Sunday, October 4, 2009

Black Paella, a.k.a. Paella Negra

I've always had a weakness for foods and recipes that have proper names: Bouillabasse, Croquembouche, Ropa Vieja, Kugelhopf Surprise, Oysters Rockefeller, Aebleschivers... recipes for which will be coming as we move forward. Last night was the night for Paella -- more specifically Black Paella, or Paella Negra if you're inclined to use the Spanish name. An early issue of the fabulous Saveur magazine first introduced me to this dish (alas, my copy of that issue is long gone and their website doesn't have their version posted).

A true Paella pan is necessary, and authentic, imported Spanish Paella rice is non-negotiable for this dish. A popular brand is Bomba. Paella rice, shortgrained and round, has been developed for maximum absorbency, while still maintaining individual integrity of the grains. Arborio rice is not suitable, as that variety lends itself to creamy smoothness and Paella calls for plump, individual grains. Paella Rice is much more absorbent than other rice; in fact, the ratio of rice to broth is 1 - 4, versus the 1-2 formula for our standard American long grain rice, or the 1 -3 used to produce a creamy risotto.

So, Black Paella. The secret is squid ink. If you're lucky enough to find whole, uncleaned squid to harvest your ink sacks fresh, more power to you. Nowadays squid is sold already cleaned, tentacles separated from the bodies, skins removed, heads, beaks, quills and ink sacks discarded. Luckily it's not to hard to find packets of squid ink, which work just fine.

This is a high drama dish -- black rice studded with rings of squid, surrounded by a circle of shiny black mussels. Taken to the table in the Paella pan it's been cooked in, I bet no one's seen anything quite like it, and it is really, really delicious. Black and briny, evoking the depths of the mysterious deep sea. This recipe serves four.

BLACK PAELLA - serves 4

- 1 lb cleaned squid. Cut the tentacle rings in half (four little legs per piece) and slice the body into rings

- 2 dozen scrubbed mussels

- 6 T. olive oil

- 1 shallot chopped fine

- 1 medium onion chopped fine

- 4 cloves garlic chopped fine

- 1/2 t. hot pepper flakes

- 2 large tomatoes, pulp only. (Cut tomato in half around the equator. squeeze out seeds. Rub the halves through a box grater, down to the skin, which will protect your hand from getting scraped. The result will be perfectly smooth, seedless and skinless thick fresh pulp. My beefsteaks yielded 2 cups of pulp.)

- 1 cup Spanish Paella rice

- 2 packets squid ink (4 grams each)
- 4 cups broth: 2 c. bottled clam juice, 2 c. chicken stock

- .5 gram saffron

- 2 T. chopped parsley

- saffron sea salt if you have it

Preheat oven to 425. In a sauce pan combine the clam juice, chicken stock and saffron, bring to a very low simmer, covered, and keep it at that temperature. The saffron will color and flavor the broth. Watch that it doesn't come to a full out boil.

Place the Paella pan over medium heat, slick it with the oil and saute the shallots, onion, garlic. Slowly, not too hot, don't brown, go for that translucent look. Give it a little salt and pepper, easy on the salt, since there's more saltiness to come. Takes about 10-12 minutes.

Add red pepper flakes, heat them up, then add the rice and stir around so it's coated with the oil and other stuff in the pan. Again, careful not to brown the rice. Add the squid and the tomato pulp. Cook and stir for 5 minutes, it will cook down a little, but don't worry that the tomato will not be completely absorbed.

Stir in the squid ink and evenly distribute. It's fun to see this thick black paste spread thoughout the pan. Keep stirring.

Increase heat to medium high. Add 2 cups of hot broth, stirring risotto style, until most of the liquid is absorbed by the rice.

Add the remaining 2 cups of broth, or as much as will fit into the pan. Ring the pan with the mussels. Into the hot oven, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Out of the oven and cover with foil for 10 minutes to rest. Sprinkle with a little chopped parsley, and if you have saffron sea salt, a pinch or two of those course grains as well. It's served warm from its little bit of resting time, not steaming hot.

Spectacular and very delicous -- perfect!

Note: An extra level of excess would be dollops of orange flying fish roe (Tobiko), when you want to go over the top. Worry not, the straight forward Black Paella with a sprinkling of parsley is bold and beautiful as is.

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