Seafood School Gossip Olympics Mayhem…. recipe for cuttlefish

Posted on December 18, 2013

The Olympics have been the talk of the market for months now – but it was only back in November that it dawned on all of us here just how challenging it is going to be moving in and out of the market.

But…..We have lots of things in the pipeline for visitors to make the most of - and many of the classes on offer are filling well. Phil Jolly, our Financial Administrator, and the one that puts up with all of my ‘can I have’s' with a cheerful smile - is going to be our Olympic travel guru… (my way of getting back at him for managing to obtain tickets for the showjumping event at Greenwich) He has downloaded all the info about travelling during the Olympics - so for anyone not sure what’s happening, call Phil during office hours- Monday – Friday 8.30 – 4.30pm.

Life on the market is slow and although there has been some wonderfully fresh fish,  the number of species is limited as the weather has restricted fishing. I am also discovering some species that we use regularly are being stock piled for the Olympic guests – so I am having to be on the ball to get everything we want.

Thinking about numbers of species on the market we had a discussion about an actual list and a total – this got me thinking and I have started a species AND product list of all seafood to be found at Billingsgate Market. 100 years ago the focus was on North East Atlantic, coastal fish along with river fish. Today fish arrives from all around the globe – there seems to be something new every week.  It is this number of species that makes a visit here so jaw-dropping.  I have done a quick poll amongst the merchants – and I think I may suggest a sweepstake… but the guess is anything between 150 – 300 species making its way through the market on a yearly basis, bearing in mind that some things are seasonal. I gaily thought this would take a few days: I now realise that it will become a major project – but it’s worth finding out.

CUTTLEFISH…. I am in the process of working on some new recipes for our classes – and I have cuttlefish in my sites.

Although used extensively in Southern European cooking culture…. Cuttlefish is not as ‘well loved’ as its relatives, squid and octopus in Northern Europe: The Spaniards cook it with raisins and pine-nuts, the French with stuffing of pork and veal and in Venice – simply cooked in its own ink. We love using it in our classes; it is meaty and sweet and I think – easier to cook than squid as it doesn’t toughen quite so quickly. The draw back with cuttlefish is that it can be very messy to clean as it contains a thick, viscous black ink sac – that if burst covers and stains everything in sight. We sometimes gather this ink or use sachets of pasteurised ink for use in the densely black Risotto Nero and commercially it is used for colouring pasta.  The only person not so keen on this is Tony, our Kitchen Assistant, as he is the one that cleans everything down at the end of the day.

Preparation technique for cuttle… Many fishmongers I have spoken to aren’t keen to sell this as it creates such a mess – so at home…. don’t be put off… line up the rubber gloves and put a polypropelene chopping board on the draining board. Grit your teeth, turn a blind eye to any mess and have a go… the process is easy and takes only a few moments.

Grasp the tentacles and pull gently to seperate them from the main body of the cuttlefish. Guts and other internal organs will come away at the same time. Cut the tentacles from the organs BELOW the eyes. Discard the organs. Rinse the tentacles to remove sand and grit and remove any traces of ‘beak’ (found in the centre of the tentacles). There are two longer tentacles that have suction pads – if the cuttlefish is large it is worth trimming these away as they have noticeable suction pads and can be gritty. For the head: slit the membrane in contact with the hard interior shell and extract the shell… you may recognise this as the object found in bird cages (beak sharpener). You may well see the ink sac at this stage – if it hasn’t burst extract this carefully and set aside. Next stage is to peel the membrane away from the rest of the body. There are fins that run around the edge of the head, these can also be removed – and cooked later. Rinse the head and trim the small, but hard nodules that are at the base of the head. You should now have the tentacles, head, fins and ink sac….

What method for cooking…. ? pan-fry or braise…? The cephalopod group (octopus, squid and cuttlefish) are great to cook as they work well with many flavour combinations, but also methods of cooking. Most fish cooks very rapidly, but these can also benefit from very fast cooking or longer slow cooking, making them great for winter casseroles. There are recipes suggesting a few seconds in a frying-pan, 20 minutes in the oven and 2 hours in a casserole pot – so you can take your pick.

The head is the most versatile as this can be cooked using either a long or fast method of cooking. For barbecuing it can be scored, marinated and cooked as a whole sheet (depending on the size – this can take as little time as 1 minute). Cut into strips – it can also be stir-fried – but again quick and furious is best.

Winter recipe for Cuttlefish…

The tentacles and fins tend to be tougher and work well either braised or casseroled… when we prepare it in class – we gather all the tentacles up, brown them in oil with red onions and garlic, add a splash of balsamic vinegar, pinch of sugar, ink extracted from the sac and then add a couple of glasses of red wine, enough stock to just cover and a few sprigs of thyme. Cook it slowly at gas mark 2 for 1.5 hours or until tender. To serve: lift the tentacles onto a serving platter and reduce the cooking liquid down to a sticky jus and return the cuttlefish to warm through and serve with lots of mashed sweet potato.

Summer recipe for Cuttlefish head….

Warm Seared Cuttlefish Salad with Samphire and Green Olives (serves 2)

Heat 4 tbsp extra virgin olive in a frying pan, add a tbsp of shredded basil leaves and 2 cloves of finely sliced garlic and frazzle in the oil for 30 seconds. Tip into a bowl and whisk in the juice of 1/2 lemon, 1 tsp runny honey and 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard, set aside. Heat a further 1 tbsp olive oil in the frying pan until smoking hot, take 4 small, finely scored cuttlefish heads and sear them on over a high heat for 30 – 40 seconds on both sides and no longer translucent. If the pan is hot enough the cuttlefish will take on a lovely golden brown colour. Toss 110g blanched samphire and 50g stoned large green olives with most of the dressing and pile onto a plate. Arrange the seared cuttlefish on top and drizzle with the remaining dressing to serve. Serve hot or warm.

It is worth noting that Hastings fishery will be catching cuttlefish again soon.  Adam will be in Hastings for a couple of days at the beginning of August and is working with the Hastings Fisherman’s Protection Society promoting locally landed catch – so this is bound to be on the menu. For Billingsgate @ The Classroom on the Coast – Hastings see under Food Lovers drop down menu on our website for more information.

Elver update…..we have been nurturing elvers in our lecture room…they are very settled and are growing – I think up to 1cm since they first arrived with only a handful of casualties…

Thinking about the mess in the kitchen has made me consider about how to have a fresh, fish and scale free kitchen at the end of a fish meal….. When I first worked on the Leiths Fish Bible in the 1990′s many said that it was the smell of cooked fish and the mess in the kitchen that put them off preparing fish from scratch …. we have lots of little tips to share – including Tony’s method of cleaning a kitchen after a dressed crab session…. that’s another story…