Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Perks Of The Job #6: Octopus Ink - Nature's Black Food Colouring

A while back I wrote about arroz negro, a dish of rice cooked in squid ink attributed to Joaquim Koerper, proprietor of La Gigantea at the Hotel Mas Passamaner in Tarragona where I undertook my first brief training stage in Catalunya.

The arroz negro in question had already been prepared in a professional kitchen at my previous place of work, so all that was left for me to do was warm it through in a pan with a little olive oil and water. This time, however, I started from scratch. I went directly to an alternative source of that mystical black food colouring - the octopus.

The strange, pearl-like globules you can see in the photo are the individual ink sacks of hundreds of baby octopi ("pulpitos" in Spanish), painstakingly squeezed from the heads of these miniature cephalopods by yours truly.
Ink sacks from pulpitos, or baby octopi

We use pulpitos at work for a rice dish, and they must be cleaned beforehand by removing the ink sacks and carefully clipping off the mouths from the underside, at the base where the tentacles begin.

Raw octopus ink made from blitzed and sieved ink sacksOn delivery, one batch of the baby octopi means a box containing a good few thousand of the blighters sitting on crushed ice. Preparing them is long and tedious work, so it's only fitting that such a task comes with a generous reward. And that reward is being able to take some ink sacks home and make arroz negro for yourself, your flatmates and friends. In the bowl on the left is the raw ink, ready for cooking. I obtained this by blitzing up the ink sacks with an immersion blender and passing the resulting jet-black mess through a fine sieve.

In order to make a home-cooked arroz negro from scratch, you begin by making a stock with the octopus ink, as a base in which to cook the short-grain rice. I started by sautéeing off some roughly chopped Spanish onions in olive oil, with a little added garlic & guindilla oil.

I cooked the onions gently until they were translucent and had softened up considerably. Then I smashed up three cloves of garlic and threw them into the pot to perfume the onions and add some extra depth of flavour.
Sautéeing Spanish onions and garlic

My octopus ink stockLeaving the onions to sautée together with the garlic for quite a while allowed natural caramelisation to occur slowly and a gentle sweetness to be achieved in the finished product. At this stage, in went the octopus ink to deglaze the pan and cook slowly for half an hour or so.

The photo on the left shows the resulting stock in all its filthy, murky glory.

So now I had my magic, salty, black dye all that was left to do was cook my perfectly white rice in it. And that I did...

Some time later...

The ink has now reduced down to a dry, glutinous sauce that binds the grains of rice together much like a risotto.

Finally, no arroz negro would be complete without a big fat dollop of spicy all-i-oli to ripple through the melting heat of the rice. Here's a dish that could just as easily be adapted to a Michelin starred restaurant's menu as it could be served in hefty portions at a hearty banquet for the local villagers.
Arroz negro ready to dress and serve

Either way - whether presented as fine dining or rustic fare - this is real Catalan soul food.

Arroz negro made perfect by the addition of allioli


A Girl Has To Eat said...

Oh I love black ink pasta, risotto, etc, etc. There's something so robust and earthy about it.

Angry Brit said...

Dude, what does squid ink taste like? I remember that I once bought some penne coloured with squid ink. I left the dry pasta on the counter and came in to find the cat chewing on it. Does it taste fishy? Earthy? Inky? Muddy? I don't remember squid ink pasta having much flavour at all.

Guy Holman said...

Hi Trig

I'll take a large rustic style dose if you don't mind!!

Do you make the Guindillas oil yourself? If so do you steep the chiles whole or crumbled? Or is there another method?

I love messing about with flavoured oils, not tried Guindillas though, as I have never grown them...yet! Another one for the list.

Bon apetit


Su-Lin said...

:D I just had a few octopi over the weekend and during cleaning, I accidentally burst one ink sac all over my hands. I see now that should have saved it!

Trig said...

AGHTE - I know what you mean!

Angry Brit - Dried squid ink pasta will never have the same intensity of flavour as if you'd made the pasta with fresh ink yourself. Squid ink pasta is produced more for the colour than the flavour really, as once you've smothered it with sauce you're not going to taste much ink anyway. I wouldn't say it tastes fishy, rather a sea-like earthiness. Some people often say that it makes rice taste extra salty, I'm not sure what it is but ink does have a flavour that's similar to that of adding salt.

Guy - Indeed I made a garlic and guindilla oil at work and brought some home. It's olive oil heated and consequently infused with whole tiny dried guindillas and slices of garlic.

Su-Lin - I always get someone to wrap my entire torso in cling film before I clean octupi, but a better method is to cut a head hole and two arm holes in the bottom of a black bin bag and wear it upside down. That way you'll never get black stains on your clean chef jacket or in your case your shirt/t-shirt.

The Boston Foodie said...

Looks like caviar. You should plate it on crispy fesh endive with a few dots of the cream.

Srivalli said...

Oh thats really black!...liked your calender at the bottom..thats a cool way to track!

Ros said...

I've only had this once at a restaurant but I did enjoy it. By baby octopus do you mean the really tiny ones you can eat whole? I suppose there'd be no way to find octopus ink here?

Ricardo said...

I love octopus ink not just for the colour but for the flavour too, that looks amazing. Also very nice is squid ink yum yum

Takeaways said...

Looks tasty! Any chance you could clue us in on how much ink you used versus the amount of rice?


Trig said...

William - Extracting octopus ink sacks is a lot harder than making caviar from ready-packed ink using spherification techniques. For once, molecular gastronomy makes things easier!

Srivalli - Thanks. Yeah, to misquote Greg Wallace, food doesn't get blacker than this.

Ros - Yes, I used tiny octopi, but the ink sacks could have come from any octopi or from squid. You can buy it online in sealed packs. Don't try getting any from Octopus Ink Ltd, though, as they service inkjet printers.

Ricardo - I agree about the flavour, but be careful - using the "y" word could get you banned from this blog. Lol!

Takeaways - I filed a photo recipe in my recipes section (though you'd better review my numbers because I never cook from fixed quantities and have to calculate them afterwards).

recipes2share said...

Really interesting. I have just got hold of some squid ink to experiment with and you have inspired some ideas - thank you!

Celine Asril of Black.Salt said...

y**.. there is a certain sultriness about blank ink. definitely appeals to my soul, catalan or not.
(**ed out the word because I didn't want to get banned from this blog)

Trig said...

No chance of you being banned from here Celine. Didn't know you were a Goth, though.

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