Rice with Squid (August Daring Cooks)
For some time now I have been a fan of Jose’ Andres. I was first turned on to him by a friend and have been watching his show, Made in Spain, on PBS ever since. Imagine my surprise upon seeing the August challenge reveal by Olga of a wonderfully chosen recipe by Jose’. The recipe is a Catalan version of Arroz con Sepia, or Rice with Cuttlefish.
After much reading online and watching several videos of this and similar recipes being cooked, I got started on the foundation of many a Catalan recipe, the Sofregit. Also known as sofrito in many a Latin country. There are literally thousands of recipes for a base sauce such as this. I wanted to add as much flavor here as possible while still staying true to the authentic Catalan style. Making in advance and allowing to age was mentioned in the Daring Cooks discussion threads and seemed one more way of achieving a richer and fuller flavor.
I started with Walla Walla sweet onions and slowly caramelized them over very low heat in a bit of olive oil. Stir often and don’t be in a hurry. Slowly they will take on more and more color.
Pour off the extra oil and to this I added in roasted red bell pepper and a half a head of roasted garlic.
Now the recipe calls for fresh tomatoes, but only very rarely do good tomatoes make it to the markets of Anchorage. I have taken to using Muir Glen whole canned tomatoes in many sauces and am always pleased with the results. So I added a 28oz can of those that I hand crushed. To this I added a couple bay leaves, some fresh thyme, a bit of cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper. Let cook over medium heat and stir often. The liquid from the tomatoes will slowly cook out. At a magical moment the sofregit will stop boiling and start frying. Now it is very important to stir often so as to prevent anything from sticking and scorching.
This process gives the sauce a deep burgundy color and thickness that seems to match Jose’s from the TV show. His seemed almost like a marmalade of tomato and caramelized onion. I think mine came very close to that. It was so good that I ate some on grilled focaccia for dinner that night. The rest was set aside for a few days in the fridge to age.
On the day of the actual meal I headed out to New Sagaya Midtown to shop for fish and for a cuttlefish substitute. The fish was easy enough. I have used many a snapper in the past to make fish stock. Even used it to make another Spainish dish very similar to paella called fideua. So pink snapper, head on shrimp, and fresh squid made it into the basket.
The snapper was scaled for me at the fish counter. I fileted it myself and set those back in the fridge for later.
The head and carcass ended up in a pot with some shrimp heads and shells and a couple turns of olive oil. I saved the shrimp meat for another meal.
Sautee until just a little color is left on the bottom of the pot. Then deglaze with white wine. I used this delicious Pinot Gris from Oregon.
Cook off most of the wine and then add in your other goodies. I added some leek, shallots, garlic, parsley, fennel stems, fennel fronds, thyme, bay leaves, salt, and pepper.
Cover with water and bring to a slow simmer. Do not boil! A wonderful trick when making stocks to keep them clear is to only put half the pot over the heat. A beautiful raft will develop on top that can be skimmed to get rid of any scum. After about 30-40 minutes, take off the heat and strain. I first strain in a collander and then again through a collander lined with cheesecloth or a paper towel. You will be left with a beautiful golden clear liquid that tastes like it needs salt. So add some.
In a strange bit of synchronicity, almost the very next day PBS aired a show called Kings of Camouflage about you guessed it, cuttlefish. These are truly some very unique creatures. I kept wondering during the entire show “how do they taste”.
Well try as I might, no cuttlefish was to be found. So I went with fresh whole squid. These are usually available around this time of year and are caught off the coast of Southern California. Delicious little creatures and the best substitute I could find.
Cleaning these are fairly straight forward. Pull the head and tentacles away from the body. Put a finger inside the body and scrape out any remaining guts and the pieces of cartilege that makeup a squid’s skeleton. Gently peel off the skin from the body. I usually start at the little wings. It peels away easily from there. Then go back to the head/tentacle section and cut away the tentacles. This leaves only a very small piece of squid that is not used.
I cut the bodies into rings. Set aside your cleaned bodies and tentacles.
Now for the artichokes. I am not a big artichoke fan. I imagine that if I lived in California and could get them often that would change. They always seemed like such a pain in the ass for very little reward. I had told myself that I was going to stay as true to the spirit of the challenge as possible. Our host had reccommended fresh over canned and that made sense to me. So many canned vegetables taste more of tin than anything else. So I started breaking down my fresh artichokes.
Not the best examples but I do live in Alaska. Google is a better source of information on how to break these down. Short version is cut off top, use spoon to cut out the choke, peel off big leaves, peel down to heart and along stem to reveal the creamy flesh of the artichoke heart. As soon as you get done toss into lemon water to keep from browning. The hearts were cut into eighths.
Next was the mushrooms. I cut up a bunch of oyster mushrooms.
Finally, time to start the actual cooking. A paella pan would be appropriate here but I don’t have one. I do have a really cool copper and stainless skillet that will work just fine. Let it get hot and add in a few turns of olive oil. Add in your squid and a couple of bay leaves. The squid gives off alot of water. I turned up the heat and allowed all of that to cook off.
I was a bit concerned that the squid would be super tough. It is one of those foods that should be cooked for 2 minutes or 2 hours. Trusting in our challenge host I forged ahead. When the water was gone from the squid I tossed in the artichoke hearts, and mushrooms. The mushrooms gave off a bit of liquid as well. Let them actually caramelize a bit before stirring.
Then when everything has taken on some color, deglaze with some more of that great white wine.
Be sure to loosen all the bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet. Before all the wine has cooked out, add in several heeping spoonfuls of sofregit.
Stir to incorporate and then add in your stock. I was going to be using about 1 1/2 cups of medium grain rice so I added in twice that amount of stock plus a little more because this dish is cooked uncovered. So about 3 1/2 cups of fish stock. Now toss in about $5 worth of saffron threads. At this point I also tossed in small chunks of the snapper filets.
I was surprised by how so little of the saffron added so much color. Much of the red is from the sofregit but the orange undertone is all from the saffron. Let this come to a simmer and then add in your rice.
Some of the other Daring Cooks used sushi rice or even arborio rice but neither of these seemed appropriate for a dish very similar to paella. Both of those seem way too starchy to me. I was unable to find Calaspara or Montsant. So I went with a medium grain that would not give off so much starch and would still be firm and separate when finished. Let it simmer for about 20 minutes and then let rest with the heat cut off for another 5.
I have purposefully avoided mentioning the allioli that is supposed to accompany this dish. Many times I have made aioli from scratch and thought this Catalan version would be no problem. Not sure what happened but for the life of me I was unable to get a proper emulsion. Actually it was probably due to my rushing the process. Anyway, I ended up with a broken allioli of roasted garlic. Can I call it De-Constructed and act like it is better than the real thing?
I plated simply making sure to get lots of squid, some chunks of snapper, and some artichokes. Dressed it up a bit with some of the sofregit that had been warmed, some of the “allioli”, and a bit of green onion.
I resisted adding sausage or other stronger flavors so as to get the true flavor of the dish suggested by Jose’. The squid turned out wonderful. Not tough at all but also not mush. It had some bite but was tender as well. The broken allioli was very tasty and added so much to the dish. Overall I think I got the “balance” of the dish on my very first try. Not something that happens everytime.
Thanks Olga for a wonderful challenge. Be sure to check out the other Daring Cooks versions of this dish. You might get a more narrowed list by googling “Daring Cooks August”.