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Baby squid, the most popular Spanish cephalopod

Wikispanishfood.com editorial team

They are cephalopods which are commonly found in Spanish waters and whose name comes from the Latincalamarius, meaning "pen case".In fact, this popular cephalopod has an internal sac full of thick, black ink that darkens the water and enables it to escape its predators. Some of the most famous dishes pay tribute to this delicious product of the sea.

Baby squid are very popular throughout Spain. They are versatile and have a lot of character, they combine very well with many ingredients, and they can be prepared in countless ways. For many people, the smallest specimens contain the essence of their flavor, and they are a delicacy of the Spanish seas which peak in popularity in summer.

Baby squid have a small shell inside their bodies, which gives them shape, and fins with which to swim, just like fish. Their heads have large, round eyes, and their mouths have jaws. They have ten arms, two of which are retractable tentacles.

Tender and versatile

This highly valued ingredient, which is smooth, tender and extraordinarily versatile, is increasingly scarce (despite being a species that reproduces considerably and of which there are many more females than males), mainly due to abusive fishing practices, which have been rampant on the Spanish coast for some time.

Perhaps one of the secrets to its unusual flavor is its diet, which consists mainly of small crustaceans and fish. Squid can grow to be up to a meter long, but the most delicious baby squid are small, measuring less than 10 centimeters; they have an exquisite flavor and are the most sought-after by chefs.

They can be prepared in numerous ways, including stuffed with their own meat, sautéed, fried, cooked with onions, etc.; however, the most popular recipe is baby squid in their own ink, a recipe with which many chefs create true works of art and which is served in almost all restaurants. They can also be used as stuffing for Piquillo peppers, another notable recipe.

The Countess of Pardo Bazán and Juan Mari Arzak

The Countess of Pardo Bazán popularized a classic stuffed baby squid recipe. With her peculiar prose, she advises first to "select small, fine baby squid. Separate the head from the sac and remove the ink. The heads and tentacles should be chopped up with pork tenderloin, sobrasada (Mallorcan sausage), salt, pepper and cinnamon. Stuff the heads with the mixture, dip them in a beaten egg and breadcrumbs, and gently fry them with refrito de tomate (tomato sauce with a hint of onion and garlic)."

According to Juan Mari Arzak, a top Spanish chef, baby squid is one of Spain's leading products, but he highlights that it is seasonal, and products should be eaten when they are in season. Together with hake and tuna, this is one of Spain's most representative "treasures of the sea". It has many possibilities in cooking and leaves a lot of room for creativity. The season began in June and July, and baby squid continue to grow until September, when they are considerably larger.  

 If we cook them in red wine, they pair well with a red wine, and if we cook them in white wine, we should accompany them with a white; in short, they work well with almost everything. They combine perfectly with a range of whites, with a fortified dry wine aged in wood, for example, and also with young reds. For a filling recipe like stuffed baby squid, a crianza red wine, such as a Rioja, is the perfect accompaniment.

To try them, we suggest several restaurants where baby squid are given pride of place, such as at ARZAK, where Juan Mari and his daughter Elena serve a baby squid dish mysterious but delicious. At NERUA, inside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, with its spectacular dining room designed by Frank Gehry, creative chef Josean Alija prepares squid confit with black broth. Igor Arregi, from ELKANO, in Getaria, serves grilled baby squid with black sauce.And in San Sebastián, Pablo Loureiro's restaurant BRANKA prepares them Pelayo-style (cooked with onion and green pepper), a very popular recipe in the area, while customers at CASA UROLA can try them grilled with tomato tartar. Basque ciderhouse ELPIMIENTO VERDE, which has several locales in Madrid, serves very tasty croquettes filled with baby squid in their own ink.

ADDRESS

ARZAK. Alto de Miracruz. Tfno. 943 278 465. San Sebastián www.arzak.info/index.html

NERUA. Museo Guggenheim. Abandoibarra, 2. Tfno, 944000 430. Bilbao www.nerua.com/

ELKANO. Herrerieta, 2. Tfno943 140 024, Getaria. Guipúzcoa. www.restauranteelkano.com/

BRANKA. Eduardo Chillida, 13. Tfno. 943 317 096. San Sebastián. www.branka-tenis.com/index.html

CASA UROLA. Fermín Calbetón, 20 Tfno.943 441 371, San Sebastián. www.casaurolajatetxea.es/es/portada/

EL PIMIENTO VERDE. Lagasca, 46. Tfno. 915 764 135. Madrid www.elpimientoverde.com/

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11/12/2014