Videographers: Michael Bendixen, Jason Bernert, Kayo Lackey Audio: Bill Ward
“How many times have you made this dish?” Cristina Báez asked her husband Jose Chesa as they chopped ingredients for squid ink paella in their home kitchen.
“Several hundred of times, I would say,” responded Chesa.
Squid ink paella is a dish traditional to Chesa’s home city of Barcelona. “Squid ink has a really specific taste. It’s a very rich deep-sea flavor … It’s quite salty, but it has the perfect taste for different preparations,” explains Chesa.
Chesa says fishermen in Catalonia used to catch fish and make paella by cooking the fish with rice right on the boat using a small burner and a pan. The fishermen added caramelized onions to the dish, which give it a dark color.
“There was no ink in there,” says Chesa, referring to those earlier versions of paella. Then, he says, when the fishermen would catch squid, they used the ink, which is found in a little bag between the tentacles and the squid’s body, to flavor the paella.
“The recipe changed … and the paella became darker with a different taste,” notes Chesa.
Báez and Chesa are the owners and chefs of Ataula, a Barcelona tapas-style restaurant in Portland. Both chefs grew up in households with strong ties to the culinary world.
Báez, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Her focus is Puerto Rican food. Her grandmother owned a restaurant in New York.
Chesa’s grandmother ran a bakery in Barcelona, and his father owned a restaurant for 30 years.
“Imagine having savory and sweet at the same time in your house,” says Chesa. “I think that’s a big advantage for a little kid who grows up in the house where your dad is a cook [as well as] other family members …”
Chesa began his career in the food industry at a young age. He attended a culinary school in Barcelona when he was just 15 years old. He further developed his skills at many restaurants, including Michelin-starred establishments in Paris, Barcelona, New York and Puerto Rico.
Báez and Chesa moved to Portland three years ago. They opened Ataula in 2013, and since then they have been busy welcoming customers to their restaurant and raising their son.
“Having a restaurant here in Portland … it is beautiful and challenging at the same time,” says Chesa. “Challenging, because it’s a foodie town. There are a lot of restaurants out there. A lot of people know how to cook, which gives you a challenge every day. At the same time, it’s a town that people are really into food. It’s an advantage for me as a restaurant owner that I can enjoy myself cooking and enjoy people coming in and trying my food.”
Recently, Báez started sharing her passion for the cuisine she grew up with by hosting monthly Puerto Rican pop-up dinners at Ataula. “The space is transformed with live music and visuals to showcase the Puerto Rican culture,” says Báez. “The menus change every month and ingredients are shipped from the island.”
To find out more about Báez’s Puerto Rican pop-up dinners, visit the Patria website. And to enjoy some Spanish food at home, try Báez and Chesa’s recipe for squid ink paella.
Squid Ink Paella
Ingredients (Makes 1 paella for 6-7 servings)
- 1/2 lb bomba rice (which can be found at stores like New Seasons Market, Whole Foods Market and Pasta Works)
- 1/2 lb cuttlefish, cut into strips
- 1/2 lb squid, cut into strips
- 1/2 red bell pepper, cut into small cubes
- 1/2 green bell pepper, cut into small cubes
- 1 whole onion, cut into small cubes
- 2 seeded tomatoes, cut into small cubes
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons squid ink (You can find it at Asian markets such as Uwajimaya or online.)
- Pimentón (Spanish paprika) to taste (1 1/2 tablespoons recommended)
- 1 tablespoon parsley, minced
- 3 jarred piquillo peppers, thinly sliced
- Salt & pepper
- Olive oil
- 12-14 ounces of fish broth or fish fumet*
- 1 egg
- 1 cup of grapeseed oil
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
*You can buy prepared fish broth at the grocery story or you can make your own. See recipe.
- Cut the cuttlefish and squid into ¼-inch-wide strips or into pieces. (Jose and Cristina prefer to leave the tentacles whole, but you can cut them in half if you choose.)
- For sofrito base (Spanish sauce), using an 8- to 12-inch paella pan, heat the oil and sauté the garlic and onion until transparent, then add both peppers and cook until they are wilted. Then add tomatoes, pimentón, salt and pepper and cook down until all liquid has been released. Take off fire and reserve in a bowl.
- In a clean paella pan, add olive oil and sauté squid. Add sofrito base and mix well. Add bomba rice and mix well; give rice 2-3 minutes to “toast” a little.
- Add broth, boiling hot, to the paella pan. Add and stir in squid ink. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and finish cooking in the oven uncovered at 450 degrees F for 10-15 minutes until the liquid is absorbed but the rice is not quite done. Remove from the oven. Jose likes to put it on high heat at the stove for 3 minutes to create a nice socarrat, then quickly cover lightly with foil and let sit 10 minutes.
- While the rice is resting, make the garlic sauce (alioli). Place the egg, crushed garlic and a pinch of salt in a processor or blender. Very gradually, with the motor turning, pour in the oil.
- Season the slices of cuttlefish with salt, pepper, parsley and sauté them. Garnish the rice with them. Slice piquillo peppers thinly and add to finished paella.
- Serve the paella! It’s great by itself or with a simple salad and a dry white wine like Xacoli or a cold beer. Pass the garlic sauce separately.
- Enjoy with friends and family!
- Fish bones from 1-2 fish (white fish)
- Shallots, roughly chopped
- Yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 1 cup mushrooms (shiitake are our favorite)
- 3 black peppercorns
- 1 carrot
- 2 pieces celery
- 1/2 bunch thyme
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 3 cups water
- Olive oil
- Salt to taste
- Heat saucepan over medium heat.
- Add olive oil, shallots, garlic, carrot, peppercorns and celery and sauté for a few minutes until everything is translucent.
- Add fish bones and continue to sauté for 3-5 minutes.
- Add wine and scrape the bottom of the pan.
- Add water and simmer. After 15-20 minutes, add thyme and season lightly with salt.
- Use immediately or save in refrigerator for up to 48 hours.