Risotto with Cuttlefish
Last week, Auntie May and I were in an Italian restaurant that shall remain nameless where we ate a very disappointing risotto with calamari - bland, soggy, overcooked rice, tasteless cuttlefish. We decided we could do better and began to experiment.
- 1/2 cup per person of risotto rice - Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano are all good and our favorite is Vialone Nano
- About a handful of cuttlefish per person - small ones are tastier and more tender
- Some finely chopped onion, about a tablespoon per person and garlic if you like
- Red wine - about 1/3 glass per person
- A little finely chopped tomato
- Optional but excellent: chili pepper, about 1/2 a small red chili per person
- Optional: ink from the cuttlefish (see below)
Before you start cooking, clean the cuttlefish by removing the bone and entrails as well as the eyes but don’t wash them - tap water removes most of the flavor from fish and other sea animals - and then chop the cuttlefish into bite-size pieces.
Fry the onion and garlic in olive oil until the onion is very soft - several minutes. Auntie May says to add some chili at this stage and I agree with her, but if you're not keen on spicy food, leave it out. Many people include some finely chopped tomatoes with the onion but I prefer to cook them separately, together with the cuttlefish. When the onion is soft, add the rice and fry for a minute so that it absorbs the taste of the olive oil. Add some red wine - approximately a wine glass full for two to three people and boil rapidly. Add salt to taste. Have a kettle or pan full of boiling water ready and add to the rice when necessary as it cooks.
Some older recipes we looked at told us to start cooking the cuttlefish first, then add the rice so that it cooks in a kind of fish stew. This is a very bad idea; cuttlefish require only a few minutes to cook, overcooking makes them tough. Instead, when the rice is close to ready, fry the cuttlefish separately in olive oil for a couple of minutes - no longer. I much preferred to add the tomatoes to the cuttlefish rather than cooking them with the rice, Auntie May was neutral. When the cuttlefish are cooked, add a teaspoon or two of lemon juice and put aside until the rice is ready. Then add the cuttlefish to the rice, stir well, taste to check seasoning and serve. Traditionally, butter is stirred into a risotto at the last minute but in this case it isn’t really necessary.
If you like the taste of black cuttlefish ink - dark, seductive, addictive - then you can add this when the rice is frying. Occasionally it is possible - but very fiddly - to remove the ink from the ink sac when you are preparing the cuttlefish but in fact some brands of pre-prepared ink are perfectly fine. Cuttlefish ink is traditionally used in Spain and sold there in sachets but I have never yet tasted a good Spanish supermarket brand. I recently found an Italian brand in a jar - Nero di Seppie from a company called Riunione - which is excellent. The jar will keep in the fridge for more than a year.
Auntie May and I love this dish and we like it best with plenty of chili and cuttlefish ink. It is perhaps best served as a starter at a dinner party but it’s also good as a more casual main course followed by salad.