Monday, March 23, 2009

Squid Pro Quo

A lot of people find squid daunting and I guess that's not too surprising. They don't have a very recognizable anatomy - unless you're into cephalopods - they don't look like mammals, fish or crustaceans. And really, what other food has tentacles?

But sometimes life's finer things require just a little research and a slightly larger leap of faith to reap amazing results. So for those of you out there in your cyber-kitchens thinking that you just might be ready to take the plunge and start cooking with marine mollusks (a much more daunting one can be found here), follow me into the wonderful wriggly world of Squid 101.

Whether you call it squid, kalamari or ika, it's just plain yummy. I grew up in a neighbourhood in Vancouver that used to be predominantly Greek. Fried squid and squid or octopus braised in a tomato sauce were common dishes in the local restaurants and homes. Most countries with coastal areas have some form of squid in their diet and for good reason. High in protein, low in fat and relatively inexpensive. What's not to love? The only thing you need to remember if you want to cook with cephalopods is that they need to be cooked either quickly (1 or 2 minutes) or for a very long time (braised for an hour or more). Raw is another tasty option but I'll leave the details of cephalopod sashimi to someone else for now.

Cochin, being on the coast of Kerala and the beautiful Arabian Sea has an amazing selection of seafood. A few days ago we were at the main Ernakulam market taking some still photos and looking for some dinner. Our local Kaloor market has a good stock of seafood (as well as fruit, veg and fresher-than-you-can-conceive-of meats) but the Ernakulam main market takes edible consumerism to a whole new level. To a theme song of "Yes, Madam", "One picture please" , "Coming from...?" and vendors sucking air between their teeth, we moved through the labyrinthine streets and buildings that comprise the market and found ourselves standing in front of some absolutely stunning squid. There were cockles and crabs and the biggest kingfish we've seen to date but it was the glistening pinky-purple squid that called out to us for dinner. How to purchase squid? Fresh squid should not be fishy smelling just smelling faintly of briny sea water. Most of the tentacles should be intact and the bodies should not look wilted or dried out. Squid is best kept on ice.

So we bought 1.5 kg (which turned out to be two meals worth) of this slippery goodness, picked up a few more supplies and headed home with kalamari on the brain. Speaking of brains, time for a squid anatomy lesson and the art of cleaning squid. When you look at a squid it looks like it has two sections, a long tube-like piece which is the body and a squidgily tentacle/eye piece that appears to be barely connected to the tube. Step number one in cleaning a squid is to separate the two pieces. Grab the tube end with one hand and the tentacle end with the other and gently pull apart. Put down the tube for a moment and with the other piece cut off anything north of the tentacles: meaning the eyes, the beak (which is nestled where the tentacles come together and is a hard pyramid shaped thingy) and the tentacle-like gooeyness that had been attached to the tube. Set the tentacles aside, discard the other stuff and pick up the tube piece. Have a look in the open end of the tube and you will see what looks like a translucent bit of plastic on one side, this is the quill. Pull it out and discard it. Then, starting at the sealed end of the tube, pinch your fingers and run them up the squid body as if you were trying to get that last bit of toothpaste out of the tube. Do this over the sink or a plate because gooey stuff will squish out. Discard the gooey stuff. Ink may also come out at this point, if it does, just give the squid a rinse under the tap. If the squid has a purplish coloured membrane on it , then the tube needs to be peeled. Run your thumb along the surface of the tube and you should notice the coloured membrane roll off under your thumb. If it doesn't start to roll, apply a little more pressure or try to run your thumb in a different direction along the tube. All the coloured purply-pink stuff just rolls off easily once you get it started. Discard the membrane. You can run the squid under the tap, or not, depending on your comfort level. Rob thinks the squid taste better if you don't run water over them. I haven't noticed a difference and it's easier to work with if you rinse them. You may find as you are cleaning your squid that you discover whole little fishies in the bodies - we found two on this batch - that the squid didn't have time to eat before getting scooped up in a net. We discarded the fish but I suppose you could fry them up with your squid and eat them whole.

Once you have the cleaned tube and the de-beaked and de-eyed the tentacles, you're ready to start cutting. The squid we had were fairly small so we didn't bother to cut the tentacles at all, but you can if you like. When making Chinese food we often slit the tubes open and cut a cross-hatched pattern onto the flattened tube which makes them curl up and the extra surface area allows them to catch all sorts of yummy flavours in a stir-fry. You can go Mediterranean and stuff the bodies with grains, breadcrumbs, herbs, spices and little bits of nuts or bacon. But we were opting for Greek style fried squid so we sliced the tubes into rings and dredged the rings and tentacles in a mixture of flour, salt, pepper and a bit of chili powder. Once lightly coated with the flour, shake off any excess and carefully fry the squid in small batches in a couple of inches of oil. Fry for about one minute, then using a slotted spoon, scoop the fried squid onto a paper-lined plate to absorb the excess oil and sprinkle with a bit of salt while still hot. Serve with sliced red onion, lemon or lime wedges and tzatziki (yogurt, grated cucumber, chopped mint, minced garlic, salt and black pepper) for dipping. What a feast!

A note on the oil: Rob decided to fry in coconut oil since that is the main oil we use here. At home we would probably use peanut or canola oil. What a surprise to discover that squid fried in coconut oil taste astonishingly similar to bacon! A bit smoky, a bit porky and a lot tasty. We were all so surprised - and pleased - we haven't had any pork in over 4 months and Rob's home-cured bacon is a Bailey family favourite!

So, how hard was that? Next time you see a glistening pile of fresh squid at your local market or fishmongers, don't skip over them! Squid just want to be loved. Is that so wrong?

1 comment:

Sam said...

sounds yummy (and I remember from Mike's days at Candia Taverna a LOT of work in the prep)... now off to make scrambled eggs and toast for the boys' supper with the ubiquitous cucumber, apples and carrot sticks on-side - or will that be another grilled cheese dears? xx