Arroz de Choco (Cuttlefish Rice)
"Guarda que comer, não guardas que fazer."
("Save something to eat, don’t save something to do.")
I don't know quite how I happened upon this dish, but I'm pleased I did - I've learnt quite a bit. The original recipe I came across was from Food from Portugal but after extensive research of Portuguese websites, not only was the authenticity of the recipe assured, but a few contributions from other recipes brought this to be the dish that it is.
Many associate rice dishes with the Spanish region of the Iberian peninsula and for the most part those dishes are assumed to be paella. Having spent years of frequent trips to Valencia, where the cultivation of rice is a key industry, I have very much come to know that rice is enjoyed in dishes other than paella. In terms of savoury dishes, they are classified broadly according to how 'wet' the rice is served. Paella is considered a dry preparation whereas caldoso is quite 'soupy' and meloso somewhere in between (slightly wetter than a risotto).
What I have learnt is that the Portuguese are, as well as the Spanish, prolific users of rice, but also that their preferred preparations for it are quite 'soupy' in form. Having so much coastline and a vibrant fishing industry it is no surprise to find that seafood features abundantly in these rice dishes. Interestingly the Portuguese also cultivate several of their own rice varieties and one called carolino, a starchy Japonica rice, is especially popular in the making of their soupy rice dishes (see this article). This particular rice variety loses its bite much more readily and completely than the bomba rice typically used in a paella. Its starchiness also means it becomes quite creamy as it cooks thereby lending the broth in which it is cooking a certain degree of body which is very satisfying.
Something I find particularly pleasing about this dish is the simplicity of both the ingredients and the cooking method, an approach that resonates of rustic, traditional cuisine. The inclusion of coriander in place of the paella's parsley is without question one element that identifies the dish as Portuguese and distinct from the cuisine of Spain where coriander is seldom used.
There is every reason to incorporate other seafood into this dish alongside or instead of the cuttlefish. Octopus and squid would make happy substitutions whereas prawns, mussels and particularly clams added in toward the end of the cooking time would be very welcome additions. Even in this, its simplest form, it is perfect served with a salad and some bread. Bom apetite!
Carolino rice was very much a new ingredient to me but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it is reasonably easy to get hold of. Online I found the product on the Delicias website, though it turned out they had a shop not far from me. Although I haven't tried (and if I do I will update this post), I think the best alternative to carolino rice would be Italian varieties such as arborio or carnaroli used for risotto, rather than the Spanish bomba used in the making of dishes such as paella. I also wonder whether traditional pudding rice would step in well.
Because the ingredients in this dish are so simple, it is important to season well. Do take extra care to minimise any boiling during cooking as the very slow cooking benefits the textures of both the cuttlefish and the rice.
Arroz de Choco (Cuttlefish Rice)
Ingredients (Serves 2)
350g cuttlefish, cleaned and cut into 3" chunks
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium-sized, ripe tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
Dried chilli flakes, optional or quantity to taste
1-2 fresh bay leaves
50ml white wine
100g Carolino rice (see recipe intro)
1-2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pour the oil into a sauté pan or wide saucepan and add the onion and garlic. Turn on the heat and gently sweat the onions and garlic until translucent with no colour. Add the tomatoes, dried chilli flakes (if using), bay leaves and white wine, turn the heat up to medium-high and boil until most of the wine has evaporated.
Add the cuttlefish pieces to the pan, pour in 50ml water and season with a good few pinches of salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Cover the pan, bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer very gently, stirring occasionally, for roughly 1-1¼ hours or until the cuttlefish cuts with a spoon.
Stir the rice into the pan, add more seasoning, then pour in 250ml water. Bring the contents of the pan back to the boil then cook, uncovered, over a medium-low heat for 10-15 mins until the rice is soft and the liquid has thickened somewhat. For a more 'soupy' result, add a little more water three-quarters of the way through the cooking time.
Turn out the heat, cover the pan and leave to rest for a couple of minutes. Check and adjust the seasoning, then drizzle with extra virgin olive oil if liked and sprinkle over the chopped coriander before serving.
"Chocos com Arroz", foodfromportugal.com, website accessed 6 May 2022
"Building Blocks: Carolino, Portugal's Homegrown Rice Champ", culinarybackstreets.com, website accessed 6 May 2022