March 12, 2015
The versatile cephalopod comes to dinner.
Yep, it's just squid, but when it comes to the table, it's calamari. Then it's romantic, and despite bringing up scary visions of Captain Nemo's crew repelling a gigantic 10-legged specimen from the deck of the Nautilus, it's a good way to capture the heart of your best friend on Valentine's Day.
We often think of squid as bait, and surprisingly the frozen “food-grade” squid sold in specialty seafood shops is the same as what you can purchase in bait shops. Fresh squid is best, but can be hard to find in our region of the country. In the northeast, it's readily available. Frozen or fresh, squid requires some simple cleaning, mostly to remove the cuttlebone, head and innards before it can be cut into rings for cooking. Or, as my good friends at Northwest Seafood in Gainesville have trained me to do, you can buy bags of flash-frozen Peruvian squid rings, ready to cook.
There are numerous ways to cook squid. In a ceviche they're “cooked” by the acids in vinegar or citrus juice. In the more popular finger-food version they're battered and deep-fried, then served with any one of a variety of dipping sauces. Popular sauces range from bland (ketchup!) to fiery hot (see below), and the batters range from corn flour fish fry coating to light-and-puffy tempura.
I prefer tempura with a sauce that's spicy, but no so hot as to cover up the distinctive flavor of the calamari. Deep-frying isn't rocket science, but understanding heat loss when adding cold things to 375-degree canola oil is. I recommend dipping your calamari rings into the batter and then placing them one or two at a time into the oil using a chopstick or wooden skewer. Keep your oil hot or risk sogginess.
Finally, don't overcook! Squid, like scallops, shrimp and lobster, can turn from delightfully tender to chewy in just a matter of seconds. Just cook your calamari until they're golden brown, head them towards the table as soon as possible—and enjoy! FS
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. cornstarch
12 ounces ice-cold soda water
1 tsp. salt
Whisk ingredients and allow to sit 10 minutes before using.
Fiery Chili Sauce
4 or 5 chili peppers (not seeded)
2 jalapeno peppers (seeded)
6 cloves garlic
½ cup rice vinegar
½ cup fresh pineapple
Puree all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Pour into a small container, cover and refrigerate for up to a week. When I say “fiery” I mean it. So consider mixing with some bottled chili sauce when serving. Remember, it's important to taste the pepper and the calamari—and not be made uncomfortable by the heat!
First published Florida Sportsman February 2015