Full of flavour, but not for the faint-hearted: You have to put aside any squeamishness to make the most of fresh squid, but the meltingly tender results are well worth the effort

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Indy Lifestyle Online
AN ARTICLE I wrote some years ago in the London Evening Standard caused a minor flurry of correspondence to the letters page of the newspaper. All I had done was explain how to prepare squid for the recipe of the day. A handful of readers found this too repulsive to take lying down, and wrote anguished letters of complaint; one even went so far as to describe it as 'cuisine horreur'.

At the risk of upsetting a few more readers, I am unrepentantly going to repeat the offending paragraphs later on in this article. As the saying goes, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs, and similarly, you can't conjure up a good squid dish without cleaning the squid first.

The observant may well point out that many fishmongers sell ready-prepared squid sacs, pristine white with no waggling tentacles or innards to disturb the tender-hearted. True, but they have drawbacks. First, the price, which is inevitably high; second, they usually come minus tentacles (and ink sacs, for that matter, which are used in a few dishes); third, they are bound to have been frozen. The frozen stuff is OK, but it's tougher and really needs prolonged cooking to tenderise. If you grill or stir-fry frozen squid you must expect to exercise your jaws. Perfectly fresh squid, on the other hand, is meltingly tender, and needs only a minute or two of heat to turn it from raw translucence to pearly white, safeguarding the flavour in its truest state.

If the quality is good, then it is hard (but not impossible - see grilled squid below) to improve on frying it briskly in olive oil, with garlic and parsley and a squirt of lemon juice at the end to liven it up. Or, for that matter, dipping rings into batter and deep-frying them to a crisp golden brown. Those neat body sacs are made for stuffing as long as you are prepared to lavish a little more time. If you are making a tomato-based fish stew or soup, then the addition of a few squid, sliced up, will improve the flavour no end.

To clean squid: Grasp the head and tentacles and, firmly but gently, pull away from the body sac, bringing the innards with it. Slice off the tentacles and reserve. If needed for the recipe, search out the tiny, dark silvery ink sac and snip out carefully before discarding innards. Take care not to pierce it - it is amazing how much black ink it contains - and drop safely into a small bowl until needed.

With your fingers, pull the remaining innards and gunk, including the plastic-like 'quill' or 'pen', out of the body. Pull off as much of the fine purply black skin as you can, then rinse the body sac thoroughly inside and out. That's it.

Chorizo-stuffed squid

THE spiciness of good chorizo (not the terrible 'Spanish-style' stuff they pass off in many supermarkets) packs vigour into this stuffing. I like the simplicity of cooking the stuffed squid gently in olive oil, but they can be stewed in a tomatoey sauce.

Serves 6

Ingredients: 6 medium-sized squid

(4 1/2 -6in long)

4tbs olive oil

Stuffing: 1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2tbs olive oil

6oz (170g) spicey chorizo, skinned and diced

1tbs lemon juice

finely grated zest 1/2 lemon

2oz (55g) cooked rice

2tbs finely chopped parsley

1 egg, beaten

salt and pepper

Preparation: Clean the squid, leaving the body sac whole and the wings in situ. Chop the tentacles into small bits. To make the stuffing, cook the onion, garlic and tentacles gently in the olive oil until tender. Add the chorizo and cook for a few minutes longer. Mix with all the remaining stuffing ingredients adding just enough egg to bind. Carefully stuff each sac with this mixture, filling it only about two-thirds full. Either sew up or secure the ends with a wooden cocktail stick. Warm the remaining olive oil in a pan large enough to take the six squid. Lay them in it carefully, add 6tbs of water, salt and pepper, then cover, and cook gently, turning occasionally for about 40 minutes until tender. Either serve as they are, or cool for a few minutes, then slice into thick rings.

Squid in tomato & wine sauce

THIS is a straightforward, richly flavoured squid stew in the Mediterranean style. It can take being made in advance and reheated if needs be. Serve with rice or noodles.

Serves 4

Ingredients: 1 1/2 lbs (675g) squid

Sauce: 2tbs olive oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

14oz (400g) tin chopped tomatoes

3fl oz (85 ml) red wine

1tbs tomato puree

1tbs capers

12 black olives, pitted and sliced

1/2 tsp sugar

salt and pepper

Preparation: Clean the squid and cut the body sac into rings. Save the ink sacs if you can find them, and beat with a tablespoon of water in a small bowl to release the ink. This is not mandatory, but will give an even better flavour in the end. Cut tentacles in half.

In a wide saucepan or deep frying pan, fry the onion and garlic gently in the olive oil until tender. Add all the remaining ingredients, bring up to the boil and add the squid and their ink. Reduce to a gentle simmer, and cook for 40-60 minutes until squid are tender. Taste, adjust seasoning and serve.

Thai squid salad

I LOVE the taste of this cool, herb-laden Thai salad. Though you can almost get away with using fresh ginger instead of the smaller-looking, but more aromatic galingal, there is no point in trying to substitute for the fish sauce and lemon grass. Some supermarkets now sell mixed packs of Far Eastern herbs, but your best bet is to locate a proper Thai food shop.

Serves 6 (first course), 4 as a main course

Ingredients: 2lbs (900g) fresh squid

4 leaves of crisp lettuce (such as Webb's or Cos), shredded

1 red pepper, deseeded, thinly sliced

3tbs lime juice

2tbs fish sauce

3-4 dried chillis, crushed

1tbs finely chopped garlic

1tbs finely chopped galingal, or root ginger

2 stalks lemon grass, thinly sliced

4 shallots, thinly sliced

about 20 coriander leaves, roughly chopped

10 mint leaves, torn up

Preparation: Clean the squid, and chop the tentacles roughly. Slit open the body sacs, and score criss-cross lines, about 1/4 in ( 1/2 cm) apart, all across the inside. Cut into strips 1/2 in (1cm) wide and 2in (5cm) long. Drop strips and tentacles into boiling water and simmer for a minute or so, until they turn white and opaque. Drain immediately. Mix with the remaining ingredients except coriander and mint and turn into a serving bowl. Cool, then taste and adjust seasoning, adding more lime or fish sauce if needed. Scatter over coriander and mint, adding, if you wish, a few shreds of fresh red chilli for colour. Toss in the herbs as you serve.

Grilled squid with chilli & coriander

THIS recipe is slightly adapted from one given me some years ago by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers of the River Cafe. When made with fresh squid, it is outstandingly delicious, probably my all-time favourite squid recipe.

Serves 4

Ingredients: 4 medium-sized fresh squid

3fl oz (85 ml) extra virgin olive oil

3 green chillis, deseeded, thinly sliced

2tbs chopped coriander

1/2 tbs coarsely ground black pepper

coarse sea salt

lemon wedges to serve

Preparation: Clean the squid. Cut wings off body sacs, and slit sacs open, so that they will lie flat. Score the wings and insides of the sacs in crisscross diamonds. Place both in a shallow bowl with the tentacles. Add olive oil, chillis, coriander and pepper. Turn to coat, then leave to marinate for an hour.

Get all your guests ready and waiting and make sure the grill, or better still, barbecue, is thoroughly preheated. Take the squid out of the marinade, brushing off bits and pieces. Grill close to the heat, with the scored side to heat first, for about a minute. Quickly turn over and grill for about one more minute or so, until squid is opaque. Serve immediately, sprinkled with coarse salt, and lemon wedges alongside.