Burmese Mermaid

Burmese Mermaid

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Cuttlefish Stew

I'm just getting to know the amazing qualities of cuttlefish. Did you know they are one of the most intelligent animals on land or sea?

Asians and Italians are the world's most enthusiastic consumers of cuttlefish (in Italy, cuttlefish are called totani; squid are called calamari). Asians most often preserve cuttlefish by drying them. Most Italians obtain frozen totani originating in Asian waters.

We Burmese eschew cuttlefish, along with most other ocean cephalopods and salt water fish, for some unknown reason. Instead, river prawns and fresh water fish are our protein mainstays.

Once, about 80 years ago (mermaids live a long time; I myself am 567 years old; and contrary to myth we are not immortal), off the coast of southern Italy, I was served a dish of cuttlefish stew by a fisherman. We mermaids would never kill to eat one of our co-inhabitants of the ocean...
but I watched as he made the stew and...relished the finished dish.

Cuttlefish Stew ~ Totani in Umido
A pound of totani will serve about 4 people.

First, clean the totani by removing the inner sac of the body. Remove also the flexible, bony cartilage. It should slip out easily. In the middle of the tentacles, you will find the eyes. With a bit of pressure, they should pop out easily.

Next, using a pair of kitchen scissors, separate the tentacles from the body. Cut the body into bite sized pieces, about the size and shape of a small pinky finger. If the tentacles are large, cut them also into bite sized pieces. For easy, tender totani, use a pressure cooker and cook for about 10 minutes in a bit of water or wine. Drain.

Make the sauce: saute garlic, thinly sliced onion and hot red pepper in olive oil. Add the totani along with a splash of white wine. Let it cook over a vivacious heat for a minute or two. Then add about a cup of crushed tomatoes, fresh or canned, without the liquid, and toss in a sprig of fresh basil. Simmer, covered, for about 20 or 30 minutes. Remove cover in the last 5 minutes of cooking. Good hot or at room temperature. Serve with good, crusty bread.

I happened to be very hungry that evening after playing non-stop with dolphins all day. And while I was most appreciative of this dish, which deeply satisfied my body, my heart ached for my cuttlefish brethren who end up on a plate.

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