Before I even tried this dish I loved the idea of it. Look at it, it’s black, really black! The only thing blacker is the horrible one in a packet of liquorice allsorts. It’s a Venetian classic that’s also very popular across the Adriatic in Croatia. It should be more popular here too, cuttlefish is a delicious cross between squid and octopus. Sweet, tender and meaty. Unlike squid and octopus it’s also cheap. Any cheaper and fish markets would be giving it away. So why aren’t we eating it? I suppose it’s because it looks so unpromising in it’s raw ink soaked freakishness.
Here’s a guide to cleaning cuttlefish to get you over that initial mess. Do everything near a sink so you can wash away any ink. Remove the head and tentacles. Unlike squid you can’t just slip the backbone out easily, the backbone is quite chunky and you have to slice it out carefully. This will reveal all the innards. Save the ink sac, it’s the pearly grey nodule at the end of the body. Do not burst it!
Pop the beak out of the head and slice it above and below the eyes. Save the tentacles and throats. Throw away the eyes.
Scrape clean the innards and any membrane attaching the body. Remove the fins and rinse everything off. It looks like food now.
Press the ink sac through a sieve to collect the precious ink and discard the rest. Sometimes there’s there’s plenty of it to colour a dish completely black. More often there’s only enough to colour your dish a tepid grey. But no worry, fishmongers stock ink in little sachets! So you need not bother collecting it yourself.
What!? I should have mentioned that earlier? Yeah maybe! I’m sneaky like that. The ink is important it’s not only a colouring it gives an unmistakable tang and umaminess to a dish. There are a lot of recipes out there for black cuttlefish risotto. Most of them are very blasé about the stock, some suggest just using water. I would suggest that’s just lazy. I start by making a pressure cooked shrimp stock. Frozen cooked head on shell on atlantic shrimp are dirt cheap and only good for stock. Stash some in your freezer. To make the stock fry 200g of shrimp with carrot, celery and bay leaf. Crush every together and add 1 litre of water and pressure cook for 10 mins. Or add a little more water and simmer for 15 mins if you don’t have a pressure cooker. You’ll need a litre of stock for this recipe.
Recipe – Serves 2 as a main
200g of cleaned cuttlefish cut into chunky strips (1 small cuttlefish each)
1 litre of hot shrimp stock
150ml vermouth (or a light pinot grigio)
1 large banana shallot or 1 small onion finely diced
2 cloves garlic finely sliced
160g canaroli rice
2 to 4 sachets worth of ink
30g parmesan freshly grated
Butter and olive oil
- Choose a suitable pan in which to cook risotto. Start by softening the shallot and garlic in a good amount of butter.
- In a separate heavy cast iron pan, hot sear the cuttlefish in batches in a little olive oil. When they are nicely browned all over tip them into the risotto pan.
- Before the last batch of cuttlefish goes into the risotto pan deglaze the searing pan with the vermouth and two ladles of stock. Scrape everything into the risotto pan and let it simmer gently for 5 mins before adding the rice. Don’t skip this as cuttlefish takes at least 20mins slow cooking for tenderness.
- Make risotto, you know the routine. On a low heat, stir until the hot stock has been absorbed before ladling more stock. Repeat until the rice is to your desired tenderness.
- Add the ink till you get the blackness you want. At least 2 sachets sometimes up to 4.
- To finish, turn the heat off and add half a ladle of stock, the grated parmesan and 30g of cold butter. Beat this buttery mixture (mantecare) into the risotto to create a silky emulsion. Season with salt and pepper. The risotto should be a luscious mass that spreads willingly to the edge of your plate. You should not be able to stand a spoon in it! If it’s too tight do not add more stock as the emulsion has already been created, just remember to add more stock at the start of this step next time you cook it.
- Serve on warmed wide white plates ungarnished. Embrace the blackness.
This is not a date night dish. This is a try and get your friends laughing dish so you can gimp around looking like you’ve been sucking coal.
Cutthroats aka Cuttlefish throats
I’m coining this as a culinary term. An obvious portmanteau of cuttlefish and throats. I say obvious but most people throw this part away along with the eyes and beak. This is a real cook’s treat, it’s what makes homecooking so special. Cutthroats are tender like squid so don’t need a lot of cooking. They maybe the tastiest part of any cephalopod. Sear them in a really hot pan for a minute with a little salt . Dress it with good olive oil, sherry vinegar and parsley. Devour and feel good that you’ve not been charged a tenner in a Hoxditch restaurant for it.