The black rice in this recipe is not to be mistaken for the glutinous variety used in Asian cooking. This recipe uses a wholegrain rice, with a deep nutty flavour. The rice itself is a kind of ebony colour – it’s not the squid ink that makes it this way – and is called rice venere or the forbidden rice. It originates in China where it was said to be cultivated only for the emperor and his court. Now primarily grown in Europe, the final cooking technique is not dissimilar to cooking risotto. The difference is that this grain needs to be simmered in water for 20 to 30 minutes to soften, prior to any flavours being added.
Risotto was traditionally made with a starchier rice – arborio, carnaroli or vialone nano. They cook more quickly and release more starch. The black rice grains will be more distinct and the dish will not be as rich.
After the black rice has been simmered, it can be set aside until it is ready for use. A base soffritto – of onion, garlic and celery – is cooked until soft and deglazed with a splash of white wine. The black rice is added to that and cooked like a risotto, with warm stock added gradually while the grains are being stirred. The squid ink and other flavours, such as butter and parmesan cheese, are added at this point.
The squid ink in this recipe brings depth of flavour – a complex salt addition. It can be added without the flesh of the squid, but it also adds to the flavour.
Squid ink has been through periods of vogue and perhaps been overused for the novelty of its colour, but it can make a unique contribution to a dish. A great substitute in this dish would be mussels steamed in a saucepan, the cooking juice then being added to the rice as it cooks.
Similar to a risotto, the success of this dish relies on a good stock. If you are using crab, the crab bones can be used to make a stock. I would add a splash of white wine, some fennel and onions and parsley stalks, and nothing else. If you are using chicken stock – to which I would also add carrots and garlic – it is helpful to have the mussel juice to contribute another note. If you are using fresh calamari, carefully remove the ink sac and add this to the stock.
The important thing is to make a stock that adds to the dish without overwhelming the rice.
Black rice venere
– 1 cup black rice, also known as rice venere or forbidden rice
– ½ onion, diced
– 1 leek, white only, diced
– 1 clove garlic, diced
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 500ml chicken stock
– 1 tsp squid ink, or the ink sac from the squid
– 1 squid, cleaned and cut in 5mm dice
– 1 tbsp butter
– 2 tbsp finely grated parmesan
– lemon wedge
– 150g cooked crabmeat, picked
Bring a pot of water to the boil, add the black rice to the boiling water and reduce the heat. Simmer for 20 minutes then strain and set aside.
In another saucepan, sauté the diced onion, leek and garlic with the olive oil until softened. Add the chicken stock and the squid ink and simmer for a couple of minutes to develop the flavours.
In a separate pan, warm the rice with one ladleful of the stock. Stir the rice over a medium heat until the stock is absorbed. As the rice absorbs the liquid you can add another ladle or so, stirring the rice often. Continue in this fashion until the rice has become plump and creamy, like a risotto.
Just before the rice is ready, stir in the diced squid, butter, parmesan and a few drops of lemon juice. Taste to check the seasoning.
Season the crabmeat with a pinch of salt. Pour the rice into four serving dishes and top each with some steamed crab.
2015 Oliver’s Taranga fiano, McLaren Vale ($24) – Leanne Altmann, sommelier, Supernormal
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 11, 2015 as "Black beauty". Subscribe here.