Life Table Talk

Thursday 28 August 2014

Rachel Allen dishes up a taste of the Mediterranean

Rachel Allen

Published 30/06/2014 | 02:30

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Squid salad

One bite of soft, yielding squid transports me to my youth and a holiday in Spain.

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There the squid is as fresh as it gets, slapped on the grill and served with nothing but salt, raw garlic and lemon. It’s a bold, confident way to serve squid, demanding very fresh squid and a very hot grill. To me, it was the perfect food to eat in the sun by the sea.

Some people claim to not like squid. They say it’s tough and rubbery, but I say it absolutely doesn’t have to be!

The basic rule is to either cook it quickly on a high heat, or low and slowly. Anywhere in between and you do risk a plate of rubber bands.

That doesn’t mean you should avoid cooking squid. You don’t need a barbecue or any special pan. Just get a normal frying pan very hot and add the oil right before you add the squid. Your squid will be wonderfully tender, with just the right amount of resistance.

Squid really stands up to strong flavours — not just lemon and garlic — but other ingredients, such as chillies or even chorizo sausage. In the recipe opposite, stuffed with the spicy sausage, the squid takes on a more earthy flavour, while the sherry, or wine, adds a lovely rich nuttiness.

This dish is beautiful and is great for dinner parties. You can make the filling — make sure to cool it down before stuffing the squid! — and stuff the squids ahead of time. Then, all you have to do to serve them is fry them quickly in the pan.

The salad, opposite, is a simple recipe, where the flavour of the squid competes only with the smoky paprika and punchy capers. I love to serve this salad as an elegant starter, or even a light lunch.

Finally, I’ve included a recipe for fried squid rings, also known as calamari, a restaurant dish found across the world. I adore them. The crunchy crust contrasts so well with the soft squid. They are divine to dunk in the sweet and rich tomato aioli.

GRILLED SQUID SALAD

Serves 2-4.

You will need:

2 squid (roughly 350g (12oz) total

prepared weight — see method, below)

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed

4 handfuls of rocket leaves

2 tomatoes, cut into 1cm (¼in) dice,

or 12 cherry tomatoes, quartered

Squeeze of lemon juice, plus lemon wedges to serve

If your fishmonger hasn’t already cleaned the squid, rinse each one in water and, holding the body in one hand and the tentacles in the other, carefully pull the tentacles and gut away from the body in one piece. Remove the wings, and retain. Feel inside the body for the hard quill, pull it out and discard it.

Using a sharp knife, make a cut down one side of the squid’s body, then open it out flat. Scrape away any traces of gut, then lightly score the flesh in a criss-cross pattern. Do the same to the wings, then cut both these and the body into pieces roughly 3cm (1¼in) square. Cut the tentacles away from the gut. Discard the gut and slice the tentacles in half. Repeat with the other squid.

In a bowl, mix together half the olive oil with the smoked paprika, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the prepared squid pieces and mix well.

Place a griddle pan or large frying pan on a high heat and allow it to get hot. Transfer the squid from the bowl to the hot pan and cook for 2-4 minutes on each side, or until slightly browned (and lightly charred if using a griddle pan). Add the capers to the pan for the last 30 seconds of cooking. While the squid cooks, place the rocket leaves in a bowl with the diced or quartered tomatoes, whichever you’re using, the lemon juice and the remaining olive oil, and toss together, seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Divide the salad between plates, place the cooked squid on top, along with the capers, add the lemon wedges and serve immediately.

 

Squid stuffed with chorizo

Serves 8.

You will need:

8 small-medium squid (about 1kg (2¼lb) total prepared weight — see method, below)

4 tablespoons olive oil

200g (7oz) chorizo, cut into

roughly 1cm cubes

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

100ml (3½fl oz) dry sherry or white wine

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

First, prepare the squid. Remove the wings and slice off the harder cartilage edge, without piercing the body.

Use a knife to cut away the tentacles just above where they join the body. Reserve the tentacles. Next, use your fingers to pull everything out from the body’s cavity and discard. 

Make sure everything, including the cartilage quill and the guts, have been removed, though be careful not to pierce the body. Rinse the insides clean under running water and set the squid aside.

Next, roughly chop up the tentacles and wings, and set aside also.

Place a frying pan on a medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, followed by the chorizo cubes.

Cook for 3-5 minutes, then add the chopped onion and the chopped garlic. Cook for 6-8 minutes, until softened and a little golden, then increase the heat to high.

Add the chopped tentacles and the wings, season with the salt and freshly ground black pepper and fry for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. 

Then add in the sherry or white wine, whichever you’re using, and cook for a further 2 minutes, until the liquid has reduced. Remove from the heat, stir in the chopped parsley and set aside to cool.

Next, stuff the squid with the cooled mixture. Don’t stuff them too full, as they will contract — two-thirds full is fine — then use a toothpick to close the open end.

To cook, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the frying pan and place on a medium-high heat. When hot, add the stuffed squid, season with the salt and freshly ground black pepper, and cook for a few minutes on each side until tender.

Serve immediately with rice or a green salad.

 

Calamari with tomato aioli

Serves 4.

For the aioli, you will need:

150g (5½oz) tinned chopped tomatoes

3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A pinch of sugar

300ml (11fl oz) mayonnaise

1 tablespoon basil, finely chopped

For the squid, you will need:

Sunflower oil, for deep-frying

100ml (3½fl oz) milk

100g (3½oz) plain flour

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

450g (1lb) small-medium cleaned/prepared squid (see previous recipes), cut into rings roughly 1cm wide

Lemon wedges to serve

First, make the aioli. Tip the chopped tomatoes and the crushed garlic into a saucepan and simmer on a medium heat for 15-20 minutes, or until it’s reduced by almost half to a thick paste. Season with the salt and freshly ground black pepper, add the pinch of sugar, then remove from the heat and leave to cool completely.

Once it’s cool, stir the tomato paste into the mayonnaise and add the finely chopped basil. Taste for seasoning, then spoon into a serving bowl and place in the fridge until needed.

Next, heat the sunflower oil in a deep-fat fryer to 180°C (350°F). Alternatively, pour the oil into a large saucepan to a depth of 2cm (¾in) and bring to the same temperature on the hob. Check the temperature with a sugar thermometer or, alternatively, use a cube of bread to test the oil.

Pour the milk into a bowl and place the flour in another, seasoning the flour with the salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Working in batches, dip each squid first in the milk, then in the flour, to coat, shaking off any excess.

Deep-fry in the oil for 1-2 minutes, until crisp and golden, turning the squid halfway through the cooking.

Drain the cooked squid well on kitchen paper and keep warm, uncovered, in a low oven while cooking the remaining squid in the same way. Serve immediately with the lemon wedges and the aioli. 

 

Grilled Squid Salad

Serves 2-4.

You will need:

2 squid (roughly 350g (12oz) total

prepared weight — see method, below)

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed

4 handfuls of rocket leaves

2 tomatoes, cut into 1cm (¼in) dice,

or 12 cherry tomatoes, quartered

Squeeze of lemon juice, plus lemon wedges to serve

If your fishmonger hasn’t already cleaned the squid, rinse each one in water and, holding the body in one hand and the tentacles in the other, carefully pull the tentacles and gut away from the body in one piece. Remove the wings, and retain. Feel inside the body for the hard quill, pull it out and discard it.

Using a sharp knife, make a cut down one side of the squid’s body, then open it out flat. Scrape away any traces of gut, then lightly score the flesh in a criss-cross pattern. Do the same to the wings, then cut both these and the body into pieces roughly 3cm (1¼in) square. Cut the tentacles away from the gut. Discard the gut and slice the tentacles in half. Repeat with the other squid.

In a bowl, mix together half the olive oil with the smoked paprika, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the prepared squid pieces and mix well.

Place a griddle pan or large frying pan on a high heat and allow it to get hot. Transfer the squid from the bowl to the hot pan and cook for 2-4 minutes on each side, or until slightly browned (and lightly charred if using a griddle pan). Add the capers to the pan for the last 30 seconds of cooking. While the squid cooks, place the rocket leaves in a bowl with the diced or quartered tomatoes, whichever you’re using, the lemon juice and the remaining olive oil, and toss together, seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Divide the salad between plates, place the cooked squid on top, along with the capers, add the lemon wedges and serve immediately.

Squid stuffed with chorizo

Serves 8.

You will need:

8 small-medium squid (about 1kg (2¼lb) total prepared weight — see method, below)

4 tablespoons olive oil

200g (7oz) chorizo, cut into

roughly 1cm cubes

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

100ml (3½fl oz) dry sherry or white wine

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

First, prepare the squid. Remove the wings and slice off the harder cartilage edge, without piercing the body.

Use a knife to cut away the tentacles just above where they join the body. Reserve the tentacles. Next, use your fingers to pull everything out from the body’s cavity and discard. 

Make sure everything, including the cartilage quill and the guts, have been removed, though be careful not to pierce the body. Rinse the insides clean under running water and set the squid aside.

Next, roughly chop up the tentacles and wings, and set aside also.

Place a frying pan on a medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, followed by the chorizo cubes.

Cook for 3-5 minutes, then add the chopped onion and the chopped garlic. Cook for 6-8 minutes, until softened and a little golden, then increase the heat to high.

Add the chopped tentacles and the wings, season with the salt and freshly ground black pepper and fry for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. 

Then add in the sherry or white wine, whichever you’re using, and cook for a further 2 minutes, until the liquid has reduced. Remove from the heat, stir in the chopped parsley and set aside to cool.

Next, stuff the squid with the cooled mixture. Don’t stuff them too full, as they will contract — two-thirds full is fine — then use a toothpick to close the open end.

To cook, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the frying pan and place on a medium-high heat. When hot, add the stuffed squid, season with the salt and freshly ground black pepper, and cook for a few minutes on each side until tender.

Serve immediately with rice or a green salad.

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