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Photo: Viktor Westin

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Crni Rižot a specialty you have to try in Split

The traditional black risotto is a must try during a visit in Split. The best one is the one that is made out of fresh and local ingredients from Dalmatia.

Crni rižot(black risotto) is simple but delicious – pitch-black rice with chunks of cuttlefish, and colored by cuttlefish ink, which gives it its unique flavor. It’s so popular in Dalmatia you will find it on the menu at almost every konoba(traditional tavern).

Photo: Viktor Westin

But that wasn’t always the case. Until 30 years ago, cuttlefish (a cephalopod, related to squid) was very cheap – fishermen used it as bait, and if they pulled it up in their nets, they’d often throw it back in the sea to avoid getting their boat all black. Today cuttlefish is a sought after delicacy, used especially for preparing black risotto. 

The Venetians, who ruled most of the Croatian coast from approximately 1420 to 1797, probably brought black risotto to the region. It’s still popular today in Venice, Sicily and Catalonia, as well as Dalmatia. When fresh, cuttlefish has a shiny damp flesh, soft to the touch – it can also be bought frozen, but are not so tasty.

When cleaning fresh cuttlefish, the first thing you need to do is extract the ink-sac and put it aside in a cup. It can be very messy if the sack bursts, and it’ll stain your fingers black – cuttlefish use their ink for self-defense, spraying it at predators, so they can escape.

Photo: Viktor Westin

The risotto is cooked in a large flat-bottomed pan – fry diced onion in olive oil, add the cuttlefish flesh (cut into small chunks), then the rice (Arborio Italian rice is best). Fry until the rice begins to turn golden, then add wine (white or red), the cuttlefish ink and just enough water to cover the rice. Allow to simmer gently, adding more liquid if necessary. Once the rice is cooked al dente, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with chopped parsley, cover and leave to sit for five minutes. Serve with grated parmesan.

Photo: Viktor Westin

So what distinguishes excellent from mediocre black risotto? Željko Bašić, owner of Kod Joze, a typical konobain Split, explains. “We prepare it pretty much the traditional way. The most important thing is that we use fresh local ingredients – home-produced olive oil from the island of Brač and cuttlefish from the Adriatic.” He adds, “I think that’s the main secret, because if you try to make this from ingredients bought in a store, they just don’t have the variety of tastes. Ingredients grown in Dalmatia have more intense flavors.”

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