What is it that us Brits have against cuttlefish? This forgotten creature is now in season – for a limited time only – but are you going to see it on supermarket fish counters or on menus up and down the land? Hardly. Despite being plentiful in British waters, delicious and comparatively sustainable, we just don’t seem to eat it over here. Instead we ship tons of it to places like Spain, Portugal and Greece, where they appreciate its merits and it will command a far higher price.
But if you like deep fried calamari or squid risotto, there’s no reason why this “poor relation” shouldn’t be just as good – or even better. Tougher and more meaty than squid, it either needs to be cooked very quickly (or served raw, as they do in Japan) or long and slowly until extremely tender. Anywhere in between and it will be like chewing on a rubber band.
These varied cooking methods make it incredibly versatile, so it can be used in a whole host of dishes. I like it sliced thinly and soaked in milk, dusted in flour, deep fried and dipped in garlic mayonnaise. It’s equally good quickly pan-fried with lemon and paprika (or, even better sumac, a North African spice with a citrus tang), and served with crusty bread and tomatoes for a starter or light lunch.
It’s also great in a Spanish-style stew, cooked for hours in white wine, garlic and olive oil which almost pickles it and means it will keep for ages. For a radical twist on an old favourite, one of my favourite chefs, Pierre Koffmann has an amazing cuttlefish bolognese recipe.
If you’re going to find it in this country, your best bet is to try a specialist fishmonger or a fish market where you’ll pick it up far cheaper than squid (but get them to prepare it for you – it can be messy) or in oriental or Mediterranean restaurants. Although there are British chefs who do use it when it comes into season, it would be great to see it become more widely recognised as one of our great national fish. It’s tasty, healthy, abundant, and inexpensive. What’s not to like – give it a go. You’ve got until the end of June.