I’ve you’ve never had arancini before then buckle up because they might just become your new favorite appetizer.
Traditional arancini (Italian rice balls) are made by taking leftover risotto and, forming it into a ball, then coating it in bread crumbs and deep frying.
They have a crispy exterior and gooey, cheesy interior. What’s not to love?
And while this version isn’t quite the same as traditional arancini you’d find in Italy, we’re not sacrificing any flavor here.
By using the air fryer, we can achieve the same deep-fried texture and cheesy, creamy texture inside that you’d expect from real-deal, delicious arancini balls.
Each rice ball has only 150 calories and packs 9g of protein, making it a great appetizer or side dish for any occasion.
Ingredients needed for arancini balls
Authentic arancini are made with risotto, which is a creamy & cheesy dish made with arborio rice
(you can find an easy risotto recipe on the Spruce Eats site). Leftover risotto makes the perfect arancini ball because of the creaminess it gives to the final product.
So, technically speaking, it’s a risotto ball instead of a rice ball.
But in an effort to keep things simple here, I just stuck with regular white rice. If you have risotto on hand, then you can definitely use that to make risotto balls!
Truthfully, any type of rice will work great, but it’s highly recommended that you use leftover rice to make these rice balls regardless of which type you choose. Leftover rice will be much easier to work with, and it sticks together significantly better than freshly cooked rice.
To make these rice balls, we’re also going to need some tomato or marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, and chicken sausage.
I love using chicken sausage in these arancini not only because they are loaded with protein, but also because they come pre-cooked and help to speed the process along.
Much like the rice, you can use any meat you’d like in these, or you can leave it out altogether. Any kind of pork sausage, ground beef, or even bacon would work great.
And if you’re wondering: yes, you can certainly use cauliflower rice to make cauliflower rice balls! While it’s not quite as delicious, it’s surprisingly good. You can find a full recipe for those here.
How to make air fryer arancini balls
As long as you cook your rice ahead of time, you’ll be able to whip up a batch of air fryer arancini in just about 15 minutes flat.
First, dice up 2 chicken sausages into small pieces and cook them in a pan over medium to medium-high heat for a few minutes. I use pre-cooked sausage, so this cooking is to just get a quick sear on them to enhance the flavor.
After a few minutes, add the leftover white rice (or risotto rice), tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, and seasonings.
Lower the heat to low, then mix everything up in the pan. Continue mixing up everything in the pan until all of the mozzarella cheese completely melts, then remove from heat.
Add the cheesy rice mixture to a plate or bowl, then prep your dredging station by whisking an egg in one bowl and Italian breadcrumbs in another bowl.
If you only have regular breadcrumbs, you can simply add some Italian seasoning to create your own breadcrumb mixture. You can use panko breadcrumbs if it’s all you have, but panko won’t coat the rice balls quite as well.
The rice mixture should be cooled enough to take a scoop and roll it into a ball in the palm of your hand. The exact size of the Italian rice ball is up to you, but if you make them the size of your palm, you’ll get anywhere from 6 to 8 arancini balls (I made exactly 7).
I’ve seen many people use an ice cream scoop, but I just get right in there with my hands to grab the right amount.
Thanks to the cheese, the rice ball should hold together very well in a tight ball. Dip the ball in the egg, then into the breadcrumbs to fully coat. Add to your air fryer basket and continue until you’ve used up the entire rice mixture. Unlike most air fryer recipes, you shouldn’t need to use any cooking spray for these.
When it comes to air frying, make sure you only have a single layer in your air-fryer basket rather than stacking to make sure everything cooks evenly.
Air fry at 400 degrees for 8 minutes, carefully flipping the arancini balls halfway through to get a nice golden brown on all sides.
Serve these rice balls fresh with some additional sauce for dipping, and enjoy them!
Arancini are definitely best served hot as that is when they are at their gooiest and cheesiest. However, if you save leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge, these are also great reheated in the air fryer the next day.
As leftovers, they’re best served within 2-3 days as cold rice can go bad pretty quickly.
What to serve with air fryer arancini
Truthfully, these Italian rice balls will make an amazing appetizer for ANY meal, but if you’re looking to pair these air fryer arancini with a specific dish, here are a few that will work really well:
- Chicken Parm Stuffed Peppers
- Healthy Beef Meatballs
- Air Fryer Crispy Chicken Sandwich
- Chicken Parmesan Sandwiches
- High-Protein Pizza
Air Fryer Arancini (Crispy Rice Balls)
Air fryer arancini (rice balls) may just become your new favorite appetizer. Crispy on the outside, yet gooey and cheesy on the inside, you'd never know these were secretly healthier thanks to the air fryer.
- 2 Cups Cooked White Rice (leftover rice works best)
- 2 Pre-Cooked Italian Chicken Sausage
- 2 Tbsp Tomato Sauce of Choice (plus extra for serving)
- 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder
- Basil or Italian Seasoning
- 2 tsp Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 56g (1/2 Cup) Lite Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
- 1 Egg
- 1/2 Cup Italian Style Breadcrumbs
- Make white rice ahead of time to have as leftovers for these rice balls. You can make rice to use right away, but leftover rice is much easier to work with and it saves time so you can whip these arancini up in 15 minutes flat.
- Dice up your chicken sausage and add to a pan over medium heat. Cook for a few minutes to get a quick sear, but if you use pre-cooked sausage as I did, you don't need much time.
- Switch the pan to low heat, then add the rice, sauce, garlic powder, a few dashes of basil or Italian seasoning, parmesan cheese, and mozzarella cheese.
- Mix everything up and continue mixing until all of the mozzarella cheese has melted, then turn off the heat.
- Prep your dipping stations by whisking 1 egg in one bowl, and adding 1/2 cup of bread crumbs to another bowl.
- Your rice mixture should be nice and sticky, but still able to be formed. Take a scoop of the mixture and roll it in your palms to form a ball. The exact size is up to you, but I made mine large enough to make exactly 7 rice balls. Anywhere from 6-8 rice balls will be perfect.
- Coat the rice ball in the egg, then dip in the breadcrumbs to fully coat the exterior. Add to your air fryer basket, continuing until you've used up all the rice mixture.
- Air fry at 400 degrees for 8 minutes, carefully flipping the arancini after 4 minutes.
- Serve with some additional sauce for dipping and enjoy!
- You can use any sausage you'd like, but chicken sausage helps keep the calories low and the protein high.
- If you want to make these even lower, you can use cauliflower rice!
- I made 1 cup of dry rice, which yields roughly 3 cups of white rice. I did not measure the weight in this case. I wanted 2 cups of rice, but didn't feel like doing the math to get an exact amount, and I like having extra for leftovers! With white rice, it will triple in volume (so 1 cup uncooked = 3 cups cooked) and if you use brown rice, it will double in volume (so 1 cup uncooked = 2 cups cooked). I hope that helps!
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Nutrition InformationYield 7 Serving Size 1 Rice Ball
Amount Per Serving Calories 150Total Fat 3gCarbohydrates 21gProtein 9g