From Cathy Hall. "Are you one of those squid-squeamish people that squirm at the sight of raw squid? Does its slimy, transparency deter you from preparing one of the seas culinary delights? Come on, you can do it – become a squid convert and astound your family and friends. A bit of background to help you on your way.
Calamari is an Italian word for squid. They are part of the mollusc family and their versatility work well in a variety of delightful preparations of this sweet tasting, firm-textured meat. Squid is low in fat—(approximately 1.5 grams per 100 gm serving) and is also a great source of potassium, iron, zinc and iodine.
There are 2 appendages, known as ‘tentacles’ attached to the head, and a further eight arms—the distinguishing feature between squid and its cousin octopi. It is the tentacles that are used in capturing prey. The squid has a transparent “pen” which supports its pliable, main body portion (known as the mantle). This pen is considered to be the animal’s “shell,” aligning it to the mollusc shellfish family. Squid are specialists in the sea. They propel their torpedo-shaped bodies through the water by squirting water through their siphons. Fins along their sides act as stabilisers. The ‘ink’ is a defence mechanism enabling the squid to disappear from predators – now you see it, now you don’t. The ink is highly sought after by foodie afficianados who use it to add colour to pasta and also in certain sauces.
TYPES OF SQUID
There are basically 3 types of squid that you will encounter when purchasing:
whole tubes & tentacles– These are generally from smaller varieties of squid. They are delicious deep fried in batter or flour
steaks – these are the mantles from larger squid. You would not often see the entire squid as they are typically cut up and tenderised, ready for pan-frying
rings – these are mantles (main body portion) which have been cleaned and sliced into rings for grilling or deep frying in batter
The rule for cooking squid is a basic one – either cook very quickly on very high heat (1 – 2 minutes), or cook for longer (up to 20 minutes). This will ensure that it will be tender. Some cooks have a mistaken belief that cooking squid is difficult; not so. This view probably stems from an over- or insufficient cooking time. Cook squid very quickly in a very hot pan—no more than 2 minutes (the colour should change from transparent to white and the sides curl in); if it cooks any longer and becomes tough, cooking should be extended at a more moderate heat for about 20 minutes, by which time the meat should be tender again. I tend to lean towards the short cooking time and it works really well, particularly when deep-frying, pan-frying or grilling.
It is rare that you would have to clean squid, as most fishmongers are happy to do this messy job for you. In the event that you are roughing it up on the beach, far from an obliging fishmonger, and catch your own squid, the following guidelines could help.
Carefully pull the head and entrails away from the body of the squid and remove the transparent ‘pen’ from inside the body. Cut the tentacles from the head just below the eyes and discard the head. Remove side flaps and skin from squid hood (this is a slippery process and rubbing your hands in salt makes the job easier). Some strength may be required to pull off the skin. Wash the hood & tentacles thoroughly. The hood can be cut into rings or, if not too large, either grilled or pan-fried whole. Another tasty variation is to stuff the hood. The tentacles if smallish, can be cooked whole. Otherwise, cut into bite sized pieces.
SELECTION AND FREEZING
Under the purplish-brown thin skin, there should be no discoloration on the mantle (main body portion). Opaque white is a sign of good quality. The flesh should smell good—clean and fresh—so make sure to give it a sniff. If you have a reputable fishmonger, this procedure should not be necessary.
Once you have purchased your squid, it should keep for 2 – 3 days in the refrigerator. Place on a plate covered with cling wrap or in an airtight container. To freeze, place in an airtight container or freezer bag (air removed) for up to 3 months. Allow to defrost thoroughly before cooking otherwise it will be tough and rubbery.
Shake off that resistance, get adventurous. It is an extremely versatile food that can be fried, grilled, poached or steamed, baked and cooked in a microwave, although I must confess I have never resorted to this last option. I am told that it works well enough.
If tentacles are more than you can take, try a squid steak or tubes cut into rings quickly pan-fried in butter. A sprinkling of salt & pepper and a splash of fresh lemon juice ……mmmm, delicious.
Remember, the golden squid rule – for tender and juicy squid, do not overcook !!!!!
Deep Fried Calamari
- 250 gms small calamari tubes & tentacles
- ¼ cup flour
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp dried dill (optional)
- lemon wedges
- oil, for deep frying
- Wash calamari if necessary, and pat dry with paper towels
- Combine flour, salt, pepper and dill
- Add calamari and coat well all over (I find that popping the calamari and flour mixture into a plastic bag works really well as you can shake the flour mixture to totally coat the calamari)
- Tip calamari into a sieve and shake off excess flour mixture
- Place on a plate and refrigerate for about 30 minutes
- Heat oil in a heavy, deep frying pan or wok
- When the oil is really hot, add calamari in batches (this helps retain a high temperature)
- When calamari is brown and crisp (2-3 minutes), remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and add next batch
- Serve with lemon wedges
- As a main course, this can be accompanied by rice, garlic butter and peri-peri sauce
Note: If the calamari is overcooked, it will be tough and rubbery