We had non meat eating friends for dinner the other day, and that’s fine. Unlike some other keen carnivores, and many chefs, I have no problem with vegetarians at all. Why should I? After all, if you’re a vegetarian because you don’t like meat, then that’s unarguable, a simple question of taste. I may not agree but I can’t say you’re wrong, and even if you are, it’s no skin off my nose. All the more meat for me. If you’re a vegetarian because you care about the welfare of the animals that are bred and raised to be killed for us to eat, then I’m not going to argue with you because I can’t fault your motives, and could only wish that more people who do eat meat felt the same. As I’ve said before though, I happen to believe you have more sway over the meat industry by participating as an ethical meat consumer than you do as a conscientious abstainer. If, on the other hand, you don’t eat meat because of the environmental impact of meat production – if you are, I believe the term is, an ecotarian – then I can’t argue with you because you are almost certainly right. The environmental cost of the meat industry required to maintain current consumption in a global population of six billion and rising is almost certainly unsustainable, but that’s a problem the scale of which goes way beyond the scope of this blog (and applies to many other industries).
A problem that does very much lie within the scope of this blog, however, is what to have for dinner. Particularly when your guests don’t eat meat and it’s all bleak and midwintery outside, and every instinct cries out for hearty stews, or roast meats with roast potatoes, parsnips and carrots, all swimming in gravy. It must be much easier being a non meat eater in summer.
Fortunately these non meat eaters do eat fish, so I decided to stuff a couple of good, big, meaty squid, and pot roast them. All instincts assuaged (and no worries about sustainability, either).
Stuffed squid (for 5 in this case)
2 medium large squid tubes (about 600g each in weight, 8-10 inch in length)
1kg mussels (or about 6-8 per person, scrubbed and cleaned and any that remain open, or with broken shells, discarded)
for the stuffing:
The tentacles and trimmed wings from the squid (cut into manageable pieces, dice to match the other elements below if you like, but I like to keep the pieces bigger, and the tentacles tentacle-y, but some people, I know, are squeamish…)
Equal parts red onion, red pepper, fennel, mushroom (I used ½ an onion, about ¼ of a bulb of fennel, 1/3 of a red pepper, 1 large open cap mushroom, but those proportions will depend entirely on the variable size of each), all diced small but not fine.
160g rice (I used basmati, but a risotto or paella rice would do the job)
3 anchovy fillets
fresh chilli and garlic, finely sliced
a sprinkle of raisins
a sprinkle of pine nuts
a pinch of saffron (or half a teaspoon of turmeric if you don’t have saffron)
½ glass white wine
200ml fish stock
for the tomato sauce:
½ onion, finely chopped
2 anchovy fillets
fresh chilli and garlic, finely sliced
2/3 tin of chopped tomatoes
100ml fish stock
1 glass white wine
For the stuffing you’re basically making a risotto, or paella, so the technique is pretty much as described here. In order to keep flavours concentrated (and as a happy but honestly unintended consequence, to reduce washing up) I always like to do as much of the cooking of a single dish as possible in the same pot, which in this case means you have two options. Either to cook the rice stuffing in the same dish you’ll be using to pot roast the squid (a shallow, lidded Le Creuset casserole, in my case) while cooking up the tomato sauce in a separate pan, which is what I did; or to cook the rice, and then the sauce in the same pan before transferring to the dish in which you’ll cook the squid. The latter will take slightly longer, due to working consecutively rather than concurrently on the stuffing and the sauce, but the tomato sauce doesn’t take long, and you can be stuffing the squid and starting that cooking while it’s coming together, so there’s not much in it. The decision on which way to go will probably be dependent on the suitability of the available pans or dishes.
The other option, if neither you nor your guests were vegetarian, would be to add something meaty to the stuffing. Chorizo, black pudding, smoked bacon or pancetta all go really well with squid and all or any would make a tasty addition to the stuffing – in which case I’d leave out the anchovies, raisins and pine nuts, but you wouldn’t have to. It would also be fine in that case, to use chicken stock instead of fish, but again, either would do.
In my case, in this instance, briefly, what I did was this: melted the anchovy fillets in olive oil in my shallow casserole, added a nub of fresh red chilli pepper and a clove of garlic, both finely sliced, then threw in the chopped squid bits and cooked till it had turned opaque and just started to colour. At that point I added the diced onion, fennel and pepper, continued cooking till they softened, then the pine nuts, raisins and chopped mushrooms. A minute later I added the rice, the wine and the saffron, stirred it all together and let it cook down for another couple of minutes and then added the stock. 10 to 15 minutes of simmering gently under a lid will do to cook the rice.
In the meantime in a separate pan I melted another couple of anchovy fillets with garlic and chilli, then softened the finely chopped onion, added the tomatoes, the stock, and brought it all to a gentle simmer for, again, 10 to 15 minutes.
Once the rice was cooked I spooned the stuffing into the squid tubes, making sure to push it right down to fill them to their ends. I was left over with just about enough of the stuffing mix to put into Tupperware and store in the fridge for a single portion squid risotto lunch, as a bonus. I added a splash of olive oil into the pan I’d spooned the rice out of, and still on the stove top, I fried the squid tubes gently on all sides, taking care not to spill too much of the stuffing, until just starting to show a little colour. Then I poured over the tomato sauce, covered with a lid and put in the oven, at around 180, for about 25 – 30 minutes. Test the squid at around 25, by just pushing a fork or a skewer into its flesh, if it slides in easily, without resistance, it’s done and you’ve no need to worry about rubberiness. If it doesn’t, then just give it a few minutes more (you don’t want to overcook it), although you might well want to add an extra splash of white wine at that point, to make sure there’s no risk of things drying out.
When the squid is done, remove it from the dish and set aside, somewhere warm, cover with foil if you like. Return the dish to the stove top, add a glass of wine to the tomato sauce and bring it up to a lively simmer before throwing in the mussels and covering with the lid. These will take just about three minutes or so – you know when they’re done when the shells open up. If the majority have opened and just a few remain stubbornly closed, pick those out and discard them, they’re no good (with mussels, as with clams and other bivalves, if they stay open when you clean them, discard them; if they stay closed when you cook them, do the same – that way you and you’re guests should be fine). Stir the open mussels and the sauce together, make sure they get well mixed.
While the mussels were cooking I sliced my squid into portions, then rearranged them in the dish with the mussels to bring to the table, and serve – a thick ring of stuffed squid per person surrounded by mussels, with some good chunky bread on the side to mop up the sauce.