Cuttlefish

Sepia apama (Giant Cuttlefish)
Sepia pharaonis (Pharaoh’s Cuttlefish)

Other names: Golden cuttlefish, Smith's cuttlefish.

Family: Sepiidae (cuttlefish).

Description:

Available wild-caught, these marine and estuarine dwelling cephalopods have an almost oval body with very narrow fins around the edges, 8 short arms and 2 much longer tentacles. They are found right around the Australian coast; the giant cuttlefish over reefs, seagrass beds and open grounds to a depth of 50m, and other species in sheltered estuaries over seagrass and reefs or offshore on the continental shelf to about 110m. Pharaoh’s cuttlefish is a by-catch of prawn trawling, while giant cuttlefish and other smaller species are targeted in southern waters mainly by trawlers. In NSW and Queensland smaller quantities are also caught using beach seines and traps.

Season: Available year round.

Size and Weight: Commonly 150g and 10cm mantle length, but can grow to over 5kg and 52cm.

Price: Low priced (usually cheaper than most squids and calamari).

Relations:

There are about 10 species of cuttlefish found in Australian waters. They are related to squids, calamari and octopus in that they are all cephalopods, differing from them in having broader, thicker bodies and shorter arms than squids and calamari, and a thick calcified internal shell (‘cuttlebone’, often seen in birds’ cages).

To Buy:

When purchasing fresh whole cuttlefish look for intact bright skin, intact head, arms and tentacles and a pleasant fresh sea smell. Cleaned tubes should be white without any brown markings.

To Store:

Make sure cuttlefish is gutted and cleaned thoroughly. Wrap in plastic wrap or place in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months below -18ºC.

To Cook:

To clean whole cuttlefish: rinse, especially if ink sac is broken. Grasp the cuttlebone, through the tube, between thumb and forefinger and twist. The cuttlebone will cut through the skin and come away easily; discard the bone. Using your thumb to split the firm flesh away from the membrane, tear the tube open along the line where the cuttlebone was, starting from the base. Working from one side, break the intestinal sac (with arms and tentacles attached) away from the tube. Cut below the eyes; discard eyes and everything above them. Rinse, especially if the ink sac is broken. The arms and tentacles can also be washed and used. Push the beak (mouth) out from between the arms. Place the tube on a chopping board, skin-side down. Grasp a small side fin on one side and, using your thumb to separate the skin from the flesh, peel the flesh away from skin. Lay out flat and, working across the tube (not from top to bottom), wipe both sides of the tube firmly with paper towel to remove any remaining membrane. Slice the hood into strips, or score in a crosshatch pattern (called ‘honeycombing’). If slicing tubes that haven’t been honeycombed, slice from top to bottom of tube (not across tube) to prevent curling. It is also possible to cook cuttlefish without peeling it, the skin will turn a dark purple as it cooks. Average yield is 50%. It has a mild, subtle flavour, low-medium oiliness, and is dry with firm texture, which can be tough if poorly prepared. The flesh is translucent when raw and white when cooked.

Cooking Methods:

Steam, poach, deep-fry, pan-fry, stir-fry, bake, braise, grill, barbecue, raw (sashimi). To be tender, cuttlefish must be cooked very quickly over high heat or very slowly over low heat. The flesh of the mantle, arms and tentacles is suitable for a wide variety of preparations, strips can be dusted in seasoned flour and deep-fried or marinated and char-grilled or stir-fried. Cuttlefish ink is the traditional ingredient in black risotto or pasta (rather than that of squid or calamari). 

Goes well with:

Black beans, capers, capsicum, chilli, fresh herbs, garlic, ginger, green onions, lemongrass, lemon, lime, mushrooms, olive oil, olives, pasta, polenta, potato, rice, soy sauce, tomato.

Alternatives:

Squids, calamari and, in some recipes, octopus.

Imports:

Various species are imported, mainly from South East Asia, whole (cleaned, frozen and dried), as ‘steaks’, ‘cuttle crackers’ and shredded.

Recipes:

Black Handkerchief Pasta with Seafood & Tomato Sauce >
Catalan-style Cuttlefish >
Cuttlefish, Potato & Spinach Salad > 
Cuttlefish with Chorizo & Potatoes >
Salad of Cuttlefish, Tomato & Sweet Sour Onions >  
Seafood Hotpot >
Spicy Barbecued Cuttlefish with Cherry Tomato & Sprout Salad > 
Stir-Fried Cuttlefish, Asparagus & Oyster Mushrooms with Noodles >