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Donal Skehan’s simple summer seafood — versatile squid, a hearty risotto with mussels, and barbecued mackerel escabeche

Seafood is ideal for light summer eating. There’s plenty of options when it comes to a visit to the fishmonger, and it is a trip which is well worth the effort of making this time of year.

his week, I have three recipes for you that celebrate the diverse ways you can cook seafood. From reverse marinades, crispy, crunchy coatings and an interesting Italian baked rice dish that makes the most of mussels, there’s plenty here to switch up your seafood game.

Ask your fishmonger to clean and prepare squid for you and you will be left with an incredibly versatile ingredient. My recipe for chilli, salt and pepper squid with smacked cucumber salad is a good example of this — incredibly simple and quick to prepare, and the results are finger-licking good.

I think seafood only needs the simplest of ingredients to emphasize its flavour, and that is definitely the case with the salt, pepper and chilli here. The combination of cornflour and semolina gives ridiculously crunchy results to the squid pieces, and mildly “pickled” crushed cucumber provides cool, clean flavor to a dish worthy of the summer dinner table.

A formative travel series I filmed in Italy quite a few years ago now left me with the recipe for riso patate e cozz. This simple but delicious hearty seafood risotto still stands out as one of the most memorable dishes I tasted on my travels across the country. Hailing from Puglia, its simplicity is key, and the savory taste of the sea from plump mussels is injected into grains of Arborio rice cooked until tender with sweet tomatoes and herbs.

Lastly, a more recent revelation is the recipe for barbecued mackerel escabeche. Mackerel fillets are charred on the barbecue before sitting in an aromatic spiced reverse marinade of red wine vinegar and olive oil. Served chilled with baby potatoes, homemade mayo, torn chunks of crusty bread and perhaps some dressed salad leaves, it’s a surprising seafood feast!

Chilli, Salt & Pepper Squid with Smacked Cucumber Salad

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Chilli, Salt & Pepper Squid with Smacked Cucumber Salad. Picture: Donald Skehan

Time: 30 mins + marinating time Serves: 4

For the squid:
Vegetable oil for deep-frying, plus a little extra
450g medium-sized squid, cleaned
2 tbsp cornflour
3 tbsp semolina
1 tbsp ground paprika
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium-hot red chilli, thinly sliced ​​on the diagonal
2 spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced ​​on the diagonal

For the smacked cucumber salad:
1 baby cucumber
4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 small red onion, cut into very fine wedges

Method
1. To make the smashed cucumber salad, place the cucumber on a chopping board and smash several times with a rolling pin, then cut in half, scoop out the seeds, and cut into thin batons. Place the rice wine vinegar in a serving bowl and stir in the sugar to dissolve. Add the cucumber batons and onion wedges and toss to coat. Cover with cling film and store in the fridge for at least 10 minutes, or up to 8 hours.
2. When ready to serve, heat the vegetable oil in a deep-fat fryer to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5. Cut the body pouch of each squid open along one side and score the inner side with the tip of a small, sharp knife into a fine diamond pattern. Then cut each pouch lengthways in half, then across into 5cm pieces. Separate the tentacles into pairs.
3. Put the cornflour, semolina, paprika and a teaspoon of salt into a plastic freezer bag. Add the prepared squid and then toss to coat. Tip out onto a tray, knocking off any excess and leave for 1-2 minutes so that the cornflour mixture becomes slightly damp. This will give a crispier finish. If you drop in a small cube of bread and it fizzles up fiercely, you know the oil is hot enough. At this stage, fry the squid in batches for 1-2 minutes to get golden crunchiness.
4. Meanwhile, heat a little more oil in a wok or frying pan. Quickly sauté the chilli and spring onions for a couple of minutes until sizzling. Season to taste. Drain the squid on kitchen paper and then tip onto a platter. Sprinkle over the chilli mixture and arrange bowls of the smacked cucumber salad at both ends of the platter to serve.

Riso Patate E Cozze

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Riso Patate E Cozze. Picture: Donald Skehan

Time: 1 hour Serves: 6

ingredients
700g Arborio rice
2 onions, very finely diced
450g ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
A good handful of parsley, roughly chopped
A small handful of oregano, roughly chopped
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
5 tbsp of olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
900g mussels in the shell, scrubbed and mustarded
½ glass of dry white wine
900g waxy potatoes, peeled and sliced

Method
1. Mix the Arborio rice with the onion, tomato, celery, garlic, parsley, oregano, dried chilli flakes and a good glug of the olive oil. Season with sea salt and ground black pepper.
2. Place a large pot over a medium-high heat and add in the mussels and white wine. Cover with a lid and cook for 4-5 minutes until all the mussels have opened, throwing away any which do not. Strain the mussels, saving the cooking liquid. When cool, remove the meat from the shells.
3. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
4. Drizzle a medium-sized ovenproof baking dish with olive oil and spread a layer of the potato across the base. Season with sea salt and ground black pepper and spread with half the rice mixture. Top with the mussel meat and drizzle over half of the reserved cooking liquid.
5. Cover with another layer of potato slices and then spread over the remaining rice mixture. Drizzle the remaining cooking liquid on top and then pour in some boiling water to come halfway up the dish. Add a final layer of potatoes and drizzle with more olive oil. Give a final twist of black pepper and cover the dish tightly with foil.
6. Place in the oven to bake for 30 minutes. The dish is cooked when the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife and the rice is al dente. Remove the foil and cook uncovered for a further 10 minutes until the potatoes are golden. Remove from the oven and serve.

BBQ Mackerel Pickled

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BBQ Mackerel Pickled. Picture: Donald Skehan

Time: 1 hour + marinating time Serves: 6

ingredients
6 skin-on mackerel fillets
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed in a pestle and mortar
½ tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp sea salt
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
75ml red wine vinegar
50ml white wine
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed with the back of a knife
1 bay leaf
Handful of dill

For the mayonnaise:
1 egg yolk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ garlic clove, finely grated
200ml neutral oil, such as vegetable, sunflower or grapeseed
50ml olive oil
Juice of ½ a lemon, more to taste
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Large handful of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

For the potatoes:
500g waxy baby potatoes, halved
75g salted butter
Handful dill fronds, roughly chopped
1 spring onion, finely sliced
Zest ½ lemon
Sourdough, to serve

Method
1. Mix the crushed fennel seeds and chilli flakes with ½ teaspoon of the salt and 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil and smear onto the flesh side of the mackerel fillets. Cover and place into the fridge for 1 hour.
2. Meanwhile, make the mayonnaise. Place the egg yolk, Dijon mustard and garlic into a bowl with a pinch of salt and whisk together to combine. Gradually add the neutral oil in a thin, steady, but slow, stream, whisking continuously, until the mixture starts to thicken. Only at this point can you add the oil a little faster, but continue to whisk or your mayonnaise will split. If everything gets too thick, add a squeeze of lemon juice to loosen and then begin to add the oil again. When the neutral oil is combined, begin to add the olive oil in the same way. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add more lemon juice if preferred. Stir in the chopped parsley and set aside in the fridge until needed.
3. To make the escabeche, whisk together the remaining extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and white wine in a container big enough to fit the mackerel fillets snugly. Add the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, red onion and garlic cloves and stir to combine before adding in the bay leaf and dill. Set aside.
4. Heat the barbecue or a griddle pan to a high heat, remove the mackerel fillets from the fridge and fry skin-side down, for 3-4 minutes until the skin is crisp. Don’t worry if the flesh doesn’t look completely cooked through as it will cook in the escabeche. Transfer the fish to the escabeche, placing the mackerel fillet flesh-side down this time, and set aside for 20 minutes to cure.
5. While the fish cures, place a large pan of boiling salted water over a high heat and add the potatoes. Bring to the boil and cook for 10-15 minutes until tender. Then drain and place into a bowl.
6. Add the butter, dill, spring onion and lemon zest and season with salt and pepper. Toss to combine and then serve to the table with the parsley-flecked mayonnaise, the mackerel and some slices of toasted sourdough for mopping everything up.

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