I recently read an article which referred to squid as the “real chicken of the sea” – an assessment I believe couldn’t be more apt. Given its prodigious and ubiquitous inclusion, usually in some sort of fried form, on menus these days, it might seem odd that we highlight it as something of a thoughtful culinary show-stopper. However – in my view, anyways – the greatest, tastiest and incredible range of applications featuring squid remain somewhat overlooked by many.
As with many milder ingredients, the true pleasure of squid is found in its textures and capacity to enhance and deliver other bolder flavours achieved both through the addition of other ingredients, as well as the preparation methods themselves. While fried squid might be the most common way to cook these delicious morsels, I have a particular soft spot for the crispy charred edges only achieved when squid hits a hot grill.
Buying Fresh Squid
For starters, buying whole fresh squid is much less expensive than purchasing it pre-processed and frozen – not to mention much tastier and more tender. With that said, most fish markets offer whole fresh squid which have already been cleaned – a service which is well worth the small charge. Like most fish and seafood, squid has a light briny smell and when fresh should not smell overtly “fishy”. Look for squid that are plump and shiny, rather than dull or slimy. And again, like most seafood, it’s best to purchase squid as close to the time you’ll be cooking it as possible, however it will last in the fridge for a day or two without spoiling.
Cleaning + Preparation
The squid is made up of two main edible parts – the body, which is generally cut crosswise into rings or strips, and the tentacles, which require a thorough rinsing before you cook them. When handling full squid, you’ll find that the tentacle portion is quite easily removed from the body – you can simply take hold of the tentacles and pull them out. Once you’ve removed them, there is a small amount of cartilage found at the top of the body, near where it connected to the tentacles. Simply trim this cartilage away, and you’ll be left with a sort of “sack” which can be broken down into either strips or rings, depending on your preference. Cutting these into thinner pieces (not more than 1/4 inch thick) will help keep these morsels tender and easy to eat. The tentacles are best split vertically into to pieces which can then be cooked as you please. Last but certainly not least, if time permits, we’ve found that soaking the raw squid in milk (or buttermilk) is an excellent way to gently tenderize squid, and enhances the meaty flavour of this delicious seafood. Allow the processes pieces of squid to bath in milk or buttermilk for 2-4 hours before cooking, and pat them dry with paper towel before you cook them.
OK – I know that fried squid is pretty tasty stuff, but given that most of us don’t have access to a deep-fryer in our kitchens at home, today we’re going to take a look at a wide range of other ways to celebrate and elevate the humble squid. Full disclosure: I have a special place in my heart (and mouth and stomach!) for grilled squid. If I were to sit down and compile a shortlist of 5 or 10 of my absolute favourite things to eat, chargrilled squid would rank near the very top of that list. There’s something about the crunchy and smoky charred bits – particularly the tentacles – that I find wicked tasty. I have to secrets for grilling squid – first, is to give it a good dose of olive oil before grilling, and the second is to make sure it hits a screaming hot grill. I want a bit of flame to kiss these guys as they cook and to get them on and off the grill in relatively short order. This blast of intense heat gets the crunchy bits I’m looking for without overcooking the squid and making it tough. Other cooking methods you might want to consider are ceviche treatments – that splash of acidity and fresh herbs is awesome, or slow roasting them, particularly in a bath of tomatoes. Either of these methods allow you to add big time flavour to the accompaniments, allowing the squid to enjoy its best use as a vehicle to deliver amazing flavour.
[ Recipes ]
Watermelon, Tomato + Grilled Squid Salad: RECIPE
Wine Match: Albarino or Godello from Spain
Chargrilled Whole Squid w/ Chilli + Mint: RECIPE
Wine Match: Slightly off-dry Mosel Riesling or Txakoli from Spain
Korean-style Stir-Fried Squid: RECIPE
Wine Match: Chenin Blanc from South Africa or the Loire Valley
Calamari Po Boy Sandwich: RECIPE
Wine Match: Barrel Aged Chardonnay or young Pinot Noir
Pecorino + Bread Crumb Stuffed Tomato-Braised Squid: RECIPE
Wine Match: Young Tempranillo from Spain or Merlot from northern Italy