Firstly a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year from SAGB !
Although now nearing the end, the cuttlefish season on the South Coast has produced some outstanding returns for the beam trawl sector at Brixham, Plymouth and Newlyn. A bonanza that started towards the end of last summer has seen landings way in excess of previous years and the ‘black gold’ continues to deliver from a rich, non-quota seam that provides opportunity not just for the vessels and crews but for processors and exporters.
Barry Young MD of Brixham Trawler Agents is delighted and confirms that record landings of this extraordinary cephalopod have meant an increased port turnover and yet another record year with volumes up at 125% of 2016 figures. Prices for the cuttles have generally been high too, without so much of the historical disparity with the usually more-expensive squid. Although sizes were smaller earlier on in the season, boxes were changing hands at £5-6 /kg,and with some markets seeing up to 2000 boxes at a time, the fishery has indeed enjoyed a bumper harvest.
Export opportunities are generally focused on the Far Eastern and European markets, although a growing interest amongst UK restaurateurs has led to a gradually increasing demand on the domestic scene and investment in handling, grading and storage facilities at Brixham has been necessary to cope with the influx, as boats switch their attentions to cuttles from the regular whitefish.
Cyrus Todiwala OBE, Chef/Patron of Cafe Spice Namaste and SAGB shellfish ambassador, sold out completely of his famous ‘Spiced Cuttlefish Pickle’ at Christmas, using product sourced from Brixham via an SAGB member. Mitch Tonks, Chef/Patron of the Rockfish group, tells us that he regularly uses the product from fresh and frozen, for both flash-fried dishes and slow braising at his famous Seahorse restaurant in Dartmouth.
With Brexit just over the horizon, it’s worthy of note that the international demand for this short-lived, but quick-maturing mollusc could prove to be a real area for growth. Opportunities are definitely there to be had and some UK processors have travelled abroad to learn more about the market and the requirements there, so that supply can be tailored accordingly and yet more value added.
Here in the UK? Well, as the question of food security becomes ever more applicable, Sepia officinalis could really play a lead role in supplying a delicious source of wild protein, whilst being rich in Vitamins B12 & B6 and minerals selenium and copper. Many chefs are convinced of its attributes and River Cottage Chef, Gill Meller, has kindly donated a stunning recipe, from his inspirational book of last year, ‘Gather’ for our first blog post of the New Year. It’s an inventive way of slow cooking cuttlefish to extract maximum flavour and as Gill rightly says, the cuttlefish ‘submits to the low heat of the oven’, which tenderises the meat and exemplifies its unique flavour.
Cuttlefish with bacon, lemon, tomato and bay
1–2 tablespoons extra-virgin
1 x 400g (14oz)-piece skin-on bacon or pancetta, cut into 4 equal pieces
1 cuttlefish (about 800g– 1kg/1lb 120z–2lb 4oz), ready to cook; ink reserved, if available
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
pared zest of ½ lemon
2 bay leaves
½ glass of white wine
200g (7oz) tinned tomatoes
400ml (14fl oz) pork or chicken stock
salt and freshly ground
Heat the oven to 160°C/315°F/gas mark 2–3. Heat a dash of
olive oil in a medium frying pan over a medium–high heat. Place
the bacon pieces in the pan and cook them on each side until golden
and starting to caramelise (about 8–10 minutes). Remove from the
heat and set aside.
Using a sharp knife, cut the cuttlefish body into strips of about
2–3cm ( ¾ –1 ¼ in) wide. Cut the tentacles into small pieces.
Return the bacon pan to a high heat and add all the cuttlefish
pieces. Fry, turning occasionally, for 5–6 minutes, or until the
fish pieces take on some colour.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large heavy-based
casserole on a medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for
4–5 minutes, until the onion is beginning to soften. Add the fennel
seeds, lemon zest and bay leaves. Cook for a further 2 minutes,
then add the wine. Bring to a simmer, reducing the liquid for
1–2 minutes, then add the tomatoes and the stock, and return to
a gentle simmer. Add the bacon and cuttlefish and stir to combine.
Make sure the bacon is just submerged in the sauce.
Put a lid on the casserole and place it in the oven for 2–3 hours,
or until the bacon is tender and giving, and the cuttlefish is soft.
Remove the casserole from the oven, lift the lid and give the bacon
and cuttlefish a stir. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
If you have the cuttlefish ink you can stir it in at this point – it will
darken the sauce and enrich the dish. Serve straight away with
hunks of good bread and a crisp salad.