José Pizarro’s Sautéed Squid

Talent without discipline is like an octopus on roller skates. There’s plenty of movement, but you never know if it’s going to be forward, backwards, or sideways” – H. Jackson Brown Jnr

Octopus can recognise and remember humans. TRUE ACTUAL FACT OF SCIENCE. They can also do puzzles, respond to their own name and have friends and nemeses. According to this article in the Daily Mail, Octopus are probably going to be our feudal overlords one day (although it is unclear whether it will be before or after the Chinese).  I don’t know about you but I find the cephalopods absolutely fascinating. I took my son to the Natural History Museum recently and could have spent hours standing transfixed by the model giant squid (and probably would have had I not been accompanied by a small boy who couldn’t for the life of him understand why I’d taken him somewhere so unspeakably boring when we could have been at the Science Museum round the corner looking at snowploughs and Red Arrows).

I also quite like eating cephalopods and, if the Mail are to be believed (and when have they ever been wrong about anything?), perhaps we should all be doing it more in order to protect our civilisation from future annihilation (or, at the very least, a lifetime of squid servitude). Squid is very good for you: it is a great low fat low calorie protein source, with Omega-3, copper, zinc, B vitamins, iodine and phosphorus and, unlike many shellfish, contains very low levels of mercury. It is also (relatively) cheap compared with most other types of fish and shellfish and you can get your fishmonger or supermarket to do all the messy cleaning and preparation for you. It’s sustainable too! It’s one of those things that people seem reluctant to cook at home (it’s the tentacles, isn’t it?) but it really isn’t that tricky once you get the hang of it – and positively easy if you slow cook it – and you’ll be much less upset if you get this slightly wrong first time out than if you destroy an expensive piece of turbot or dover sole (I would know, I have done it).

I have been on the lookout for a decent squid recipe for ages that didn’t involve a) deep frying b) the barbecue or c) cooking it for hours.  As you probably know, squid either has to be cooked incredibly quickly (a couple of minutes max) or incredibly slowly (1 hour plus). Anything in between leaves you will something resembling a car tyre. The usual outing that squid gets in our house is in some sort of garlic/tomato/chilli slow-cooked seafood casserole affair – sometimes just with squid, occasionally with prawns and/or mussels or clams thrown in at the end. Superb with some toasted sourdough and loads of parsley thrown on top but not something you can get on the table quickly of an evening.

This sautéed number, which I stumbled upon in José Pizarro’s Spanish Flavours, is just the ticket. It would make a lovely weekend lunch or light weeknight dinner as it is essentially an all-in-one meal with the potatoes and what not (but a salad would be nice alongside too to bulk it out further). It’s not super quick, in that you must caramelise the onions properly to really make this work, but you can get it all done in 30 minutes if you are swift with your chopping.

José Pizarro used to work at some fancy award-winning restaurant in Madrid and then came to London where he cooked at Eyre Brothers and then co-founded the excellent Brindisa chain. He now runs a sherry bar called José and restaurant called Pizarro (do you see what he’s done there?) near London Bridge, both of which are on my list to go to whenever I can next drag myself to SE1. Spanish Flavours is a great book – lovely design/pictures and chapters dedicated to each region of Spain, including the islands. I have only recently got round to cooking from it but everything so far has been fantastic. So much so that his newer book, Seasonal Spanish Food, is sitting at our local post office depot waiting for me to go and collect it during the 45 minute window that they seem to open to the public each day.

As I am fortunate enough to live near a fishmonger, I can get cheap fresh UK caught squid and so have not yet attempted this with frozen. Fresh is definitely better for flavour and texture when quick frying like this but it isn’t that easy to get hold of fresh squid in the UK and lots of people (including Nigella and Delia) swear by their stash of frozen squid and nearly all supermarkets stock it these days. Or you could get it from these fantastic chaps at Fish For Thought who deliver Cornish-caught fish and shellfish overnight across the whole of the UK and that way you get it locally sourced and you know it was frozen when extremely fresh and only for a very short time if you use it straight away. Obviously, my Australian and other far flung readers friends (Hiya!) are no doubt falling over fresh seafood just walking down the street so have no excuse not to be eating it all the time.

If you don’t live on the coast or can’t get it fresh from a fishmonger who can guarantee that it hasn’t been previously frozen, I would definitely go for frozen. Most raw/”fresh” squid on the slabs or in packets in the chiller cabinets at supermarkets are caught in the Pacific or Indian oceans, frozen and then defrosted before being sold. You are definitely better getting frozen squid in that case and defrosting it yourself as you need it, rather than going for something that may have been sitting in its defrosted state for a day or two in the shop.

(adapted, very very slightly, from José Pizarro’s Spanish Flavours)
Difficulty: Medium (you really just the courage not to overcook the squid)
Crazy Ingredient Rating: Low.

If you can get sherry vinegar it really lends a nice finish and depth to this. Ocado stock it (I use this Brindisa one) as well as posh delis and you can get it online. It lasts for ages and makes a nice change from balsamic on salads. I use mine all the time. If you can’t get it or don’t want to – use a light balsamic or rice vinegar or failing that red wine vinegar with a pinch of sugar.

As the cooking time is very short when you come to the squid part, make sure everything is chopped and ready and the sherry vinegar measured out and ready to go.

For 2 you will need:

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 125g small waxy potatoes, unpeeled
  • 250g medium squid, cleaned (your fishmonger will do this for you) with tentacles if you want them and defrosted if frozen.
  • 1/4 tsp crushed chilli
  • 1/2 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 sprig of thyme, leaves only
  • 1/2 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp flat leave parsley, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  1. If your squid is still in whole body pieces, double check that the fishmonger/supermarket has removed the transparent quill from inside the body and discard if it is still there (very unlikely but worth checking). Slice into 7-8mm thick rings. Leave any tentacles intact.
  2. Heat 1.5 tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan and cook the onion over a medium heat, with a lid on, until soft and caramelised. This will take somewhere between 15-25 minutes depending on the onion and your pan etc. They should be really soft, brown and tasty.
  3. While the onions are cooking, cook your potatoes in well-salted water until just tender (but not falling apart), somewhere between 10-15 minutes. You are going to fry the potatoes briefly so you want them to be able to retain their shape. Drain and cut in half lengthways. (José peels his at this stage. I didn’t. Up to you!)
  4. Heat 1/2 tablespoon of the oil in another (smaller) frying pan and add the potatoes cut side down. Fry gently for 2 to 3 minutes until crisp and nicely browned.  Set aside and keep warm with the cooked onions while you cook the squid (I tipped the onions in with the potatoes to free up the first frying pan and just gave it a quick wipe round with some kitchen paper before cooking the squid).
  5. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the large pan and add the squid and the dried chills and some salt and cook over a high heat for 90 seconds (throwing the garlic in half way). José says that the squid will brown and caramelise. Mine did ever so slightly but do not worry about this and try and keep cooking it if it doesn’t brown as you will overcook it. (Cook the squid in batches and divide the chilli accordingly if cooking this for more than 2).
  6. Turn the heat down to medium, return the onions and potatoes to the pan, along with the thyme leaves and toss together for another 30 seconds. Drizzle over the sherry vinegar, throw in the chopped parsley, toss together again and serve.

Happy weekend y’all!

Kitchen Song of the Day (with video because it’s FRIDAY and because it’s BEYONCÉ):

[vimeo 24208562 w=500 h=281]


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