Last night I had the strangest dream. I was in the studio audience of a (fictitious) Australian TV talk show called ‘Doug’. I’m sure you can guess the name of the host; a portly, silver-haired man (if you’re interested, he looked a lot like the actor who played Muriel’s father in Muriel’s Wedding). Before he appeared, the audience started chanting ‘Doug, Doug, Doug’, Jerry Springer style.
Not a lot else happed in the dream. I got lost trying to find the bathroom, and the show never actually aired due to technical difficulties (on my less up-beat days, I imagine this could be quite an accurate summary of my life).
I’d much rather believe this dream was a sort of existential greeting from my subconscious (you know, the usual: ‘Hello! I’m over here! Quick, stuff four sardines up your nostril and jump out of this poodle-drawn chariot so I can stop spelling ESIOTROT backwards’), than a result of my dinner the night before. But there’s something dark (literally and figuratively) and a little mysterious about risotto nero — which is what I had for dinner the night before — so I’m inclined to believe the latter.
I was compelled to make it after I’d tasted an absolutely exquisite plateful at Societi Bistro. They’re doing a kind of culinary tour of Italy over the next month or so, offering a full-course dinner from particular regions, and I was invited to pop in and have a taste. The risotto was my favourite, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I asked chef Stafan Marais for the recipe.
I found the result was fresh, gorgeously buttery and savoury, and the squid ink gives a delicate taste of the sea. Of course, you cannot make this without home-made fish stock, so I’ve included Giorgio Locatelli’s recipe. I get put off dishes that insist you have to make your own stock because I just don’t have time — but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that fish stock only takes a fraction of the time that other stocks do: no more than 30 minutes.
The other essential is squid ink, which you will probably only find at a good delicatessen, such as Giovanni’s or Main Ingredient (the only one’s I know of in Cape Town). If you don’t have any fish bones, your local fishmonger should be able to help you out — try The Little Fisherman in Muizenberg (in CT), or even your local Woolies, if it has a fish counter (like the one at Cavendish Square).
Of course, if you don’t feel like the hassle of creating this splendid meal, you could always pop through to Societi Bistro — I believe their risotto nero is on the specials list this week.
Societi Bistro’s Risotto Nero
1 x 300g squid, cleaned, tubes cut open and cut into pieces, tentacles cleaned (discard mouth & eyes etc)
2 sachets squid ink
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
100ml dry white wine
350g risotto rice (I [Stephan] mostly use Arborio, but Carneroli is also fine)
1,8 litres warm, simmering fish stock (see below)
1. Melt the oil and half the butter. Add the onion and fry gently until translucent. Add the garlic and fry for another two minutes, then add the squid and continue to cook for a further five minutes, until the squid has coloured.
2. Add the wine and let it reduce by about a third. Add the rice and stir through thoroughly so it is evenly coated.
3. Add a ladleful of stock to the rice and continue stirring until it is absorbed. Add another ladleful, and continue stirring and adding until the rice is nearly cooked (so it’s al dente but still has a slightly chalky bite). You may not need to use all of the stock. Now add the stock with the squid ink (see TIP), stirring for half a minute, then remove from the heat and beat in the butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
TIP: Wash the squid ink sachets thoroughly and then cut the packets open and submerge in about a cup of hot fish stock — otherwise loads of ink sticks to the inside of the packet and stays behind.
Giorgio Locatelli’s fish stock
Makes about 2 litres
The bones of flat fish make the best stock, as they give a good flavour but aren’t oily. If you want to give the stock a rosy colour, or a little more acidity, add a couple of smashed tomatoes.
500g flat fish bones, washed well to remove any blood as this will make the stock bitter
1 leek, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
a few parsley stalks
a few black peppercorns
100ml dry white wine
1. Put everything in a pot, cover with water by about two fingers (depending on how intense you want the stock to be — the less water you use, the richer it will be).
2. Bring to just under the boil (the lower you do this, the more flavour the fish stock will have). Skim the scum off the surface, turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, skimming as necessary.
Turn off the heat and let the stock settle, then put through a fine sieve [or muslin cloth].