A Squid Supper + Portsmouth Fish Market

‘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.

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.

Until now.

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.

Squid simmering in a dark red wine sauce
About half way through cooking. It will get darker. Be patient!

Spanish Squid Stew Recipe

Ingredients

  • 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.

Onions frying with garlic in a pan

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.

Chopped tomato with a Sabatier knife

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.

Bottle of 3C Carinena wine being poured into a stew for cooking

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).

An anchovy on a fork. Glass of sherry in the background.

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.

Waitrose Manzanilla Sanlucar Dry Sherry alongside some paprika

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.

Potato the yellow labrador gazes pleadingly at camera

The Negroni Manzanilla with Sacred Rosehip Cup – Recipe

As if a normal negroni weren’t good enough… Thanks to Poco Tapas, Old Parn discovers the majesty of the Negroni Manzanilla and Sacred’s Rosehip Cup.

I love a negroni. And before I went to Poco Tapas Bar during a visit to Bristol last summer, I believed I made a pretty damn good one.

Poco Tapas Bar’s Negroni Manzanilla took that belief of mine to one side and gave it a bloody good shoeing.

Because Poco’s Negroni Manzanilla is a work of exquisite dipsomaniacal genius.

The classic Negroni (come on, you know this) consists of gin, Campari and red vermouth in a 1:1:1 ratio, stirred over plenty of (chunky) ice cubes and lifted by a twist or wedge of orange.

Poco’s version changes this in two main ways. The first you’ll have guessed (unless your deductive reasoning is extraordinarily weak): the addition of Manzanilla sherry. The second is subtler but equally revolutionary: Campari is replaced with a fabulous liquid called Rosehip Cup, made by Sacred, and I guess this is the one Poco uses. It’s a good deal more expensive than Campari and a bit of a pain to get hold of offline (I ordered mine from the Whisky Exchange for £27.95), but — trust me, dear reader — absolutely worth your while and your dosh.

Why is this take on the negroni is so bloody good? It addresses the most significant drawback (in my view) of the classic: the fact that Campari’s bitterness is (to my taste — and it’s perhaps worth mentioning I am somewhat intolerant of bitter flavours…) slightly harsh and one-dimensional. The Rosehip Cup is smoother, fruitier, gentler. The crucial bitterness remains, but rather than the melodramatic bitterness of a romantically spurned adolescent, it’s the nuanced bitterness of a twice-divorced deputy headteacher who needs to keep things civil for the kids’ sake.

You can quote that in your marketing if you like, Sacred.

Bottle of Sacred Rosehip Cup and a lily in a glass

The better balance of a negroni with Rosehip Cup transforms it from a drink of which one is generally enough (before moving onto other fare, natch) into one of which the prospect of a second is spectacularly enticing.

And the Manzanilla. Let’s talk about the Manzanilla.

Now, you could comfortably change up your negroni game simply by swapping out the Campari for Rosehip Cup and leaving it at that. Indeed, if you’re anything like me, once you’ve tasted the Rosehip version, you’ll struggle to return to Campari. The addition of a splash of bone-dry sherry, by contrast, remains an optional flourish (the Negroni equivalent of a Dirty priligy la Martini, perhaps). The Manzanilla variant has a fabulous aromatic openness. While a classic negroni is a tightly coiled fist of a drink, the addition of Manzanilla loosens it a little, relaxes that tight grip. It hardly makes it into a long drink, but it’s definitely less short. I don’t think it replaces the classic, but it’s a bloody lovely alternative. I now buy EVEN MORE sherry (buy more sherry!) so that I can make these critters whenever the fancy takes me. Which is frequently. Try it and you’ll thank me.

Except you won’t thank me, you rude bugger. You’ll be too busy drinking negronis.

Recipe for Manzanilla Negroni

  1. Fill a glass (I use these elegant blighters from Ferm Living because I believe drinks should look handsome) with chunky icecubes
  2. Pour over 1 part gin (Tanqueray is a classic choice but there are hundreds of other possibilities)
  3. Add 1 part Sacred Rosehip Cup
  4. Then add 1 part red vermouth (Martini Rosso is the widely available one, but try others as and when you find them: Cocchi is currently stocked in my local Waitrose and works superbly. The choice of vermouth makes a massive difference to the drink, y’know… But that’s a topic for another post, methinks)
  5. Finally, add 1 part Manzanilla sherry
  6. Finish with a twist of orange (use a paring knife or peeler to slice off a strip of orange peel, fashion it into a twist in your big clammy hands, making sure to give it a good squeeze to release the oils)
  7. Neck the bastard

And four more bonus tips…

  1. You can buy half-bottles of Manzanilla from The Wine Society for £5.95 a pop, so you don’t have to crack open a whole 75cl bottle for the sake of a single negroni (though far be it from me to dissuade you…)
  2. Because the Rosehip Cup is less bitter than Campari, you might want to experiment with a heftier vermouth. I recently tried Asterley Brothers’ fabulous English Estate Vermouth (£23.25), which deepened the drink (and also the colour) considerably. This offset the breeziness of the Manzanilla/Rosehip combo in a way that felt appropriate for winter.
  3. You might want to experiment with the ratios of ingredients. For instance, a half-measure of Manzanilla still imparts some aromatic openness, but preserves more of the negroni’s punch. Depends what you fancy.
  4. Poco Tapas Bar is well worth a visit for more than just its negronis.

A sherry suckerpunch of Manzanilla mouthjoy

…is one half-bottle-sized suckerpunch of mouthjoy — the sea-wind bite, the roll of it, the swell of it, the crescendo

A bottle of sherry and a condensation-beaded glass -- on the background of a floral print

Sherry, sherry. I adore sherry. I adore it in its many guises and manifestations. Whenever I’m passing through a decent wine shop or supermarket, I scour the shelves for half-bottles of sherry. Because half-bottles of sherry, my dear friend, are like anchovies: my kitchen is bereft without them.

So last time I was salivating my way round Whole Foods, I tossed a half of Fernando de Castilla Manzanilla into my basket.

And Manzanilla (oh! Manzanilla!) is possibly the sherry I adore most of all.

Why? Because of its richness, its depth and its bite. This one is a half-bottle-sized suckerpunch of mouthjoy. The impossibly woody, dense, complicated smell. The sea-wind bite — like spray from the cold Atlantic. The roll of it, the swell of it, the almost overwhelming crescendo of the flavour once you have it there in your gob.

The way it leaves you gasping for another mouthful.

This is an excellent Manzanilla. I can imagine drinking it with some of those anchovies. And lemon. Salt. Bite. Yeah. That would be fucking lovely.

Staggering, mouthwatering, delicious.

Drink it. Drink sherry. Drink!

Rating ???? 4 stars (very good)
Region Jerez
ABV 15%
Price £6.49 (half bottle) from Whole Foods, High Street Kensington; £10.95 (whole bottle) from Stone & Vine

Pedro Ximenez Don Marcelo Jerez review

… is delicious, extraordinary and quite goddamn sexy. Even if it *does* taste of raisins. Because wrinkles can be sexy, too.

A dark brown bottle of Pedro Ximenez sherry, with out of focus daffodils behindOkay. It’s Valentine’s Day. And in celebration thereof, what better alcoholic beverage than one that tastes MIND-BLOWINGLY STRONGLY of raisins? — thereby reminding you that whilst you may be taut-skinned young grapes right now, one day, you’ll both be shrunken and wrinkly.

BUT YOU’LL STILL TASTE LOVELY.

(Realism beats Romance every time, eh? Just ask TS Eliot if you’re unsure.)

Anyway, I maintain that this is a Romantic wine. It’s big and swingeing and unashamed. It scatters your bed with petals and serenades you with sentiment-sodden ballads. And tenderly crams handful after handful of raisins into your gob.

It is sweet. Really, really, really sweet. Even as you’re pouring it, you’re thinking of molasses and treacle and whatever other viscous liquids you might find appealing. And it’s almost impossibly rich and dark when you get it into your mouth.

It’s hard to believe, in fact, that something can be as sweet as this and still seem, y’know, even vaguely grown-up. Especially when drinking it puts you in mind of cramming your stubby fingers into those little boxes of Sunmaid to extricate the pieces of fruit that’d wedged themselves right into the bottom corners. But it is grown up. Possibly because it’s so outrageously goddamn decadent-tasting. And also because it’s not sickly.

Or, at least — and here, once again, the raisin likeness holds — it’s not sickly unless one consumes it to excess.

In summary: delicious, extraordinary and quite goddamn sexy.

A small terracotta dish with ice cream, scattered with dried rose petals

Oh. And may I leave you with a ludicrously specific serving suggestion? Put a glass of this alongside a bowl of rosewater and cardamom ice-cream. Buy the dried rose petals from a nice man in the Iranian deli on High Street Kensington. He may even give you a free biscuit. Then simultaneously boast and congratulate yourself for doing all of the above by photographing it and posting it on your silly little blog.

You pathetic specimen.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Region Jerez
Grape Pedro Ximenez
ABV 16%
Price I got mine from The Wine Society some time ago for about £9 (half bottle). But it ain’t there no more, I’m afraid. Sozamonia.

Williams and Humbert 12 Year Old Oloroso Sherry review

… will show you (yet again) that sherry is not just a drink for your grannie.

A half bottle of Williams & Humbert, bathed in red light

Marzipan and meat and cream (so goddamn creamy I want to die). Light wood. Smooth wood. Not cheap wood. But smooth. Dried fruit. And the warm, spirity burn of alcohol caressing your throat.

Your lucky, lucky throat.

Drink it — like I did — with sweet, pink chicken livers, spinach, caramelised onion, pine nuts and the gang. There’s a recipe in the first Moro cookbook that you’d do well to follow. Actually, drink it however you want.

Because, yeah, I’ve said it before. (And I don’t care that I have.) Drink sherry. Sherry is not just a drink for your grannie (though far be it from me to deprive her of it). Sherry is lovely.

This one particularly so.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Region Jerez
Type Oloroso
ABV 19%
Price (half bottle) I got mine from Wholefoods, High Street Kensington for an amount I can’t recall. Online, I see it at £6.14 from Cambridge Wine Merchants or at £6.85 from Alexander Hadleigh

Marks & Spencer Dry Old Oloroso Review

… will allow you to live the dream of swigging 20% ABV sherry from a beer bottle. LIKE A MAN.

Closeup of the text of the Dry Old Oloroso bottle

First things first. This is a bottle of dry oloroso sherry. Indeed, it’s a half bottle. And I’ve made my admiration of both half bottles and good sherry abundantly clear in the past.

The bottle of the Dry Old Oloroso: dark brown, somewhat squat, unpretentious — for all the world like a bottle of beerMy admiration for this half bottle, though, goes a step or two further. Because this is sherry in a beer bottle. FINALLY MY DREAM HAS COME TRUE: I can slyly swig oloroso sherry from the bottle whilst hanging out with the lads — yet not compromise my appearance of nonchalant masculinity.

(An area in which compromise is a fearful prospect indeed.)

So, the only question should be: is this the sherry you’d want to swig? Or should you carry on rinsing out old beer bottles and laboriously refilling them from that tank in your cellar?

Let’s see.

So, uncork the blighter (yeah, they haven’t introduced a bottle-cap yet) and you’ll be greeted by a delicious waft: full, mellow, barrelly. It smells lovely. Once it makes its way into your trap — well, it’s still pretty nice. Nutty, yes, and spicy too. Like spicy nuts. Or nutty spices, I suppose. At first, it’s delightfully smooth. But let it linger in there and it’ll give you a belt around the tastebuds, enough to bring tears to your eyes.

(Or maybe I just cry easily. Nonchalant masculinity, like I said.)

Verdict

So, yeah, it’s not the most refined of sherries. That’s a shame, because I’d dearly like that woody sweetness it has to develop more in my mouth — but I daren’t let it, for fear that my ‘mates’ will discover me weeping over what appears to be a bottle of beer.

Nevertheless, it’s a handy thing, to have sherry in a 37.5cl bottle. And a glassful of this made a goddamn mean sauce for my seared tuna steak with caramelised onions. Which surely has to count for something.

So: a creditable performance, but a tad eye-watering for Old Parn. Sly sherry-swiggers may note with excitement, however, that M&S has a whole range of sherries, all bottled thus. And I’m clearly going to work my way through them all.

Rating ★★
ABV 20%
Price £7.49 from Marks & Spencer

Waitrose Solera Jerezana Dry Amontillado Sherry

… is more rough-hewn oak than IKEA pine veneer

Waitrose Solera Jerezana Dry Amontillado

What better to write about on Christmas day than sherry? Yes, sherry. Allow Old Parn to add his voice to the loud (yet probably still largely ineffectual) chorus of those who castigate the British public for their indifference to sherry.

Sherry is fucking brilliant.

It’s also pretty much hands-down the best value wine you can buy. Really good sherry is ludicrously cheap. Put a random £6 bottle of sherry up against a random £6 bottle of wine if you don’t believe me.

Anyhow, this here is Waitrose’s Dry Amontillado. With Amontillado, you give up some of that saltwater bite of Fino (and especially Manzanilla) sherries, some of that tastebud-awakening zap of bracing dryness.

But you’re repaid. Oh yes, you’re repaid.

Because the wonderful thing about Amontillado is the nutty, toasty, creamy exhale. The smooth, supple woodiness that lasts and lasts. With a hint of fruited sharpness up there in the eaves.

Waitrose’s offering is on the heftier side of the Amontillado spectrum: it sits on a deep, dark foundation like that of a big Old World red, and in the mouth it bristles with an invigorating spiky coarseness. It’s woody like a rough-hewn oak table, not a veneered pine worktop from IKEA.

There’s a sugary, chocolatey smoothness, though, to the smell. And when you first chuck some into your mouth, you’re greeted by a marzipan sweetness.

Verdict

Very nice indeed. Like I say, this is a relatively gutsy Amontillado, so if you’re more into smooth, creamy goings on, you may prefer others. But I like gutsy.

To get top marks, they’d need to eliminate that slight catchiness at the back of the throat, the barely perceptible roughness that intrudes on the finish. But that degree of pickiness is hardly justified by the price.

If you don’t already, drink sherry. If you like sturdy red wines, this would make a very good introduction.

Oh, yeah — happy Christmas, too.

Rating ★★★☆☆
ABV 19%
Price £7.78 from Waitrose