I originally fell in love with cephalopods: squid, cuttlefish and octopus – in Sicily, where I was lucky enough to live for a few blissfully foodie years. The markets were to die for, crammed with creatures that had died for the sheer pleasure of eating. The Sicilians know how to do food. We are merely beginners in comparison. I have a very vivid memory of a Sicilian fisherman ramming his fist deep into the belly of a live octopus, twisting and pulling back out again – within seconds, the octopus was sliced, diced and plated up with lemon for passersby. Real food for real people.
Italians aside, now is the time of year to gather squid into the bosom of your kitchen and the searing heat of your frying pan. Why? They are cheap, easy to prepare and most importantly – sustainable. Navigating the moral spaghetti junction of which fish to buy as we witness the decimation of our oceans is like tracking that mythic white beast – Moby Dick – no one seems to have the maps or the weapons, so best play it safe. And squid are very safely sustainable.
You can buy fresh or frozen, frozen can be just as good as the very process of freezing can tenderise the meat. If preparing fresh, then pull off the head and most of the innards will follow, including the sac of ink if it hasn’t already been released. Pull off the wings or fins, scrape the purplish skin from the body and pull out the hard bit in the body – the quill – along with any other remaining innards. Grab the head, and squeeze it to remove the beak and chop the tentacles off just below the eyes. Rinse the body, tentacles and wings and you are ready to go. If you are brave, save the ink for added flavour.
One of the best ways to eat squid is to chop into rings, coat in flour and deep fat fry with chips: the ultimate fast food. Flavour-wise – our very own fish squid pro, Nathan Outlaw, recommends in his new book, British Seafood, pairing the ‘shellfish’ with strong ingredients such as chilli and garlic, or serving with pork belly, satsuma, fennel and squid ink mayonnaise. Salt ‘n’ pepper squid is a delicious oriental twist on the deep fried rings, for which Nigella has a great recipe and Delia advocates a Greek version with lemon, garlic and olive oil.
Squid are also perfect fodder for a late summer barbecue: butterfly out the cylindrical bodies into a flat triangle and score with a sharp knife in diamond shapes to stop them curling up too quickly before putting them on a sizzling grill. They should be slightly singed before eating immediately with a squeeze of lemon. The Sicilian way is to stuff with breadcrumbs, onion and anchovies and roast in the oven or cook slowly in a frying pan with tomato sauce (passata) and a splash of white wine for about 20 minutes after briefly frying with chopped onion and garlic.
Alternatively, be brave and create a Chanel-esque fashion statement with a black, squid ink risotto, or risotto al nero di sepia. Visitors to Sicily would watch in horror as I devoured a plate of sloppy black rice as a primo before the main fish course; be prepared for a big, fishy punch, that smells and tastes of the murky depths of the ocean. Buonissimo. For a cheap and delicious quick meal, there is not much to beat these clever white creatures once prepped and on the plate. A plate full of crispy fried squid will port you pronto to the sun-kissed Med.
(Photos by David Loftus, taken from Nathan Outlaw’s British Seafood)