Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Black, sepia or tyrian risoto?

Cephalopods like octopus, squid and cuttlefish (, fair much better in an icebox than does fish. I have always few pieces of either kind in my refrigerator and can prepare it on a short notice. These sea animals share a common name „ink fish“ as they all have in common „inking“ , releasing a dark cloud when attacked. Most of their ink animals release when caught, but enough of it remains to be used in cooking a black risotto, arrozo nero or „crni rižoto“ ( risotto nero di sepia ) as it is called in Dalmatia.
The problem is that once frozen, ink loses its qualities as food coloring. Unless your fishmonger harvests and sells ink, you are stacked when trying to cook it black. In Italian food stores one can buy ink-colored pasta. That works pretty good for black pasta. Why not then use ink-dyed rice? Well, I am not aware that it is available. But I have found a natural black rice and I decided to try it with cuttlefish the very moment I discovered it.

This rice comes from China. It is one of heirlooms plants that produces non-glutinous short-grained rice. Its purple color comes from a natural pigment anthocyanin. Cooked black rice is of deep tyrian purple color, another color extracted from marine animals. In China it was known as emperors rice. Old Greeks knew about this rice and banned it because they believed it gives strength to their enemies.
Well, is the tyrian purple good substitute for black ink? In fact, only octopus has a black-black ink. Squid makes it blue and cuttlefish makes it sepia brown. Sepia is both another name for cuttlefish and a name for the cuttlefish ink used as a paint in painting and printing. So, we are on the good track. Let's cook!

Have your frozen cuttlefish (1.5 to 2 lb) tow overnight in the vegetable compartment of your refrigerator. Clean it and cut it in a half-inch cubes. Cut tentacles also. Throw away parts of head containing eyes and tooth. Dice few cloves of garlic and one shallot and cook it in a pan with olive oil until it becomes fragrant (do not burn garlic or shallot). Add cuttlefish pieces and braise it on a low heat. Season with salt, sweet red pepper and ginger powder. Add minced parsley and a half cup of dark red wine going brownish (Postup). Allow for alcohol to evaporate and add a cup of black rice. Add fish stock or vegetable stock, or just a water and let it cook for 40 minutes. Add more liquid as needed. After 40 minutes add a handful of white rice and cook for another 20 minutes. Black rice will still be al dente but the cooked white rice will provided creaminess. Before serving, stir in a two spoonfuls of a cream.

Black risotto is now ready for serving. Enjoy nutty flavors of black rice imbibed with garlic and sea flavors, end its great tyrian-sepia color produced by anthocyanins, tannins and cream. Crisp white wine will keep your teeth unstained.

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