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Truth or Daring – Daring Cooks Challenge August 2009

Rice with cuttlefish, artichokes and mushrooms.I present to you the Daring Cooks Challenge for August 2009rice 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.

1. Sofregit

Cooking time: 30 mins.

Ingredients

  • olive oil (approx. 1 cup)
  • 5 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt

Method

  1. Heat up frying pan on low heat and add around 1 tbsp of oil.
  2. Sweat the onions until translucent and then add the garlic, tomatoes & bay leaf. Sauté for a few minutes.
  3. Pour in enough olive oil to cover (approx. 1 cup) and turn up to medium heat so that tomato mixture is essentially deep frying.
  4. Fry the mixture until the moisture is reduced & the tomato mixture takes on a dark red colour.
  5. Pour off as much excess oil as possible and store for later use.
  6. Season remaining tomato mixture with salt & sauté on medium head until salt is incorporated.
  7. Remove from frying pan & cool to room temperature.

Notes

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.

Ingredients

  • 4 garlic cloves, whole
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of salt
  • few drops of lemon juice

Method

  1. Place salt & garlic cloves into a mortar & pestle. Pound mixture until it becomes a paste.
  2. Add a few drops of lemon juice.
  3. 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.
  4. Keep adding drops of oil until the garlic mixture has the consistency of thick mayonnaise.

Notes

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)
  • salt
  • aioli, to taste

Method

  1. 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.
  2. Add the mushrooms & sauté until mushrooms have softened. If you choose to, add the chorizo at this step along with the mushrooms.
  3. Add artichokes & bay leaves. Sauté until artichokes become golden brown.
  4. Add a splash of white wine to deglaze the pan.
  5. Add the sofregit paste to the pan & stir around until incorporated.
  6. Add the remaining white wine & fish stock to the pan. Heat on high until it boils.
  7. 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.
  8. Add a pinch of saffron treads & stir into pan just enough to incorporate it into the liquid.
  9. Leave the pan untouched on low heat until the rice soaks up all the liquid & is cooked through (approx. 8-10 mins).
  10. Remove the pan from the heat & leave the rice to stand for a few minutes.
  11. Serve the paella straight from the pan, adding aioli to taste.

Notes

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.

Mise en place.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.

Finished product.The finished product. How did it taste? Was it worth all the effort mentioned previously?

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 :)

pdficon_large Recipe: rice with mushrooms, cuttlefish and artichokes

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{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Lex August 15, 2009, 12:34 am

    you’re missing smoked paprika in your spfregit, and mussels in your paella – 2 of the biggest flavour-adders to a good paella ;) I like ones with snails too mmmm…

  • Helen (Grab Your Fork) August 15, 2009, 1:12 am

    Nice work – esp with the mise en place shot. I’m a cook-on-the-go person so I can never be bothered to get everything all laid out for the “before” shot! I find that paella is like fried rice in the sense that everyone has their own quirky preferences. I always go overboard with the herbs and spices and salt is always your friend in times of flavour need :)

  • Karen August 15, 2009, 1:25 am

    True the recipe on its own is rather plain and bland – that’s where your own personal magic comes in!

    I agree with Lex – I added lots of smoked paprika to the sofregit and mussels to the rice. A few extra herbs and spices and copious amounts of wine as well as adding more than the recommended amount of sofregit really lifted the dish.

    Welcome to the DC :)

  • Lisa August 15, 2009, 1:30 am

    I go through the same thing when it comes to juggling photo taking while preparing and cooking/baking food! Usually I end up skipping steps just so I can focus on one facet..the cooking! Your dish and photos came out awesome, so no doubt you managed to make it work well! Fantastic job on your first DC challenge!

  • Lauren August 15, 2009, 2:10 am

    I know you weren’t sure about taking the photos, but they’re breathtakingly gorgeous. Beautiful job with this challenge, your dish looks perfect!

  • Jenn August 15, 2009, 3:13 am

    Your photos look great! Sorry to hear that the paella wasn’t awesome, we really enjoyed ours!

  • climbhighak August 15, 2009, 3:17 am

    Evidently you know how to handle the stress. The photos and the food look outstanding.

    This is a much milder dish than a traditional paella. I think it is more about the balance of cuttlefish, flavorful stock, developed sofregit, and the allioli as condiment.

  • Amy I. August 15, 2009, 4:37 am

    Looks great, and I can totally relate to your challenge of juggling a complicated new recipe while trying to take pictures and make sure everything’s in order! I really like your blog design too. Nice work!

  • Angie August 15, 2009, 5:13 am

    Great job! Your dish looks incredible.

  • Simon Food Favourites August 15, 2009, 9:49 am

    i like your photo of the ingredients labeled. well done. looks yummy.

  • Faye August 15, 2009, 11:14 am

    Yours looks wonderful but I agree with you on the recipe.

  • Taga_luto August 15, 2009, 12:28 pm

    I love your pictures. You did a great job. I like the dish, but i’d say the aioli is a must, it adds another flavor to the dish.

  • Audax Artifex August 15, 2009, 10:11 pm

    Love your attitude it’s about increasing your skill set and you certainly did that. No doubt in a little while you will be able to tweak it to make it taste super fabuolous to your liking. Cheers from Audax in Australia

  • Simon August 15, 2009, 10:53 pm

    Hi Lex! I’ll bear that in mind for future attempts at a paella. I tried not to veer too far from the original recipes just to see how they would turn out.

    Hi Helen! Thanks. I normally a bit the same as you. I tend to just prep on the fly. Except in cases when I’m working off a recipe I’ve never attempted before. I might just make it general practice though as it does help things to be more orderly when it comes to the cooking phase.

    Salt wasn’t the issue. I could have added more but it would’ve tasted salty and bland.

    Hi Karen! As with Lex, I was trying to stick reasonably close to the recipe as posted. I’ll bear your advice in mind for future challenges :)

    Hi Lisa! Thanks! Now that I’ve been through it once, it should hopefully get easier to manage with each successive DC challenge :)

    Hi Lauren! Thanks! You’re far too kind :)

    Hi Jenn! Glad yours worked out so well! :)

    Hi climbhighak! Thanks! As you know, milder for me translated to bland. I do see your point about the balance thing, though. Maybe it had to do with that.

    Hi Amy I! Thanks! I guess it’ll only get easier with experience, right? :)

    Hi Angie! Thanks! Much appreciated :)

    Hi Simon! Thanks dude :)

    Hi Faye! Shame about the recipe but as I stated in the post, there’s more to the challenge than an ordinary result :)

    Hi Taga_luto ! Thanks! I’m a big fan of garlic but due to the bitterness and pungency, it was a bit much for the amount I used (around 1 tsp for what was on the plate).

    Hi Audax Artifex! Can’t wait to see what the next attempt at a paella will have in stall!

    Oh, and don’t let the domain fool you. I’m from Australia too :)

  • Valérie August 16, 2009, 2:47 am

    Thank you for your comment on my blog and the tip about the importance of garlic freshness: indeed, my garlic had been lying around for a while, which may be why my allioli came out bitter.

    Another good tip is adding more oil to the sofregit: indeed, it must have enhanced the flavour!

    I was actually expecting the dish to be bland, but I was pleasantly surprised… Who knows, maybe it was the fish stock? The one I used definitely had a strong taste…

    At any rate, I really enjoyed your post! Glad you think this is all worth the hassle!

  • Charli August 16, 2009, 2:55 am

    I haven’t yet mastered the art of simultaneously cooking and photographing–possibly because I’m afraid to take the new camera into the line of fire!

    Sorry this one was sub-par for you…I guess it’s bound to happen when you are purposefully trying new things. There’s always next month!

  • Leona August 16, 2009, 11:18 am

    There are as many recipes for Paella as there are people. This recipe is Catalan If you would like to spice it up a bit try using chorizo. Not mexican chorizo Spanish is WAY more tasty. Not to say that mexican chorizo doesn’t have its place. Paella from Valencia uses Pimenton (hot smoky paprika),chorizo, rabbit and green beans. I make mine over flaming coals outside for extra smokiness.

    Yours looks amazing. I look forward to next months challenge see you then. :)

  • Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella August 16, 2009, 4:59 pm

    Shame about the market pride stock but it looks good. Making your own is good as you can really control what goes in it. It does however add another long step to the whole process!

  • Lisa August 16, 2009, 6:13 pm

    I can’t imagine it tasted ordinary. I looked at your photos and thought: yum!

    When I’m cooking, I use my boyfriend to make the photos. Works pretty well :).

  • Sarah August 17, 2009, 9:42 am

    Your photos look FANTASTIC! Even if it didn’t seem worth it… You know, I was a little dissapointed with mine, too… it was a LOT of effort for what otherwise seemed like a pretty ordinary meal? I feel your pain.

    No disrepesct to José Andrés or Olgam maybe it just wasn’t my thing, but honestly, yours looks fabulous!

  • Bunnee August 17, 2009, 10:59 am

    You did a great job with all the detail and colorful pictures! I appreciate your telling me you thought it was a little bland. When I do paella (the traditional recipe), I use chicken stock, which I think adds to the flavor. I also cook the rice in the garlic and olive oil for a while BEFORE adding any liquid (similar to risotto) – another flavor builder. And rather than the sofregit, I add tomatoes, garlic and other flavors directly to the rice.

    Your blog is beautiful and I look forward to hearing about more of your creations.

  • Bice August 17, 2009, 4:29 pm

    Hello Simon,
    I think the problem in this recipe is really in the ingredients, cuttlefish are not very tasty and the same frozen artichokes, mushrooms grown even less.
    What should give flavor to the dish?
    I have attended a course on the preparation of the paella, but we have prawns, cuttlefish, mussels, clams, shrimp, peppers, carrots, peas, tomatoes. The result was excellent and very tasty, nothing to do with this.
    By :-)

  • Simon August 18, 2009, 11:09 pm

    Hi Valérie! Glad my little tidbits of info were useful to you :)

    As I said, aside from the Dill flavour/aroma, there wasn’t much taste to the stock.

    Hi Charli! I haven’t mastered it either, believe me :)

    Hi Leona! Thanks, and thanks for the nuggets of info. It’s certainly something I’ll try again at some stage.

    Hi Lorraine! I was planning to make my own but the fishmongers at the Sydney Fish Markets didn’t have the sort of fish bones I had the recipe for.

    Next time for certain!

    Hi Lisa! Thanks :)

    In this scenario, I prefer to be behind the lens than the stove. Less stress involved :)

    Hi Sarah! Thanks. As I said, I still think it was worth it for the challenge and experience, having never made paella before.

    Hi Brunnee! Thanks for the complements, as well as the advice. I’ll have to remember it the next time I look to make paella :)

    Hi Bice! With the ingredients you’ve listed, I’m not at all surprised that the paella had turned out tasty as it did! :)

  • yas @ hungry.digital.elf. August 18, 2009, 11:48 pm

    Hehe nice one!
    I can’t even begin to take up on the challenge.. why, you ask? that’s way too many ingredients for me LOL

  • rose August 19, 2009, 2:29 am

    Yep, I thought it was a little bland too. Great job on the challenge! It’s all about learning :) Nice photographs. I’m new to your site, I’m gonna take a look around! Cheers!

  • natalia August 19, 2009, 4:42 pm

    Ciao Simon ! I love your photos ! My rice wasn’t very tasty either , unless we would add the aioli, that really made a difference ! My rice was made like yours adding the stock so the consistance wasn’t intentional !!!

  • Elle@AlmostBourdain August 19, 2009, 7:28 pm

    Good one! Is this your first challenge? Well done! Love your photos. It’s not easy to take a good shot of rice dish.

  • Simon August 27, 2009, 9:10 pm

    Hi Yas! I guess it is somewhat involved. However, I imagine it wouldn’t be any more involved than say making a sukiyaki or other nabe dish with everything from scratch.

    Hi rose! Thanks! It’s very much about the learning, as well as the personal growth :)

    Hi natalia! Ciao! Thanks, much appreciated :)

    The aioli did make a difference. Shame that it wasn’t a positive one, due to using old garlic.

    Hi Ellie! Yes, this would be my first challenge. Thanks :)

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