Cuttlefish Paella

  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Serves: 4
  • Level: medium

‘… having dragged him away from his stool and the large Spanish lady with her big stirring spoon, we now get to eat Dad’s very own paella! The cuttlefish was a bit weird to me, but if you’re a fish lover this is for you!’

'Waiting 20 minutes for dad to mmm and ahhh over his sepia paella being cooked in Barcelona was probably a good thing...'

What you need

500g of cleaned cuttlefish frozen – or squid or monkfish

300g Calaspara or bomba paella rice

1 large green pepper

3 large garlic cloves

900ml light fish stock or chicken stock

125ml dry fino sherry or dry white wine (optional)

Half guajillo dried red chilli or 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes (more or less depending on taste)

2 bay leaves

1 tsp dried oregano

Large pinch saffron

200g tomatoes

½ head radicchio or 100g washed and dried spinach

¾ cup fresh or frozen peas

½ cup chopped parsley

1 tsp Sweet smoked paprika

1 or 2 lemons

Dad's Recipe Tales

Mrs WDC could only say: ‘Well, the rice is nice’.

Sometimes I think I need a new audience… Perhaps I could cook for the 50 people I sat with, a few years ago, who enjoyed the same seafood paella at 11 am in a café bar in the Boqueria food market in Barcelona.

Wandering through the Boqueria, on holiday with the family, I noticed the cafe’s huge simmering pan of paella. The cafe was extremely popular and filling quickly with customers. Instinctively, I grabbed the only available seat and sat down, ordered and waited to for my paella to arrive. Initially, the family indulged this diversion – possibly curious to witness a genuine holiday event. However, their interest soon waned as I slowly savoured the paella, made mental taste notes, and smiled and nodded encouragingly. I was offered the menu again, but was immediately and unceremoniously dragged from my chair- the family determined to enlist me into exploring other aspects of Catalan life, especially those that didn’t involve food markets or seafood.

Barcelona is indeed full of interesting sights – but for me there’s little point in visiting the city if you cannot sample an authentic paella. This particular paella included large tender cubes of unidentifiable white, meat – delicious but unlike anything I’ve had before. Whilst being accompanied away from café, I managed to lean over the counter and attract the attention of the cook preparing next batch of paella.

‘Que es?’ I asked, pointing at the white cubes.

‘Sepia’, came the reply. Ah, cuttlefish…

Alas, it has taken years to replicate this paella. Not out of fear that my family might not appreciate the memory, but because it seemed impossible to find a cuttlefish in the UK. That is until recently when I found one lurking at the bottom of a local fishmonger’s chest freezer!

How Dad Cooked It

A note on cuttlefish: If buying cuttlefish fresh have it cleaned by your fishmonger and put it in the freezer for a few days. This will tenderise the meat. If buying frozen, it will be cleaned but may still need some preparation, when defrosted. With a sharp knife, carefully remove any skin or membrane from the cuttlefish and cut into 2cm pieces.

If using squid or monkfish: Cut the squid into rings or small pieces, cut the monkfish into 2 cm cubes. It is best to precook both these by frying in olive oil.  Do this toward the end of the cooking and add to the paella when the rice has cooked (see stage 10 below) stir in and cover for 5 minutes. Alternatively, push them raw into the rice before it has finished cooking (see stage 9 below) to allow the heat of the rice to cook the fish.

Clams, prawns or mussels can be included in the paella – add towards the end of cooking (see stage 9 below). To encourage cooking, use a lid on the pan.

Chorizo can be chopped and added at just after the start of the sofritto cooking (see stage 1 below).

  1. Chop the onion, green pepper and garlic. Heat a heavy based-large sauté pan on medium heat and add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sweat the onion and green pepper for 10 minutes. This is called ‘sofritto’ – and as with all paellas is an important part of building process. Do not rush this stage.
  2. Add the cuttlefish, the chopped garlic, and guajillo or dried chilli flakes – continue to sweat for 10 more minutes.
  3. Place the stock in a sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Add the bay leaves and a large pinch of saffron.
  4. Plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for 10 seconds. Peel the skin and remove the seeds and hard central core. Chop the remaining tomato.
  5. Add the rice to the sauté pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
  6. Turn up the heat and add the sherry or wine – let is bubble away for 4 minutes to evaporate then add about 750ml of the stock.
  7. Add the paprika, oregano, half the parsley and tomatoes to the sauté pan – stir. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Adjust the heat to bring the liquid to a quick simmer then turn down to maintain a gentle simmer. The rice will take about 20 minutes to cook.
    NB: The traditional advice is to leave without stirring. My view is that we often do not have the correct equipment to be authentic or traditional – so I shake and stir occasionally to ensure an even cook across the ingredients.
  8. About 10 minutes into the last cooking stage check the level of liquid and add more stock if necessary.
  9. Add the fresh peas and the radicchio or spinach. If using frozen peas – precook the peas in boiling water – drain when the water comes back to the boil and add 15 minutes into the last cooking stage.
  10. When the rice is just done, (about 20 minutes into the last cooking stage), cover the pan and turn off the heat – let the paella rest for 5 minutes.
  11. To serve, sprinkle the parsley over the paella and serve with lemon wedges.

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