I present to you the Daring Cooks Challenge for August 2009 – rice with mushrooms, cuttlefish and artichokes; essentially a paella. The original recipe is by José Andrés (apparently a Spanish chef of high regard, who has trained under Ferran Adria) selected by this months Daring Cooks host, Olga of Olga’s Recipes.
Ok, let’s be honest here. Taking photos while you’re cooking up a storm with the limited culinary skills and experience that you have; using a recipe that you’ve never worked with before in any incarnation, is somewhat of a challenge. Some might even consider it somewhat daring. To others, lunacy may be closer to the mark. To each their own I guess.
However, to end up with a product such as the dish pictured above, is it truly worth the hassle? The grumbling and gnashing of teeth? The anxiety of not knowing whether the end product is going to look good through the lens, let alone be edible? The frantic juggling between camera, food, camera, food, food, with the realisation that you’ve just attempted to take a photo with a box of salt?
I’ve always thought that good things are, and I mean the really good stuff, born from a lot of hard work and the right frame of mind. It’s part of the reason why I’d taken up the Daring Cooks challenge in the first place. Anyhow, onto the challenge.
There are three main stages to the challenge – the sofregit (the Catalan equivalent of a sofrito), the aioli and the paella itself.
Before I discuss the process of making this dish, all relevant details regarding the following recipes are conveniently located within a PDF document located at the end of this post. Saves you having to print out the whole blog post just for the recipe.
Cooking time: 30 mins.
- olive oil (approx. 1 cup)
- 5 tomatoes, chopped
- 2 small onions, chopped
- 4-5 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- Heat up frying pan on low heat and add around 1 tbsp of oil.
- Sweat the onions until translucent and then add the garlic, tomatoes & bay leaf. Sauté for a few minutes.
- Pour in enough olive oil to cover (approx. 1 cup) and turn up to medium heat so that tomato mixture is essentially deep frying.
- Fry the mixture until the moisture is reduced & the tomato mixture takes on a dark red colour.
- Pour off as much excess oil as possible and store for later use.
- Season remaining tomato mixture with salt & sauté on medium head until salt is incorporated.
- Remove from frying pan & cool to room temperature.
You may notice that there is a fair amount of oil used for my version of the sofregit. With that much oil, you’re effectively deep frying the tomato mixture. It’s a tip that I picked up somewhere on the Internet some time ago. It cooks off a lot of the moisture and you end up with a richer tasting tomato paste than you may otherwise.
The tomatoes that you use here make a huge difference. When selecting tomatoes, make sure to get the ripest and tastiest tomatoes you can get your hands on. If they’re out of season, I don’t see why you couldn’t substitute with good quality tinned tomatoes instead.
2. Aioli – Traditional Recipe
Cooking time: 20 mins.
- 4 garlic cloves, whole
- extra virgin olive oil
- pinch of salt
- few drops of lemon juice
- Place salt & garlic cloves into a mortar & pestle. Pound mixture until it becomes a paste.
- Add a few drops of lemon juice.
- While constantly stirring the pestle, add a few drops of oil at a time. Incorporate oil thoroughly into the garlic paste before adding more drops of oil.
- Keep adding drops of oil until the garlic mixture has the consistency of thick mayonnaise.
This is pretty straightforward to make. So long as you control the addition of oil to the garlic paste, it’s hard to go wrong.
One thing I would advise is to use the freshest garlic you can get. The stuff I used was a little on the old side so had somewhat of a sharp, bitter taste to it.
3. Rice with Mushrooms, Cuttlefish and Artichokes (Paella)
Cooking time: 45 mins.
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 12 Portobello mushrooms, sliced
- 2 cuttlefish, cleaned & sliced
- 8 small artichokes, quartered
- ½ chorizo, halved & sliced (optional)
- ½ cup Sofregit (approx.)
- 300g (approx. 2 cups) of Spanish rice (Calasparra or Montsant)
- 6 cups of fish stock
- 1 cup of white wine
- 2 bay leaves
- pinch of saffron threads
- 2 tbsp tomato-infused olive oil (from sofregit recipe)
- aioli, to taste
- To a paella pan or wide, low brimmed frying pan at medium-high heat, add the tomato-infused olive oil along with the cuttlefish. Fry for around a minute.
- Add the mushrooms & sauté until mushrooms have softened. If you choose to, add the chorizo at this step along with the mushrooms.
- Add artichokes & bay leaves. Sauté until artichokes become golden brown.
- Add a splash of white wine to deglaze the pan.
- Add the sofregit paste to the pan & stir around until incorporated.
- Add the remaining white wine & fish stock to the pan. Heat on high until it boils.
- Add the rice to the pan; stir until just covered by the liquid. Boil at high temperature for around 5 mins and then reduce to low heat.
- Add a pinch of saffron treads & stir into pan just enough to incorporate it into the liquid.
- Leave the pan untouched on low heat until the rice soaks up all the liquid & is cooked through (approx. 8-10 mins).
- Remove the pan from the heat & leave the rice to stand for a few minutes.
- Serve the paella straight from the pan, adding aioli to taste.
Once you’ve finished with making the sofregit and the aioli, prepare the rest of your mise en place so that you’re ready to start cooking.
When cooking the paella, I found it a bit tricky to get the rice correctly cooked. I started out with approx. 900g of fish stock (yes, I weighed it rather than using cups). However, I found that by the time the liquid had cooked out, the rice was still a little underdone. I proceeded to add more stock in, which eventually did the trick. I guess one thing to take away from this is that it’s easier to add liquid in when required, rather than take it out.
While on the topic of stock, I found the Market Pride brand of fish stock had an overpowering dill flavour & aroma to it that muted the fish flavours. Though it tasted ok, the next time I make this, I’ll be using a stock that tastes more of fish than herb.
Honestly? It tasted rather ordinary. Though the paella didn’t taste bad, it lacked a certain depth of flavour. It was rather bland. It ended up as you would expect given the circumstances – like it was made by someone who isn’t of Spanish origin and who doesn’t know how to make a paella, let alone a sofregit; a key component of the dish.
However, that’s the whole point of the challenge, right? To get you to try out new recipes. To challenge your cooking skills. To offer you to cullinary experiences that you may not have otherwise ventured into. On that note, it was worth all the effort. ALL of it. The grumbling and gnashing of teeth. The anxiety and the rather troublesome juggle between food prep and photography. Even the rather ordinary result.
Give the recipe a go and see how you fare with it. I’d love to hear how well, or not so well, you attempt ended up. Oh, and don’t forget about the recipe PDF just below.
Make sure to swing by in a month’s time for September’s Daring Cooks Challenge :)