The other day I was reminiscing about Barcelona, the street I lived on, the market I shopped at, the climate and the food. One dish that I didn’t try when I was there was Arroz Negro – black rice, a type of paella. You saw it on the sign boards outside of all sorts of restaurants, but I was always suspicious of English menus and being a student at the time ate out only occasionally. Arroz Negro had been on my mind off and on for a while now, and I had a jar of cuttlefish ink in the cupboard that I hadn’t gotten around to using (for a future dish of Italian stewed cuttlefish over white polenta).
With the first taste I found this dish to be everything I thought it would be: deep and slightly minerally like the sea, rich, clean and savory. Rice perfectly cooked, squid tender, not too salty or too bland. Aesthetically pleasing colours: black, pinky white, yellow, green. And all this with only a few ingredients. Be sure to serve with homemade aioli (it really isn’t any effort at all and better than jar mayonnaise) and lots of lemon wedges. And I improvised with a few ingredients, it was snowing rather hard today and roads were bad so I used what was in the house: some mild flavored Chinese soup stock (full of dried roots and chicken bones) that I added one fish boullion cube to, Italian Carnaroli rice (no Spanish Bomba rice in the house), and shishito peppers. The shishito pepper as it turns out is a close relative to the Spanish padron pepper, and I wasn’t about to venture out in heavy snow for a couple of green bell peppers.
A few tips for cooking paella:
1) Use the correct diameter pan or a paella pan if you are lucky enough. This way you get the right depth of rice. I used a heavy cast iron pan for even heat distribution. Select the right size burner for the size of pan.
2) Observe (sight, sound, smell) the ingredients cooking and modulate the heat as required. Rotate and shift the pan around on the burner as required for even cooking.
3) Some ingredient substitutions are OK, just use common sense.
4) Don’t use long grain rice for paella because it won’t work. Use a medium Spanish variety like calasparra or bomba or Italian like arborio or carnaroli.
5) Go with your instinct and observations rather than the times stated in a recipe.
6) Don’t be afraid, cook with confidence.
Mortar & Pestle Aioli
From Moro: The Cookbook
1 egg yolk, organic and as fresh as possible
1 – 2 cloves of garlic
pinch of salt
squeeze of lemon
50 ml extra virgin olive oil
50 ml sunflower or other mild oil
1 – 2 tsp of water (optional)
In a mortar and pestle add the garlic and a pinch of salt. Pulverize to a paste. Add the egg yolk and a squeeze of lemon. Mix well. Add the oils drop by drop, mixing well with the pestle until the oil is incorporated. Keep adding oil and mixing until the aioli is thick. Season to taste with salt and lemon juice. Thin out if necessary with a little water. Store in the fridge with some cling film touching the surface so that a skin doesn’t form. Use within 2 days.
Arroz Negro ~ Black Rice Paella
From Moro: The Cookbook
6 Tbsp Olive Oil
600 g squid, sliced (I used a package of tentacles)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 medium green bell peppers, finely chopped
(I used a 2 handfuls of shishito peppers)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
250 g paella rice or risotto rice (I used Carnaroli)
100 ml white wine
1 litre hot fish or chicken stock
(I used homemade chicken stock with no salt
and added a fish boullion cube)
30 – 5o g squid ink or cuttlefish ink
1 – 2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 small bunch of parsley, leaves roughly chopped
1 lemon, cut in wedges
salt and pepper
Aioli to serve
Place the stock in a covered pot to heat up while you start the recipe. Heat a 30 – 40 cm pan over medium to high heat and add 2 Tbsp of oil. Saute the squid for 3o seconds then remove the squid and set aside. Add the rest of the oil and saute the onion and peppers for 5 minutes to soften, then reduce heat to medium low and saute for 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 10 more minutes, stirring regularly. The veg should be soft and sweet with a little colour.
Add the rice to the pan and coat with the oil and veg. Add the wine, simmer half a minute then add the hot stock all at once. Add the squid or cuttlefish ink. Stir in the tomato paste and half of the chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste keeping in mind that your stock may have salt in it already.
Do not stir the rice at this point. Simmer gently and shake the pan once or twice to prevent the rice from sticking. When the rice starts rising above the stock add the squid over top and cook 4 minutes over low (or until there is very little juice left). Cover the pan with a lid or with foil. Sit 3 – 5 minutes. Decorate with parsley and lemon wedges. Serve with aioli and salad family style.