Although I consider myself to be a half decent cook, I’m regularly put off recipes that look complicated. All those ingredients, all that weighing and measuring out – it takes all the fun out of cooking for me.
My technique is much simpler – I throw in a bit of this, a bit of that and see what happens. It’s more trial and error and, as I kinda know which flavours work together, it tends to work for me. And, if something doesn’t go quite to plan, so what? It’s highly unlikely that I’ll make something that’s actually inedible, I’ll just know to try something a bit different next time.
And, I think this is why I enjoy reading Rico’s recipes so much. Although some will be put off by the more vague instructions, I find that they boost my confidence and, although this is a relatively complicated dish, I’m thinking it’s one I could pull off if I really concentrated. After all, there’s no right or wrong with a bit of this and a bit of that – just make sure you like how it tastes.
So here we have Roast Cod, Arroz Negre and Soy Braised Octopus with Garlic and Smoked Paprika Emulsion from Rico, the head chef of the Rutland Arms.
This may seem like a complex recipe, but it is split into several components, all of which can be prepared ahead of time, which is of course necessary in a professional kitchen, but is also useful if you want to have your mis en place ready for a dinner party or such, so that you just need ten or fifteen minutes if stove time to put everything together. Even if you don’t attempt the whole thing, certain techniques, like the braising of the octopus can be used for barbecues, or the xo sauce is an infinitely superior sauce for cooked prawns than the standard pink industrial mayo abomination (apologies to purists). The ingredients may sound exotic, but the cod, octopus and squid ink can all be purchased from Simmonite’s on Division Street, and Sheffield is well served with oriental marts, so all the ingredients for this dish can be gathered in an afternoon in Central Sheffield.
Step 1: for the octopus:
One whole cleaned octopus (approx 1kg)
Light soy sauce
This will yield more than you need, but surplus portions can be frozen for later use, and it’s worth doing the whole thing. In a pan just large enough to hold it, cover the octopus with cold water, and place on a low heat and bring to a simmer. Add a couple of tablespoons of soy, enough to give the liquid a savoury taste, and maintain at a very low simmer for two hours. After this time the outer flesh will have turned a pinkish hue and break up slightly, but don’t be alarmed. Remove the octopus and refresh in cold water. Once drained, cut the tentacles into forkable sized chunks and discard the head. Retain the cooking liquid.
Step 2 : For the cod and dashi:
One side of cod, approx 500g skin on
Kombu seaweed, dried shiitake mushrooms, dashino-moto (dried bonito seasoning), miso paste
Whilst the octopus is simmering, remove the skin from the cod and cut into four portions. If you ask nicely, an able fishmonger will do this for you, but make sure you take the skin home. Place the skin and any fish scraps from trimming the cod on a greased tray, and bake at a low heat (150 degrees or so) for approximately twenty to thirty minutes, until dry and crispy and slightly browned. Meanwhile, generously coat the fish with equal quantities of white sugar and sea salt in a high sided container, cover, and refrigerate for forty minutes, after which time, rinse in cold water, dry, and reserve covered and refrigerated.
Take the reserved cooking liquid from the octopus add the baked cod scraps, a couple of dried shiitake mushrooms, and two sachets of dashino-moto. Tear off a sheet of the Kombu seaweed, and add this along with a tablespoon of miso paste. Simmer for twenty minutes. If this all sounds like a massive faff, taste the cooking liquid, and realise that it is completely worth it. At the end of the cooking time, strain the liquid through a fine sieve and reserve.
Step 3 : for the XO emulsion:
Two whole heads of garlic
Wrap the garlic bulbs in foil, and roast in a medium oven for approximately 45 minutes. The important thing is that the garlic should become mild and lightly tan in colour without being burnt. When cool enough to handle, simply squeeze the bulbs out into a bowl, so as to get the maximum amount of paste. Beat with a whisk until smooth, then add a tablespoon of XO sauce, a dash of oil and a splash of water. Beat until homogeneous, then season with smoked paprika and sea salt. You’re aiming for a mayonnaise consistency, so if dry add a splash of water and a little oil. Keep tasting, does it need salt? More XO? We use a professional hickory smoke extract to add more flavour, but it’s really about getting something that holds together and tastes delicious. Even if it splits, this isn’t disastrous to the finished dish. Don’t be disheartened, think taste.
Step 4: for the rice:
500g paella or risotto rice* see note
Large glass white wine
One white onion, chopped as finely as possible
Four cloves garlic, minced to a paste
Four sachets squid ink
Reserved octopus dashi stock
Sweat the chopped onion in a generous amount of oil over a medium heat until it smells delicious and is going brown in places. Add the dry rice and garlic and keep stirring, until the rice grains turn opaque white and start to smell toasty, a little like popcorn. Throw in the wine and squeeze in the squid ink, and cook until almost dry. Add a decent amount of the octopus dashi and check for seasoning. Because the liquid is highly flavoured, you will probably only need a tiny amount of salt, if any. Keep adding liquid until the rice is tender, finishing with water if necessary.
*We use ‘Bomba’ paella rice from Valencia for this because it is able to absorb more liquid than other types of rice without breaking down, and is more forgiving when reheated. With a little care, it shouldn’t be a problem using more easily available short grain rice.
It is of utmost importance that pre-cooked rice be chilled and stored as quickly as possible for reasons of hygiene. If you intend to reheat your rice spread it as thinly as possible on a tray to cool, and refrigerate as soon as possible. It is best to do this a maximum of two days in advance.
Step 5: The Finished Dish:
Place your cod portions on an oiled and lined tray, and bake in a pe-heated oven (200 degrees) for twenty minutes. You now have ample time to put everything together. Bring the rice back up to serving temperature in a pan over low heat, checking for seasoning, and adding a little cheese if you so desire. We add smoked curd cheese to add an extra element of flavour and also to hold the rice together, adding a little water as it goes. Just before serving, melt some butter in a pan with a little lemon juice and salt, and gently fry the reserved octopus. It is already cooked, but crisping up the outside in butter really helps, and adding a few capers really brings something to the party. When everything is hot and delicious, add a tablespoon or so of the paprika XO emulsion, and coat the octopus.
By this point the fish is probably cooked. It will tense up, appear opaque and be just on the point of flaking when it’s about ready. Put a dollop of rice on each plate, top with the cod and then garnish with the octopus.
For more of Rico’s recipes, check out his blog.