Flavours of the Adriatic: Crni Rižot
Continuing our flavour-filled look at Croatian cuisine, this week we present you with crni rižot, or ‘black risotto’ one of the least attractive (but oh, so tasty) dishes on the Adriatic.
They say ‘you eat with your eyes first’, but if this is the case, sometimes you may want to close your eyes before you judge too quickly. So far in the series, we have covered Vis pie, Šurlice Pasta, Brač vitalac and Soparnik and, truth be told, they are not all so easy on the eyes (especially Brač vitalac). However, what they each lack in appearance, they make up for in rich, hearty flavours or beautiful simplicity like Soparnik. Crni rižot is no exception.
Black risotto can be found in various forms (or recipes) in many Mediterranean destinations. In Spain, it is known as ‘arroz negro’ which is more along the lines of a seafood paella. It is the signature dish in Venice, known as ‘risotto nero di seppia’ and this is most likely how it reached Croatia, as the Venetians had a heavy presence along the Dalmatian coast from the 14th – 17th century. And, today, you will find it on the menu of most every restaurant along the coast.
Regardless of where it first originated, trying this dish is a must in Croatia.
A giant pot of crni rizot being cooked at a local Fishermen’s Night
I must admit, when I first came to Croatia I was living and working here for five months and it took me almost just as long to try this dish. The colour really did put me off. I wonder if it instinctive or subconscious – name another food or category of food that we eat which is black…
When I finally mustered the courage to try crni rižot, I was more than pleasantly surprised. The risotto itself was perfectly al dente and creamy (as a good risotto should be), the sepia and calamari were tender and I was left with a rich taste in my mouth of garlic and something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on… the best word I can think of to describe the dish is ‘moreish’, it keeps you coming back.
It maybe goes without saying, that the risotto gets its deep black colour from squid ink – or sepia to be exact (from the cuttlefish family). I have since learned that cuttlefish ink, is the reason for the rich umami (savoury) flavour thanks to the high glutamic acid present. Another point of interest (for food or health buffs) is that squid ink isn’t just for show, it is rich in antioxidants and iron.
Like any good dish, everyone has their own recipe and competition between family members or friends isn’t unheard of. After travelling around the Adriatic and working closely with various chefs I can say, that my father-in-law still makes the best black risotto I have ever tried. I don’t know his secret, but my suspicions tell me it is something to do with the amount of vino he uses.
The best thing about this dish, is unlike Soparnik and Brač vitalac, which you maybe wouldn’t feel so confident undertaking in your own kitchen; crni rižot follows the basic principles of any good risotto – short-grain white rice, onions, parsley, olive oil, garlic, white wine, seasoning, fish or vegetable stock and a knob of butter to enhance the creamy texture at the end; and, of course, the cleaned squid, calamari or cuttlefish.
The main difference between this and a normal risotto is the preparation and cooking of the calamari and cuttlefish. You begin with sautéing the onions in oil, as usual, then you add the squid for around 15 minutes, followed by the garlic, parsley, seasoning, wine and enough water to cover the squid, cook until the squid is soft. Then, your typical risotto recipe takes over – add the rice, the cuttlefish ink and slowly ladle in hot stock, stirring until it is absorbed.
I think this is why a good risotto is so good. It really is made with love. So many dishes we cook these days can be made quickly or left on the stove or in the oven with minimum attendance. You cannot do this with a risotto, it requires patience, attention and that extra bit of love (or vino like my father-in-law).
So, if you are travelling here, please try this dish at least once or if you are adventurous – try your hand at cooking it. Only one word of warning though – when it comes to eating, don’t order it on a first-date, make sure you are in the company of friends because you will be left with a charming black smile afterwards!
McCartney Adventures Blog.