Those readers who’ve been following us for a while know (and, we hope, appreciate) that we frequently put our bodies and constitutions on the line for your benefit. Indeed, some of you may remember, that during our stay in Madrid last year, one of us, quite literally, pushed himself to breaking point in this endeavor. It was a valuable life-lesson that everyone has their limits – specifically, in this case, that one’s daily quota of pork products should not exceed the weight of one’s head.
And it was because of this humbling reminder of mortality that we were unable to visit a very tempting restaurant that lay just across Calle de Campomanes from our hotel (the curiously-titled Roommate Mario) in the Opera district of the city. Every day for a week, we walked (or, as our stay progressed, waddled) past this restaurant (it didn’t appear to have a name), re-reading and salivating at the names of dishes advertised on the sunshades overhanging the windows: paella marinera, paella bogavante, arroz al horno, paella valenciana, arroz atianda, and arroz negro.
At the time, we convinced ourselves that this was no big deal since we were in Madrid to eat Madrileño food, not rice dishes from the Levante (eastern Spain, around Valencia/Murcia, so-called because that’s where the sun rises), and certainly not in the chilly depths of winter when rib-sticking dishes like cocido madrileño and callos a la madrileño were the order of the day. Of course, we flagrantly disobeyed this rule on a couple of occasions (see our previous posts on Canarian papas arrugadas and Galician arroz marinero), and during our current lengthy bout of winter-induced, home-bound funk, we found ourselves, in our related regret-filled nostalgia, wishing that we’d made one more exception.
So, to appease these feelings, what we were unable or unwilling to eat in Madrid, we decided to make ourselves right here in Brooklyn. A couple of sachets of cuttlefish ink, some D.O. Calasparra rice, and a little help from Penelope Casas’ The Foods and Wines of Spain resulted in a quite magnificent traditional Murcian arroz negro.
Do not be confused about it, the rice is, and should always be, the star of the dish. Do not be tempted to listen to the voices in your head telling you to add more seafood: this is not a black paella (though traditional Valencian paellas contain no seafood). Rice, in this case, is not just a starchy canvas on which the more tasty and colorful protein displays itself, as it is commonly thought of in the American and British mind. Use only the amount specified below, otherwise you risk distracting your tastebuds from the point that is the extraordinary manner in which the squid (or cuttlefish) ink, together with pimenton, saffron and a hint of garlic, delicately perfumes the rice. A crisp white wine (as called for in the recipe) or a dry rose would make a perfect match.
Our good friend Nuría of Spanish Recipes Pic by Pic made what is, by any measure, a superior arroz negro on her third attempt. Having been unable (at least for now) to find squid or cuttlefish complete with their ink sacs, we’re not optimistic that we’ll be able to mimic the wonderful inky blackness of Nuría’s dish, but next time we try, I think we’ll add an extra packet of dry ink to see if we can get closer to that beautiful color.
Arroz Negro Murciano (Murcian-style Black Rice) with Garlic Sauce
(adapted from Penelope Casas’ The Foods & Wines of Spain)
- 500 grams Calasparra, Valenciana, or Bomba rice (only use Italian arborio or carnaroli, if you are absolutely desperate)
- 2 pounds octopus (with tentacles)(ab0ut 8 squid), sliced (if you find them with their ink sacs you’re very lucky, and use these in place of packets listed below)
- 1/2 pound small shrimp/prawns, shelled and chopped into pieces
- 1 large onion, chopped roughly
- 1 medium tomato, roughly chopped
- 1/2 medium green pepper (capsicum), chopped
- 1/2 jar piquillo peppers, julienned
- 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 small, dry chorizos, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 2 packets squid or cuttlefish ink (nero di calamari/seppia)
- 1 pinch saffron threads
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 3 tsp pimentón dulce (sweet paprika)
- 4tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 3 3/4 cups (1.5ish liters) fish broth or clam juice (make 4 cups in case you need a little extra)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
For garlic sauce:
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Preheat oven to 325F (160Cish)
- Clean the squid, cutting bodies into rings and chopping up tentacles.
- In a wide 2-3inch deep casserole dish (preferably earthenware), or paella (pan), heat oil and saute onion and green pepper until both are wilted.
- Add squid rings and tentacles and saute for around five minutes before adding chorizo, garlic, tomato, parsley, salt, pepper, saffron, and pimentón. Cover and simmer gently for around 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, follow directions on packets for reconstituting the squid/cuttlefish ink, and pass black liquid through a sieve to remove impurities. Mix ink with wine.
- After 30 minutes, stir in rice and when well combined, add broth (boiling hot) and stir in ink/wine and toss in shrimp.
- Bring to a boil and stir occasionally until rice is no longer soupy, about 10 minutes. Decorate with pimento strips and put dish in oven and bake uncovered for around 15 minutes until all remaining liquid is absorbed.
- Remove from oven and cover tightly and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
- While rice is resting, add garlic in a food processor or blender, and with motor running gradually pour in olive oil until well combined and golden.
- Place dish in the middle of the table and encourage diners to stake their claim. Serve garlic sauce on the side.