Cuttlefish with Artichokes, Peas and Lemon
Updated: Oct 30, 2021
"If there is something about seafood that Mitch doesn’t know then it’s probably not worth knowing!"
Anonymous Food Critic (pre-2009)
In his introduction to this recipe, Mitch Tonks says "This dish is really a combination of all my favourite ingredients.". Well, as it happens, it features many of my own favourite ingredients, so it's no wonder I was so drawn to it - and it really is a cracker of a dish and quite an easy one to prepare. To be honest, once the cuttlefish has been cooked, it's really rather excellent even before the addition of the remaining ingredients - my first attempt at the recipe only got that far.
I'm always really pleased when a dish features ingredients that both individually and collectively represent the season we find ourselves in. This is one of them. Quite whether you can reliably expect to find local cuttlefish, globe artichokes and fresh peas available at the same time I think might be just that bit of a stretch to your luck with seasons these days being so unpredictable, but if you do happen to then this dish is a late-spring or early-summer must.
That said, there's no reason at all not to use frozen peas (they were frozen for this very reason) and, as Tonks advises, frozen artichoke hearts or deli-style marinated artichokes (though I would give them a wash and a drain) would serve well as alternatives to the fresh article. The point being that, at least as far as I'm concerned, cuttlefish season is a short one that I have an annual compulsion to make the most of so good quality substitutes for the fresh accompanying vegetables are welcome if it means I can enjoy my "cuttletime".
I was not long ago challenged by a foodie friend as to which of the two manners of the cooking of cuttlefish I preferred: hot-and-fast or low-and-slow. And I didn't think I had a clear preference. But, on reflection, I do actually think I am leaning toward the low-and-slow, with this particular slow-cook, casserole-style recipe being one that may have nudged me in that direction.
As Mitch Tonks, I think this dish is best served at room temperature or just warm, but neither fridge cold nor hot. Bread is a very welcome accompaniment. Though this is not a Spanish tapas dish that I am aware of, I would definitely serve it to numbers as part of a tapas-style meal and I'm convinced any Spanish person would appreciate what's going on here.
My interpretation from Tonks's recipe when it comes to the artichokes has been to prepare them in a way that they are of a physical form quite similar to that of the cuttlefish. By that I mean that whether they are the result of the cooking of fresh globe artichokes, some defrosted frozen prepared artichoke hearts, or washed and drained deli-style preserved artichokes I think they can be cut into pieces of similar shape and size as the cuttlefish - appropriately cooked, the textures of artichokes and cuttlefish are not a world apart. I have put in the notes more thoughts on the preparation of the artichokes.
For the cooking of the cuttlefish, I think of Tonks's approach in a similar way to the one I think of that is called, in classic French cuisine, a "confit" - a slow-cook of meat in bath of fat. To that end I find it fitting to top the confit with a "cartouche", a "hat" of greaseproof paper to ensure that what is taking place in the pot is a slow sweat in the moistest of environments rather than a fry or sizzle in a drier one.
I think it's essential to use a good quality extra virgin olive oil for this recipe but I wouldn't necessarily use my absolute best, one that I would use for salads or dipping, because, first, half of the oil is to be discarded and, second, I think the very best of extra virgin olive oils should probably not see any heat in excess of room temperature.
For convenience, most of the time taken to prepare this dish can be done well ahead. Step 2 the recipe can be completed beforehand and the cooked cuttlefish stored in the fridge, for up to 2 days, either in the pot (tightly-covered) that it has been cooked in, or in an airtight container. When ready to complete the dish, just bring the cuttlefish back to room temperature before proceeding.
I have chosen to present the dish in a "cazuela de barro", a Spanish earthenware dish, because of its reminiscence with many Spanish dishes I am familiar with, but it could just as easily be served straight from the cooking vessel.
Cuttlefish with Artichokes, Peas and Lemon
Ingredients (Serves 2 as a main course, or 4-6 as part of a tapas-style spread)
250g cuttlefish, cleaned and cut into strips about ½" wide
120ml extra virgin olive oil
2 small onions, peeled, halved and finely sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled, lightly crushed and cut into 3-4 pieces
2 thyme sprigs
1-2 bay leaves
1 small dried red chilli, left whole
125ml dry white wine
Prepared artichokes slices (see recipe intro and notes)
100g fresh peas (or 75-80g frozen peas)
1 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the artichokes as per the notes.
Preheat the oven to 150°C. Heat 1 tbsp of the olive oil in a flame-proof casserole over a low-medium heat and sweat the sliced onions and garlic pieces until soft but not caramelised, about 5 mins. Add the thyme sprigs, bay leaves and dried chilli, followed by the white wine. Turn the heat up a little and let the wine bubble for a minute then add the cuttlefish and the remaining olive oil which should cover the fish but, if not, add a little more. Cover with a sheet of crumpled greaseproof paper, put the lid on and place the casserole in the oven for 1 hour until the cuttlefish is tender and can be cut with a spoon. Leave to cool (see recipe intro if not using immediately).
Quarter the lemon, remove the skin and pips and cut into ¼" dice. Pour off about half of the oil from the casserole, remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaf, add the artichokes and peas and heat gently until warmed through and the peas are cooked. Stir in the diced lemon, tarragon and mint, season to taste and serve.
Fresh globe artichokes: If choosing to use fresh globe artichokes what you can buy is something of a lottery in terms of their size and the time of year. 3 large ones (the size of a large orange) is about the right quantity by the time they have been trimmed, de-choked and cooked. Use a liberal amount of lemon juice in their preparation to prevent discolouration and cook them a touch shorter than they would usually require as they will cook a little further when reheated in the sauce. Once cooked they can be sliced into ½" strips and kept in the fridge in an airtight container for a day or two (even in the same container as the cuttlefish). Adjust the quantity accordingly for smaller fresh globe artichokes and if particularly small, just cut them in half.
Frozen artichoke hearts: Cook for a minute or two shorter than the cooking instructions, then when cool enough to handle, slice into ½" strips or simply cut in half (depending on size) and proceed with the recipe. As a guide you will need about 6-8 frozen artichoke hearts.
Deli-style marinated artichoke hearts: These tend to be quite small so about 8-10 pieces would probably be appropriate. Give them a wash and a drain and, unless very small, cut in half before proceeding with the recipe.
"Fish: The Complete Fish and Seafood Companion", Mitch Tonks (2009), pp. 280: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fish-Complete-Seafood-Companion/dp/1862058334