It is a beautiful (if somewhat blustery) Spring morning, and we are outside Portsmouth Fish Market. For the past year or so, Amy and I have repeatedly vowed to make this peregrination — this piscine pilgrimage — but despite living half an hour or so down the road, we’ve failed to enact our vows.
Amy’s famously large and expressive eyes are sparkling with excitement (or perhaps they’re just watering; it’s hard to be sure. As I say, it’s somewhat blustery). She’s been murmuring and crooning excitedly to herself, these past weeks, about the anticipated joys of the fish market. The hubbub of the bartering crowds! The riot of colour and excitement as today’s catch is roughly thrown down upon the stalls! The thrill of the jostle for a place in the unruly throng of punters!
Well, the wait is over at last. In we go, Amy! Into Portsmouth Fish Market!
(We go in.)
Portsmouth Fish Market is … smaller than anticipated. To be precise, Portsmouth Fish Market is Amy, myself, Potato the Labrador, and one impatient man behind a table of fish.
To be fair, it’s a fairly large table. But I can tell without looking that Amy is very disappointed.
The fish market vendor casts an appraising eye at Potato. Potato casts an appraising eye at the fish table.
We stand a while, the four of us, in silence.
‘So what you want?’
We have no idea what we want, it emerges. I think we’d expected to, y’know, browse a little. To take in the atmosphere.
We take in the atmosphere.
‘Um… What do you recommend?’ Amy asks, bravely.
Fish Man fixes Amy with a look that implies his recommendation is that she piss off. Then he looks down at his table.
‘How about this one?’ he says, at length, with the barest modicum of enthusiasm.
We look at the fish. Potato looks at the fish. The fish looks glassily at the ceiling. Portsmouth Fish Market falls silent once more.
Amy steps forward.
Potato steps forward.
‘Hey, will you get the dog away?’
Ah! Portsmouth Fish Market!
I came away with a bag stuffed with fish and seafood, including (yes!) some squid. Amy came away with a small bundle of shattered dreams. Potato came away with nothing.
Anyhow. Let’s talk about the squid, shall we? Specifically, how to cook the buggers.
The Spanish squid stew I concocted is the kind of thing my dear father is excellent at throwing together, and I’ve loved squid from an early age as a result of meals like this. As with the Irish stew I burbled on about a few weeks back, this is a pretty thrifty supper: squid are very cheap, you know. So long as you’ve half a bottle of leftover wine kicking about (or a full bottle you don’t mind sharing with the pot) the rest of the ingredients are mostly storecupboard stuff. Assuming you’re the kind of wanker who has two different types of paprika in his storecupboard.
When you’re cooking it, there’s really only one thing you need to know about squid: cook it incredibly slowly or bloody quickly. This recipe opts for the former. Your end result is meltingly soft rings, purpled by the long dark simmer in wine which, by the end, has simmered down to a rich, glossy mahogany.
Spanish Squid Stew Recipe
- 2 good-sized squid, or 3 babies (yes, I am still talking about squid), cut into moderately thick rings.
- 2 large onions, sliced
- 2 chubby cloves of garlic
- 2 largeish tomatoes, quartered and de-seeded
- ½ tsp hot smoked paprika
- 1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
- Olive oil
- Half a bottle or so of red wine (bonus points if it’s Spanish like mine: the almost implausibly cheap 3C Carinena from The Wine Society, £5.95)
- Generous handful of parsley
- Salt and pepper
- Half a lemon
What to do
Start with the onions. Using a large pan with highish sides (make sure you have a lid for it; you’ll need that later), fry them over a medium heat with a proper few glugs of olive oil (be generous). While the onion is softening, slice the garlic and chuck that in too.
Now the tomatoes. Some people might tell you to faff around skinning them. I honestly don’t think it makes much difference in this context, so advise you not to bother. They should be quartered and de-seeded. Dice each quarter into pieces around a cm or so square. No need to fuss too much, they’ll cook down. Lob them in.
Now add the two types of paprika and give the lot a good stir. Turn up the heat, slosh in the wine, and add the squid rings. If you have tentacles too (or, rather, if your squid did), by all means chuck those in as well.
Bring it all to the boil, then turn the heat down really low, so it’s at as gentle a simmer as you can manage, and cover — leaving the lid slightly ajar.
Leave that pan to simmer gently for a good long while. A couple of hours, I’d say. Stir it every so often to check it’s not sticking or drying out.
While that’s bubbling away, you’re getting a bit peckish, aren’t you? Time for anchovies! Waitrose sells these delightful critters marinated in garlic (yeah, four quid, I know — but worth it).
I suggest you also crack open the bottle of Manzanilla Sherry you bought at the same time (Waitrose Manzanilla Fina, £7.69). This is squarely a Parn Essential, and I should write about it separately at some stage, I suppose, with its full-on gob-punch of lemon and sea and sunshine.
When you’re ready to eat your stew, season with plenty of salt and pepper and lemon juice to taste. You can serve it with bread or rice, and perhaps a green salad of some kind. And it’s pretty much guaranteed to cheer up anyone who’s been to Portsmouth Fish Market.
Unless they’re a labrador who didn’t get any.