Sicily is pinpointed as the birthplace of arancini during the 10th century when the island was ruled by Arabs. There is a theory that arancini may have been the local adaptation the Lebanese kibbeh. Well, I suppose no one will ever know for sure. But I’ve read that arancini is still a staple in Sicilian cuisine but variants are found in many other parts of the country.
Those variants consist of the first reason why I didn’t want to give this dish the definitive name of arancini. The second reason is that the rice balls were not prepared the way traditional arancini is.
(Oh, but wait… arancini is plural but I’m having a hard time using it in its correct grammatical form. If, from this point, you find me switching from plural to singular, you already know why.)
You’ll need cooked rice. I find that day-old rice which has had a chance to dry out a bit is easier to stuff and shape. With newly cooked rice, the starch that covers the surface of the grains is still too soft making the rice too sticky to handle.
The sausage is Spanish chorizo. The dried kind. If you want to use fresh sausage meat, you’ll need to brown it and cool it before mixing with the rice. Cooking time for the rice balls is short and uncooked sausage meat will likely still be undercooked by the time the rice balls are golden and crisp.
To the rice and sausage, add grated Parmesan and eggs. Pecorino is an even better choice, in my opinion. Whatever cheese you decide to grate and mix with the rice, make it a dry salty cheese.
With the rice mixture ready, form into balls. A scoop with a release mechanism is ideal. Our smallest one was too big for rice balls so a measuring spoon was used. One tablespoon. Just insert a cheese cube at the center, tap out and gather into a ball with your fingers.
After all the rice mixture has been stuffed and shaped, chill well before deep fry the balls. Chilling firms them up. And cold cheese will not melt as fast as cheese at room temperature. And when you fry, make sure the oil is hot enough. You want the crust to form quickly and the cheese stuffing to soften without oozing out.
If the rice balls are sufficiently seasoned, you may serve them by themselves. If you prefer Italian style, serve tomato sauce on the side for dipping.
Fried cheese-stuffed sausage and rice balls
- 2 cups day-old rice (use arborio, Japanese or other medium-grain rice)
- 100 grams Spanish chorizo (or use salami)
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan
- 2 whole eggs
- salt optional, only if the chorizo is not too salty
- pepper optional, only if the chorizo is not too spicy
- 100 to 150 grams cheese (any variety that melts well), cut into one-inch cubes
- 3 to 4 cups cooking oil for deep frying
- 1 cup panko
- tomato sauce for dipping
- In a mixing bowl, mix the rice, chopped chorizo, Parmesan, eggs and, optionally, salt and pepper.
- Scoop some of the rice mixture using a measuring spoon or small ice cream scoop. Place a cheese cube at the center. Gather to form a ball making sure that no part of the cheese is exposed. Repeat until all the rice mixture has been used.
- Place the rice balls in container in a single layer. Cover the container and chill the rice balls for at least 30 minutes.
- Start heating the oil in a wok or frying pan.
- Take the rice balls out of the fridge and roll each one in panko.
- When the oil has reached a temperature of 350F, fry the rice balls in batches. Turn then around occasionally for even frying. When the crust is a golden brown, scoop out and move to a plate lined with paper towels.
- Serve the arancini-style cheese-stuffed rice balls with tomato sauce on the side for dipping.