry. Ramen noodles in Japan are usually made without egg, with their yellow color comming from the kansui as well. Kurume ramen noodles are traditionally eaten with a hard centre, similiar to ‘al dente’ in Italian cooking. Because of this, a bowl of ramen should be eaten as soon as its served, in order to prevent the noodles from becoming soggy. Kurume ramen is traditionally paired with thin, straight noodles compared to the instant ramen noodles which are curly. In my opinion, the pairing of straight noodles with Kurume ramen works well as the straight noodles stick together and the soup clings more onto them.

For the topping, the classic toppings are pork chashu, marinated eggs, naruto (fish cake), bamboo shoots, chopped green onions, sesame seeds, mayu (black garlic oil), black woodear fungus, and a sheet of seaweed.


For this broth, I use purely pig’s trotters, skulls and water (filtered if possible). The reasoning behind this is to obtain the purest flavour of pork. The secret to making an amazing tasting Kurume Tonkatsu Ramen is the use of pig skulls in the recipe, whereby the brains and eyes melt into the broth, giving a subtle sweetness to the broth, similar to tomalley in crabs. From my experience, any addition of aromatic vegetables such as onions, garlic or ginger overpowers the soup, making it more similar to Chinese soups. For the same reason, I have also chosen not to add any chicken bones to prevent the underlying taste of chicken being added to the broth. Other than tasty, food should also be aesthetically pleasing. Tonkatsu ramen would not be Tonkatsu ramen without being an extremely pale cream colour. As mentioned above, this pale white colour is an emulsification of collagen and fat that is extracted from the bones by using a vigorous boil. This technique is very different from classic french stock which have to be as clear as possible and therefore never raised above a gentle simmer. In contrast to this, a Tonkatsu broth can not be made by simmering the pork bones as you would not get an opaque white soup due to the lack of emulsification. The vigorous boiling of the bones is akin to the vigorous whisking required to make a successful hollandaise sauce, creating a fine suspension of hydrophobic particles in water. As with most stocks and stews, extracting flavour requires a long period of boiling. This process is even longer when making this broth as the collagen in the bones requires a long period of boiling before it renders into the soup. From my experience, 20 hours is optimal, with any longer being a waste of time and any shorter causing the broth to be slightly too watery. This is especially so for Hakata Tonkatsu broth which requires a Brix scale of 10.1 or above. The Brix scale is a measurement of the sugar content of an aqueous solution, which can be measured with a Brix refractometer. Of course this is used only by the most meticulous ramen enthusiast.

Another problem typically faced when making the broth is the broth taking on a brownish tinge which gets darker over time. This occurs as the broth slowly oxidize over time. The component of the broth that is liable to oxidise is blood, and therefore as much blood as possible needs to be removed before the initial boil. Two methods are available to use to do this, the first being soaking the bones for 24 hours prior to cooking and the second one is the blanch the bones in hot water before washing the bones carefully in cold water. Since we are using pig skulls, I recommend using both technique as the skulls are full of dirt and grit (unless you are buying commercially prepared pig skulls). In fact, rather than mere blanching the pigs skulls after soaking, I recommend boiling them for up to an hour to make sure they are thoroughly cleaned. Any longer than one hour and the brain starts to melt and flow out of the skull, something that we want to prevent as we want as much of the brains to go into our broth.


Kurume Tonkotsu Ramen 久留米ラーメン

  • Broth
    • Pork Skulls with brains in tact (preferably with the eyes too)
    • Pigs Trotters
    • Water (filtered if possible)
  • Tare
    • Katsuobushi- Dried Bonito Flakes (鰹節)
    • Kombu (dried kelp)
    • Water
    • Niboshi (Dried Sardines)
    • Mirin
    • Sake
    • Pork Lard
    • Fine Sea Salt
  1. To start the broth we must first drain all the blood from the skulls and trotters. Soak the skulls and trotters in water overnight before boiling them for half an hour.
  2. Discard the water and wash the skulls and trotters to remove all the blood which should now be brown and clumped together.
  3. Place skulls and trotters in a large stock pot, cover with water and place the lid on before bringing to a rolling boil for 20 hours.
  4. Remember to constantly refill the water if your lid is not tight-fitting and please do not leave the stove on overnight. It is not nessesary to leave the pot on a rolling boil for all the 20 hours, but the more hours the better. It is still alright to start with a rolling boil while you are able to monitor the pot every hour and to lower the pot to a simmer when you need to leave for longer periods of time.
  5. Around the 10 hour mark, it is useful to try and break open the skulls to extract the brain if the bones are soft enough. You might want to also remove the skulls from the pot and break them open a cleaver before putting them back in the pot.
  6. After 20 hours, the broth is done. Strain the stock and discard the trotters, skulls, and any remaining bone fragments. The broth can be frozen for up to 3 months.38657297742_1c36a0470a_k
  7. To make the Tare, we start with a dashi base. Dashi is basically the Japanese version of stock and is either made from Kombu which makes a type of vegetable stock, or Katsuobushi which makes a type of fish stock. Dashi is unique because it has extremely high levels of glutamate which is the compound which gives us the umami sensation. This is because when Katsuobushi is made by smoking fresh skipjack tuna fillets, the glutamate in the fish concentrates. Dried Kombu and Katsuobushi are two of the food with have the highest naturally occurring glutamate, which combined together, form an umami bomb.
  8. To start, soak the Kombu at room temperature water overnight to let it infuse slowly into the water. Do not wash the Kombu before soaking as you will wash off some of the Mannit, which is the white powder found on dried Kombu. Mannit contains a lot of glutamate which we do not want to lose.
  9. Separately, render the down the pork lard into liquid form before frying the Niboshi in it. Reserve pork lard and separate the Niboshi. The pork lard can be used as an additional topping to the ramen.
  10. Place the Kombu and the soaking liquid in a saucepan and heat until the mixture reaches 80°C (176°F). If you heat the Kombu above this temperature, the Kombu will start to release bitter compounds which will ruin the dashi. After years of making dashi, The Japanese have determined 80°C is the most optimal temperature for making dashi as it causes the most flavour extraction in the quickest time without the extration of bitter compounds.
  11. When it has reached 80°C, immediately take it off the heat and add in the Katsuoboshi and fried Niboshi and let it infuse for around 15 minutes.
  12. After that, strain the dashi to remove the solids and add in Mirin to taste. Now add in a dash of Sake and bring it back to a boil to reduce it down until concentrated.
  13. After reducing, the dashi (now tare) should be very concentrated in a ocean-like taste but not extremely salty.
  14. The final step now is to increase the salt level with sea salt, adding quite a bit of sea salt to the tare until it is almost unbearably salty. The reason why we add so much salt to the tare is because the broth has no seasoning in it and thus we want to use the tare as seasoning. However we want the fish taste from the tare to just be a complementary background taste and not full forward. In order to do so, we need an extremely salty tare that when diluted in small amounts, is enough to season the broth and add provide subtle fish notes.


To make a bowl of ramen, mix the tare to broth in a 1:10 ratio, before adding the toppings (such as Chashu) and noodles. Serve immediately.