Arroz negro translates literally as “black rice,” and one look at the picture should convince you of how apt that name is. This famous dish is quite traditional and popular around the coastal areas of Valencia and Catalonia. Squid or cuttlefish (sepia) ink provide the intense black color, and squid and cuttlefish are the protein stars of the dish. If you have a good enough fish market that sells a lot of whole, fresh, squid and cuttlefish, you might be able to find fresh ink. In Spain, I can find it, but in the USA, I haven’t ever been so lucky. More typically, I get jarred ink from good seafood purveyors, which is still a pretty good substitute.
Arroz negro looks a bit like a paella, uses the same type of pan, and similar technique, but nobody in Spain would call arroz negro a paella. Sometime soon, I will put a proper Paella recipe up here, so you can really understand the differences better, but here’s a little further discussion. Like a paella, you want to use a paella pan, or similar wide, shallow pan. You want only a very shallow layer of rice. Like a paella, you start by making a sofrito, but instead of adding a picada, in arroz negro, allioli negat (see below) is added to the finished sofrito. Like with a paella, the traditional Spanish rice is called “Arroz Bomba,” which is a very small, round grained rice (if you can’t find it, use Arborio rice, which is similar, but a bit larger). Like a paella, it is best cooked outside on a fire. This isn’t practical most of the time, but a grill works great – I always cook with my paella pan on my charcoal grill. It takes a little practice to control the heat, but it’s fun and worth the effort.
Allioli negat, in Catalan, means “broken allioli,” and it’s exactly what the name sounds like. You start grinding a few cloves of garlic in a mortar and pestle, and start drizzling in extra virgin olive oil. Unlike a “proper” allioli, you don’t want a good emulsion. You want just to have a bunch of garlic paste suspended in oil.
I almost always see mussels used as garnish for arroz negro, and occasionally gambas (whole, shell-on shrimp). Save some of your squid or cuttlefish tentacles, as they make a very showy, fun garnish.
Arroz negro is generally served with aioli on the side, which diners add and stir in themselves. It’s good without the aioli, but goes to whole new happy level with it.
Ingredients (for 15" paella pan)
½ lb mussels, cleaned and debearded
¾ cup white wine, divided into ½ cup and ¼ cup portion
2 bay leaves
Olive oil for cooking
2 cups finely chopped onions (1 large or 2 small onions)
1 cup seeded, finely diced tomatoes
1½ cups Bomba rice (or substitute Arborio)
3-4 Tbsp cuttlefish or squid ink
5 cups fish or seafood stock
2 lbs cuttlefish (sepia), cleaned, and cut in bite sized pieces
½ lb small squid, cleaned, body cut in rings and tentacles left whole and kept separate
for Allioli Negat:
5 garlic cloves, peeled
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp olive oil
Aioli to serve
1. Cook the mussels: Get a heavy-bottomed pan hot on a medium high flame. When hot, add the mussels, ½ cup of wine, the bay leaves, and put on a tight-fitting lid. Let cook for a minute or two, remove lid, and use tongs to remove mussels, one at a time, to a bowl or plate as soon as they open. Discard bay leaves and any mussels that don’t open. Add any liquid remaining in pan to the fish or seafood stock.
Let the mussels cool enough to handle, and remove the top half of shell. This part can be done while the rice is cooking. Set mussels aside until needed.
2. Make the allioli negat: In a mortar and pestle, grind the garlic cloves with a pinch of salt. When the garlic is ground smooth, slowly drizzle in the first half of the oil, while grinding it into the garlic. Pour in the second half more quickly, while stirring with a spoon or fork. Pouring in the second half like this, will guarantee a “broken” allioli, which is what you want.
You can do the allioli negat with a hand blender. Just toss the garlic and all of the oil together, and blend all at once.
You can make the allioli negat while the sofrito is cooking, or in advance.
3. Start cooking and make the sofrito: Get the pan hot on a medium low flame. Add a generous amount of oil, then add the onions and season with salt. Cook down slowly, stirring regularly, until the onions are meltingly soft, but not browned. Add the tomatoes, another pinch of salt, then again, cook down until they have given up any liquid and cooked very soft, without browning. If necessary, add another small glug of oil, then add the cuttlefish and squid (not the reserved tentacles) and a pinch of salt. Sauté until cooked through.
4. Add the rice to the pan, along with the allioli negat. Stir well to get everything well-mixed and the rice well-coated with oil. Stir in the ink, and make sure everything is coated. Turn the heat up to medium, and stir in the ¼ cup of white wine. When it has been absorbed, add the hot stock and salt, as needed.
5. Control the heat to keep liquid at a simmer. When the liquid is about halfway absorbed, taste, and adjust salt as needed. When the liquid is almost entirely absorbed, arrange the reserved tentacles on top of the rice. Then, arrange the mussels on top of the rice, as well. When the liquid is completely absorbed, remove from the heat, and let sit for 5 minutes before serving. Serve with aioli on the side, so each diner can add their own.