Pelaio Txipiroiak

Baby Squid in Confit Onion Sauce

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THE CHEF MADE HIS INDEX FINGERS INTO LITTLE HOOK SHAPES AND JERKED ONE UP AND DOWN, THEN THE OTHER. THIS IS HOW THE OLD MEN CATCH THE BABY SQUID,’ HE SAID. THEY TEASE THEM TO THEIR BAIT. THEY BRING ME PERHAPS HALF A DOZEN. BUT THEY ARE ALWAYS SO SMALL AND BEAUTIFUL.’ THE OLD MEN WHO BROUGHT HIM THEIR CATCHL WERE TRULY OLD — RETIRED FISHERMEN TOO FRAIL TO GO TO SEA AND TOO WEDDED TO THE WATER TO LEAVE IT. THEY SPENT THEIR DAYS SITTING ON THE WHARVES AND BREAKWATERS WATCHING THE FISHING FLEET COME AND GO. CATCHING FISH WASN’T A RETIREMENT HOBBY, IT WAS THEIR LIFE. IN THE HANDS OF A BASQUE CHEF THEIR LITTLE SQUID ARE LIFTED TO ANOTHER LEVEL — VERY QUICKLY SIZZLED AND SERVED ALONGSIDE A SLOW-COOKED ONION CONFIT.

Ingredients

  • 1.2 kg (2 lb 9 oz) white salad onions, sliced
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 180 ml (6 fl oz/¾ cup) extra virgin olive oil, plus extra, to drizzle
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt flakes
  • 2 kg (4 lb 8 oz) baby squid
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • a handful of chopped parsley
  • 40 ml ( fl oz) olive oil

Method

Put the onion in a large heavy-based saucepan. Add the peppercorns, bay leaves, 80 ml ( fl oz/ cup) of the extra virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon of the sea salt flakes. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring regularly, for 2 hours, or until the onion confit has a jam-like consistency.

Meanwhile, to clean the squid, pull the tentacles out of the hoods and pull out the clear cartilage from the hoods. Peel off and discard the skin. Cut the tentacles off just below the eyes, then rinse the hoods and tentacles. Drain well and place in a bowl.

Place the garlic cloves on a chopping board, sprinkle with the remaining sea salt flakes and finely chop. Add to the squid with most of the parsley (reserve some for serving) and the remaining extra virgin olive oil. Mix well, then cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

When the onion confit is ready, heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based frying pan over high heat until the oil is nearly smoking. Add the squid hoods and cook for 1 minute, then season to taste, turn and cook for another minute. Add the tentacles and cook for 30 seconds. Season to taste, turn the tentacles and hoods and cook for another 30 seconds, then remove from the pan.

Spoon the onion confit over warm serving plates. Stuff the squid tentacles back into the hoods and arrange them over the onion. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with the remaining parsley and serve hot.