Ataula’s Arrós Negre

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Chef Jose Chesa shares his take on Arrós Negre and how the dish changed his life.

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY MATT MORNICK

Perhaps Jose Chesa’s fascination with arrós negre began 30 years ago with Sunday gatherings at his family’s home outside Barcelona. Maybe it began with culinary school or the first time he cooked for his father-in-law. No matter when, Jose Chesa – chef owner of Ataula in Portland’s Northwest District – has a deep connection to the dish.

“I started in culinary school at age 15,” Jose says. “My father had a restaurant for over 30 years, and I knew I wanted to cook. When I came of age, my father refused to give me a job at his restaurant. That would have been the easy path, and that was not an option he entertained.”

Jose first learned to make arrós negre in culinary school. “The moment I was introduced to the recipe, I was hooked,” he says. “It has rich, intense flavors. The squid ink blends with the rice and fish stock. Serve it with a simple aioli as a counterbalance to its seafood flavors, and it’s complete.”

Arrós negre is a Valencian and Catalan dish made with squid and rice — somewhat similar to seafood paella — and historically found in the many coastal regions of Spain. “In the past, Catalan fishermen would prepare the day’s catch with a sofrito (onion, peppers, garlic, and tomatoes), common in Spanish cooking,” Jose explains. “They would cook the onion near the point of charring it. When the onion was on the brink of burning, they would pull the sofrito. This did two things: It extracted a sweetness in the onion, and it darkened its color. When combined with rice and the catch of the day, the dish appeared dark. This is the origin of arrós negre. It was not until many years later that chefs in the Basque Country popularized the use of squid ink. It amplified the flavor and entirely changed the nature of the dish.”

After graduating from culinary school at age 18, Jose moved to Paris to work at Hotel de Crillon. “I was really young, surrounded by dozens of cooks in a strict kitchen,” he recalls. “This was the kind of environment I needed to move forward in my career, to learn more, and to evolve. It laid the foundation for me to pursue what I love, have a family, and run my own restaurant.”

Years later when Jose had fallen for Cristina Baez, Jose met Arnaldo Baez, Cristina’s father and Jose’s future father-in-law. Jose decided to prepare arrós negre. “I made this dish to make an impression, because it was the first time we met, and because I desperately wanted to marry his daughter.” After Arnaldo tried the dish, he announced, ‘If you made this dish, you can marry my daughter.’”

Jose recommends making arrós negre for a special occasion. “It has a flavor that reminds me of special occasions throughout my life: Sunday dinners at my family’s house, learning in culinary school, my father-in-law. It is not something you can eat every day, but it is special. It has rich concentration of flavor, which is integral in Spanish cooking.”

When you attempt Jose’s recipe, get quality ingredients, pair the dish with a few bottles of sparkling rosé, and make it for friends or family. “When made right, the dish will transport people to Spain.” He laughs. “And they’ll save the cost of airfare!”

Ataula
1818 NW 23rd Place
503-894-8904 • ataulapdx.com

Arròs Negre

Serves 4 | Prep Time: 20 minutes | Total Time: 1 hour

This dish is one of Ataula’s most popular paella offerings. At the restaurant, arròs negre is served with grilled octopus and a spicy chili aioli. In this recipe, however, we use ingredients more widely available. We replaced grilled octopus with nicely seared calamari. Different, but just as delicious.

For the Fumet:

1 28-ounce container of frozen fish stock, or a carton
1 onion, chopped
1 head garlic, sliced in half
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig rosemary
2 tablespoons sweet, smoked paprika (pimentón)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Place a medium sized pot over a stove burner and bring to medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then the onion and garlic. Sauté the onion and garlic for 7 minutes, or until the onions are translucent.

Add the bay leaf, thyme, rosemary and smoked paprika to the pot and cook for 1 minute, then add the fish stock, and cover. Reduce the heat and cook at a low simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove the fumet from the pot. Place a fine mesh colander in a heatproof bowl and pour the fumet into the colander to strain. Discard the vegetable and herbs, and set aside the fumet liquid until it needs to be added to the paella.

For the Paella:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 green or yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 cup calamari, tubes sliced in rings and tentacles left whole
1 cup bomba or valencia rice
29 ounces of fish fumet (recipe above)
3 tablespoons squid ink

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Place a paella pan or large high-sided skillet on stove burner and bring to medium heat.

Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan, then the onions until they soften and turn slightly brown, about 15 minutes.

Next add the bell peppers and garlic and cook for about 7 minutes, until the bell peppers have released most of their liquid. Then add the smoked paprika and toast slightly, about 30 seconds.

Place the calamari in the pan and cook for 3 minutes. Next, add the rice and toast it slightly, for about 5 minutes. The grains will turn slightly opaque around the edges.

Pour the fumet into the pot and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, stir in the squid ink until fully incorporated. Remove from heat, and taste, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Place the pan in the 400°F oven, uncovered, and cook for 18- 25 minutes. The paella is finished when the edges are no longer bubbling and the rice is cooked. If desired, finish with additional seared calamari. Top the finished dish with flat leaf parsley, and a sprinkle of smoked paprika.


West Coast photographer Matt Mornick specializes in photographing food, people, and travel. His portfolio is available at mornick.com

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