Sunday, November 27, 2005

Arroz Negro (Black Rice) and a new Apartment

Arroz Negro (Black Rice with Calamari)

arroz negro
27-Nov-2005 Steve: This blog was written exactly a month ago. Despite the popularity of the dish I had been unable to answer a question that had occurred during the research into Calamar. Finally, yesterday, after unpacking Blanca's cookbooks from London, we found the answer and I could complete the recipe. Read on...

27-Oct-2005 Steve: It has been over a month, but we cooked last night for the first time in our new flat in Granada. In this blog I would like to acknowledge the contribution of various people and professions across the province of Granada to this inaugural meal:

- el notario – the town notary in Guadix
- el estanco – the newspaper stand
- el ayuntamiento – the town hall
- la dueña – the landlord
- la policía – the police
- el banco y el director de la sucursal – the bank and bank manager
- los padres – parents
- los tíos y primos – uncles, aunts and cousins
- el taller – the garage
- el portero – the porter
- la churrería – the churros restaurant
- el fontanero – the plumber
- el toldero – the awning guys
- las mudanzas – the removal company
- muebles morino – the useless kitchen fitters
- el electricista – the electrician
- el pintor – the painter
- la ferretería – the hardware store
- el tapicero – the upholsterer
- el corte inglés – supermarket where we bought the food
- and last, but by no means the least important… el butanero – the gas delivery man

As it was the first night, we wanted to cook something traditional. As we were completely wrecked, we also wanted to cook something simple. Blancs suggested arroz negro. This is a typical Spanish dish, originally from Barcelona and Valencia. With my newfound residence, strictly speaking, I should be boycotting Catalan recipes, but I'm Irish and, more importantly, people have been known to call this the "most delicious rice preparations ever invented"*. Simply put it is paella made with calamar, dyed with its own ink.

dirty calamari
We did the shopping in El Corte Inglés, Blanca left me at the pescadería (fish counter). I managed to navigate my way to buying 3 medium calamar (calamari is Italian). I was quite happy with myself until later when she realised that I hadn’t asked for cleaned ones. Nevertheless, an unexpected techniques session came out of my mis-procurement… how to clean the calamari. This is the technique that Blancs learnt in Blagdens in London.

1. Calamari are shellfish; part of the molluscs family, as distinct from the crustacean decapods. They are cephalopods, meaning ‘head-foot’, mainly due to the proximity of their head and feet. Their sub-family is shared with squid, octopus and cuttlefish. They are the most advanced molluscs and, unlike the rest, they don’t have shells. The ink is used to evade capture… humans have a more mundane use in that it forms colour and flavour for this dish in particular.

2. The cleaning process focuses on the various parts of the body. First you must reach into the head and remove the transparent cartilaginous shield from inside the body. This is the spine and is particular to squid and calamari, the octopus doesn’t have any.
3. Grasp the tentacles and pull firmly to remove. Squid and cuttlefish have 8 ‘arms’ and 2 tentacles. Octopus has 8 tentacles. Note: both Spanish and Catalans have 2 arms and 2 legs.
4. Rinse the body and discard the purplish-black membrane. Calamari have long triangular flaps running along side the body, these are located at the narrow end of the body, cut these off, but save to eat.
5. To ensure that the head is fully clean, wash it inside out.

the beak
6. Next prepare the tentacles. Press the bunch away from you, the 'beak' will pop out. Pull away and discard. Be careful as this can cut you. I innocently thought the beak was something to do with the nose of the fish, I have since learnt it is the anus. I'm not sure how I feel about this.
7. Cut the tentacles just below the ink sac (visible as a purple bulge). Discard the remaining part.

Ingredients (for 2):
3 medium calamari
1 sack of ink (best frozen)
3 tbsp white wine
½ onion chopped
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 cup of medium-grain rice
3 ½ cups of warm fish stock (depends on the rice type)
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to season

The following recipe is, as mentioned above, one that works. It is taken from Penelope Casas's "The Food and Wines of Spain". Heat a pan with oil over the flame. We used a wide, flat paella pan as the cooking method is principally about leaving the rice to settle and absorb the stock rather than stir like a risotto. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the squid and sauté 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a moment. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the stock (boiling hot) and rice and stir in the ink and wine. Note, ink is most easily used frozen as it is less likely to stain. Season with salt and pepper. Cooking times vary depending on the rice. We were cooking with Arroz Bomba de Calasparra, this is a medium grain rice from near Murcia. Bring to the boil and cook over a medium high heat, uncovered and stirring occasionaly, for 10 minutes until the rice is no longer soupy, but some moisture remains.

Transfer to a 160C oven. Bake 15 minutes, uncovered until the liquid is absorbed, but the rice not yet done. Remove from the oven, cover lightly with foil and let sit for 10 minutes. It is then ready to eat.

The paella dish is extremely wide, in order to retain the heat and moisture (thereby prolonging the cooking time) traditionally, cooks would often place a newspaper over the pan.


In Spain even the newspapers can cook paella

So what was the reason for the month's delay?
The recipe, as you can see, is pretty straight forward. We actually used a slight variation; sauté vegetables, add the calamar, add the rice. Overall cooking time for the calamar was about 25 minutes as opposed to about 80 minutes above. The flavour was great, but the calamar was quite tough.

As with many things, the problem (but not the solution) was brought to our attention in my research into calamar...

Cephalopods have extremely thin muscle fibres reinforced by about four to five times the amount of collagen in a normal fish. This makes their cooking somewhat unusual. McGee and Stephanie Alexander are adamant that they must be cooked either briefly (2-5 minutes to prevent the muscle fibers being broken down) or for a very long time (over 1 hour in order to breakdown the collagen). “In-between” cooking results in a tough, rubbery texture.

Blanca reckons that Penelope Casas has written "the best book on Spanish cooking by a non-national". She is either making a very subtle point about Catalan independence or is measuring her words. Either way, judging by the fact that she was, so far, the only author that was able to solve our calamar problem... I'm convinced.


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Monday, November 14, 2005

Los Piononos de Santa Fe

Piononos de Santa Fe

You could easily drive through the little town of Santa Fe without realising its historical significance.
- This small town of about 13 thousand (located about 11 km from Granada city) was built in 1490 by Isabel and Fernando as the base camp for their assault on Granada, the last Moorish outpost on the Iberian Peninsula. It was strategically built blocking the Río Genil and hence communication between Granada and North Africa.
- It was here that the monarchs signed “Acuerdos de Capitulación de Santa Fe” (25th April, 1491). This was the truce wherein Boabdil (last Nazarí king of Granada) agreed the handover of his palace and city. Later, whilst leaving the city, Boabdil looked upon Granada for what would be the last time; he began to cry. In what is one of Spain’s most poignant quotes, his mother said llora como una mujer lo que no has sabido defender como un hombre (to cry as a woman for that which he could not defend as a man).
- In what was a busy year, the Monarchs also signed the other “Las Capitulaciones” on 17th April, 1492. These named Christopher Columbus the “Major Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Viceroy and Governor General of the Discovered Lands” and finaly approved the financing of his trip to discover an alternate route to the Indies.

boabdil - called el chico
Besides visiting the town for its historical significance, you can enjoy its culinary achievement; Piononos. This pastry is named in honour of Pope Pio IX (1792-1878); pope for a record 31 years and often lampooned by his Italian name Pio No No (wikipedia explains that he was considered quite conservative).

I had eaten Piononos loads before and never been wowed (upon reading this, local outrage may cutoff my future blog contributions). Their home rightly changed this opinion, but probably means that I’ll only ever eat them in Santa Fe. They are truly delicious; a custard filled pastry topped by burnt sugar.

Double risk on my point… we haven’t yet tried the recipe and it is translated… Blanca explains that this is basically a double recipe; one for pastry cream (creme patissiere) and the other for genoise.

For the pastry cream:
¼ l milk
200 g sugar
2 eggs
40 g soft flour
½ tsp lemon grated
For the biscuit:
3 yolks egg
5 whites egg
60 g sugar
80 g cornstarch
2 sp cold milk
1 cup rum
25 g cinnamon in dust

Pastry cream is a very versatile cream used in many cake and pastries. It is a thick custard cooked on the stove from milk, eggs, sugar, flour and cornstarch (as thickener). For the cream – boil the milk, sugar, cinnamon and lemon. Remove upon boiling. Beat the eggs and flour. Add the boiling milk. Return to a medium-high heat and whisk until it comes to the boil. Cool with a plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming.

For the biscuit – beat the yolks with the sugar and milk. Heat and add the cornstarch. Beat the eggwhites until they peak. Add the eggwhites to the mixture. Pour onto baking paper in a linear fashion (approx 2 inches). Place in the oven for 10 minutes. Make a syrup with water, sugar and soak the genoise. Spread the pastry cream and roll. Sprinkle sugar on top and toast in the oven. Serve cold.

Vocab builder:
Empapar – to soak
Almibar – syrup
Almidón – cornstarch
Canela – cinnamon
Rallar – to grate
Regar – to irrigate
Placa - numberplate (you may well wonder how this made it into the vocab)
Harina pastelera – soft flour
Capitulación – capitulation
Rendición – surrender
Virrey – viceroy

Broadband connectivity in the South of Spain obviously felt that I was a little bit ahead of myself by blogging early last October. This is the reason for my one month absence. Hopefully this blog signifies service recommencing as normal.

------------ STOP PRESS "CASA YSLA Y LOS PINONOS" ------------

I have just been on the web to see if I could find a picture of the pastry shop where we had the famous Pionono. Not only did I find a picture, but a lot more about the Pionono. The pastelería is called "Casa Ysla" and is none other than the originator of the Pionono.

The history is amazing... in 1897 Ceferino Isla González (intern to Manuel “el Gallego”) opened his own store on Calle Real, Santa Fe. He was very devoted to the Virgin and wanted to pay homage to Pope Pius who, in 1854 had issued the infallibly defined the "dogma of the immaculate conception" (essentially that Mary was free from original sin). In this way, he decided to create a new pastry. The aim was to not only carry the name of the pope, but also his likeness; cylindrical and somewhat chubby.

In 1916, the King (Rey D. Alfonso XIII), whilst visiting a friend on a nearby farm, ate some Piononos for his afternoon snack. He was so taken by the delicious flavour that gave the title of official providers to the Royal House to Casa Ysla.

... Spain... go for the pastry and stay for the politico-religious history.

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