I barely ever cook squid – I can probably count the occasions on one hand. This is not to do with preference, I always order squid if it’s on a restaurant menu. It’s mainly that squid usually requires a special trip to a fishmonger, and I am rarely near a fishmonger at the right moment. I often walk past the fish shops in Newcastle after teaching at the university, but don’t feel I can inflict a fishy parcel on a heated train carriage for 5 hours as I make my way home… and the contents would spoil, too.
I passed by a fishmonger with a sign saying ‘FRESH SQUID’ in Frinton-on-Sea in Essex when we’d driven there for a rainy Saturday to cheer ourselves up. The man in the shop put 3 handfuls of pre-prepared squid in a bag and I had in mind to use the two bulbs of fennel that had been in the fridge for several weeks – they’d finally have their moment.
Some friends gave us a bottle of the aniseed-scented liquor Pastis last year, which I don’t like to drink but adore in seafood dishes in particular. And so I made the dish below, roughly approximating various dishes I’ve enjoyed in restaurants. My friend Mathura, a radical classicist, interpreter of German philosophy, excellent dancer and lover of feasts phoned up that day proposing a visit to our new house in Essex – so she did and we had a small, delicious party. (AND she brought me two bags of compost as a house-warming present – that’s love)
We ate the squid with aioli (recipe below) and pillowy-soft focaccia that Sam made to Rachel Roddy’s recipe. We ate a delectable courgette & pistachio cake with lime icing made by Mathura afterwards.
(Aside: I should probably buy some frozen squid – why don’t I already do that? Maybe it doesn’t come with the tentacles frozen? I like the tentacles. I don’t know, but it was really soft when I cooked it like this, though I 100% want to get frozen squid rings to batter and deep fry)
(serves 4 – The three of us ate well, and then I had it for lunch, too)
500g of fresh, prepared squid cut into smallish pieces (It happened that the place I bought it was selling it pre-prepared. You can ask a fishmonger to do it, or do it yourself. Follow a YouTube video, there’s lots around). You could use defrosted frozen squid too
2 heads of fennel, trimmed of any tough or brown bits, thinly sliced using a mandolin or sharp knife
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 fat cloves of garlic (or more smaller ones), crushed with the flat side of a knife and chopped up with salt
1 tablespoon of tomato puree
1 tin of tomatoes and their juice, blitzed with a hand blender
1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
a pinch of saffron soaked in a few tablespoons of boiling water
a small glass of Pastis (aniseed liquor) or white wine
4 tablespoons of good olive oil
How to make:
In a heavy cooking dish or pan that can fit all the ingredients, add the onion to the olive oil and turn the heat on low. When they are soft and beginning to colour, add the garlic and fennel seeds, frying for a minute. Then add the tomato paste and stir for a moment on the heat. Then add the sliced fennel and stir, coating it with the oil, frying it until it begins to go soft for a few minutes.
Then add the saffron and its soaking water and stir. Add the Pastis or white wine and allow it to sizzle for a minute, scraping the bottom of the pan to lift off any browning bits. Add in the squid and stir, cooking for a minute, then the blitzed tomato and a tinful of water, and turn onto a very low simmer, uncovered, for an hour. Add another half tinful of water if it begins to dry out too much and stir to make sure it’s not catching.
Season well with salt and a grind of pepper, to taste.
For ideal flavour –make this in the morning/ day before, allow this to go cold, then gently reheat before serving.
Serve with a squeeze of lemon, chopped parsely, aioli, and fresh bread.
3 egg yolks
2 cloves of garlic pounded until smooth with a pinch of salt
175 ml extra virgin olive oil (or a mix of sunflower and extra virgin olive oil) – placed in a jug
a small squeeze of lemon
1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
How to make
Add the yolks to a bowl with the garlic and a grind of pepper and stir well with a wooden spoon until mixed together. Really, really, really slowly, pour in the olive oil with one hand, stirring all the time with the wooden spoon with the other. Only add more oil when what you’ve already added is incorporated. If it becomes too stiff, add in a squeeze of lemon. Otherwise, season it with the lemon and vinegar at the end. Place in the fridge, covered with cling film until needed.