Slow-Braised Spiced Squid

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Standing apart from much of the Levant and the rest of Palestine, the people of Gaza have an affection for heat, with chilli and dill forming one of the cuisine’s sacred combinations. This squid recipe is another example of the Levant’s flair for stuffing, and while the recipe calls for bulgur, rice can also be used. While not traditional, I have added fennel and a generous drizzle of Arak.

Preparation Time: 30 minutes, plus making the spice mixture
Cooking Time: 2 hours

Ingredients

  • 60 g/ oz/4 tbsp salted butter
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cleaned squid, about 1 kg/2 lb 4 oz in total, tentacles reserved
  • 1 kg/2 lb 4 oz tomatoes
  • 400 g/14 oz fennel bulbs
  • 8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 small hot red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 80 g/ oz/½ cup coarse or extra coarse bulgur wheat (grade 3 or 4), rinsed
  • 3 tbsp finely chopped dill leaves plus extra for sprinkling
  • 170 ml/ fl oz/ cup Arak, Ouzo or Pernod
  • ¼ tsp Lebanese Seven Spices
  • 500 ml/17 fl oz/generous 2 cups fish stock
  • juice of 1 lemon (optional)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • sumac, for dusting
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • lemon wedges, to serve

Method

  1. To make the stuffing, melt half the butter in a wide, heavy-based saucepan over a high heat. Add the onion, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 5 minutes until soft and translucent.
  2. Chop the tentacles into 2cm/¾in dice. Chop 250 g/9 oz of the tomatoes and one of the fennel bulbs.
  3. Add the tentacles, garlic, chilli and chopped fennel to the pan, and cook for 1 minute until fragrant, stirring once. Mix in the chopped tomatoes, bulgur wheat, 4 tablespoons water, 2 tablespoons of the dill, 3 tablespoons of the Arak and the spice mixture and heat through, stirring. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside until the mixture is cool enough to handle.
  4. Meanwhile, cut the remaining tomatoes and fennel bulbs into quarters.
  5. Stuff each squid cavity two-thirds full with a quarter of the squid and tomato stuffing and secure with wooden cocktail sticks.
  6. Preheat the oven to 130°C/250°F/Gas ½. Put the remaining butter in a 30cm/12in diameter flameproof pan that is deep enough to hold the stock. Put the pan over a high heat, and when the butter has melted, add the stuffed squid and sear on each side for 1–2 minutes. Pour in 125 ml/4 fl oz/½ cup of the Arak and let the mixture simmer over a low heat for 5 minutes until reduced by half. Add the quartered tomatoes and fennel, pour in the fish stock and sprinkle in the remaining dill and any remaining stuffing. Cover with foil and cook in the oven for 1½ hours. Remove the foil for the last 30 minutes of cooking to reduce the liquid slightly. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, change the oven setting to grill/broil (or heat a separate grill/broiler and move the pan into it), and grill/broil for the last few minutes until the squid is soft and tender.
  7. Add the remaining Arak, lemon juice, if using, and oil to the pan, season to taste with salt and pepper, then sprinkle with dill. Transfer the stuffed squid to plates, spoon over the Arak sauce and dust with sumac. Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing over.