It is extremely rare that I would agree that using an â€œartificialâ€ ingredient is better than using the â€œreal thingâ€. Arroz Negro(rice in squid ink) is probably one of those rare occasionsâ€¦ using packaged squid ink results in a far more intense black rice that is the trademark of this dish. Before heading out to the beach last weekend, I had already planned to make a arroz negro(for the first time ever!)â€¦and in usual Marketman style, I wanted to do it as â€œall-naturalâ€ as possible. The visual of intense black rice with orange and red crabs, prawns and of course, white squid was stuck in my mind and I could â€œseeâ€ the dish before I even attempted it. A visit to the market on Saturday yielded superb seafood â€“ good alimasag (blue crabs), medium sized prawns and small squid so the experiment was on. Serious performance anxiety was added at about 9 a.m. when my wife invited some friends who just happened to be Spanish and members of the diplomatic corps for lunchâ€¦ â€œWhat?!?â€, I asked semi-stricken by fear, â€œwe are having Spaniards to a paella lunch experiment???â€ Have we lost it? Yikes!
I started by making a seafood broth from scratch by boiling up some very fresh sliced whole maya-maya (snapper), a lapu lapu (grouper) head, a talakitok (jack) sliced, shrimp shells and heads, a chopped onion, a few tomatoes and some salt and pepper. After about 30 minutes, I strained the broth and kept it heated until it was added to the paella. To make the arroz negro, I put a medium sized paellera on a hot barbecue outdoors, added some olive oil, added some chopped onion and stirred briefly, added several cups of short-grained paella rice and coated with the hot oil. I then added the fish broth and spread the rice about the pan evenly. Next, I added the all-natural and super pain in the rear obtained squid ink then some crab, prawns and finally, the squid. I garnished with some sliced locally grown red pepper and generously seasoned with sea salt. I watched the broth with increasing trepidation as it turned a nice gray with blackish portions that bubbled away. But as the dish came close to being done, the rice did not turn blackâ€¦it looked like a sickly grayâ€¦oh no, the Spaniards are coming!!!
A last minute attempt to add more all-natural squid ink did nothing to improve the color and I pulled the arroz negro off the fire hoping it would taste okay albeit lacking in color. Just in case the arroz negro was a disaster, I threw on a smaller paellera and made a chicken and prawn paella as a back-up. The verdict? Our guests let on that you need to use the artificial or concentrated packets or sachets of squid ink to achieve the intense black paella I was seekingâ€¦I couldnâ€™t believe that the packet was better than the real ink.!!! But the true test was in the tasteâ€¦ and the guests gave the paella a two thumbs upâ€¦great flavor and texture, it just lacked the blackness. Making the fish broth from scratch is an essential part of building the right flavor for this dish, but laboring with fresh squid ink extraction was not that usefulâ€¦I will use the packets of ink the next time around!