How to prepare squid and cuttlefish

Tom Norrington-Davies teaches us not to fear cephalopods – it is not a dirty word (it's just a hard one to pronounce).

How to prepare squid and cuttlefish

Nothing can beat the totally unrestricted view of a box of cephalopods. Cephalowhatsit? This is the collective name for squid, octopus and cuttlefish; things that charge around the ocean squirting ink and wriggling their tentacles.

Cooked right, they taste out of this world; cooked wrong, they taste like they look. If your first mouthful of squid, octopus or cuttlefish was handled indifferently, it was probably like eating an inner tube.

In fact, it is easy to handle these molluscs. The flesh of cephalopods is a strong muscle, used to propel them through the water. As such, it behaves like lean meat and should be either cooked for seconds or very slowly, until it is tender.

They have known all this in the Med and east Asia for a long time. Indeed, most people will have tried their first squid on holiday, which is ironic as our seas are full of squid and cuttlefish. Cornwall and Scotland offer up the best catch.

Despite their association with summer food, these animals seek the cold. In winter, they swim nearer the surface; in summer, they head for the deep. During the warmer months, most squid eaten in Europe are actually caught in the south Atlantic. So now, while fearsomely cold Atlantic rollers pound our coasts, is the time for squid and cuttlefish.

1. Although they look different, squid and cuttlefish have similar anatomies. To clean and portion them: lay the fish on a board. Hold the head in one hand and spread the tentacles out along the board. With squid, remove and discard the two long tentacles.

How to prepare squid

2. Holding the head and tentacles, pull away from the body bringing the intestines with it. Cut the tentacles off just in front of the eyes. Discard the eyes and intestines. Put the tentacles aside (with cuttlefish, remove the beak – a bit of hard shell – and cut another good bit of meat from around it).

How to prepare squid

3. Squid and cuttlefish both have a bone. A cuttlefish bone looks like a shoehorn: you will find it under a thin membrane that needs to be cut. A squid bone is like a transparent ink quill: to remove it, you’ll find it at the wide end of the body pouch and give it a tug.

How to prepare squid

4. With either creature, remove and discard the two wing-like fins. The skin usually comes away with the wings but it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t – you can eat it. Now clean the cavity of the body pouch and wash well to get rid of any grit.

How to prepare cuttlefish

5. Cut the squid or cuttlefish into rings or slices. With squid, there is another alternative: cut the body pouch open, lay it out flat – inside up – and score it gently with a knife, in a criss-cross pattern – this will make it curl up when cooked. Cut the meat into large square or diamond shapes.

How to prepare cuttlefish


Recipes

Squid with Thai basil

Squid with Thai basil

An exotic flavour-packed stir-fry that's ridiculously healthy.

Squid, lemon and caper salad

Squid, lemon and caper salad

This makes a great starter for a dinner party or a light meal for two. It’s best made a day ahead, which adds to its entertaining value.

Arroz negro

Arroz negro

Arroz negro - Black. Rice. Yes really. Try it and be transported to Valencia.

Cuttlefish and beans

Cuttlefish and beans

Stand by to mop up the gravy with this hearty cuttlefish and bean one-pot recipe.

 

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