Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking
It’s an ugly little word, squid. Maybe that is why it is often referred to by its Italian name, calamari.
The squid is like a junior version of octopus, but it’s easier to cook. This recipe is called sea-flavoured because we’re not going to smother it with sauce: we’re just going to cook it quickly with the sea water that’s in it.
This is very different from the most common treatment: you often see deep-fried squid rings, made with bigger ones. They can be okay if you’ve got something good to dip them in, but that’s all the flavour you’re getting.
Baby squid are about the length of your fingers and the body is thin. They can be found in fishmongers’, supermarkets or even fishing tackle shops, because sea anglers sometimes us them as bait.
If you can find fresh ones, so much the better, but frozen is okay too. You will need to let them thaw before you start working with them.
Cleaning a squid means first cutting off the tentacles – they’re so small that nobody should be squeamish about them, but if one of your guests is, just keep them for yourself. Then you remove the funny little piece of clear material that gives it a bit of rigidity, almost like a spine. It looks like plastic and wouldn’t be a nice thing to find when you’re eating, so just pinch it between a finger and thumb and drag it out.
Finally there is the gunge to deal with: it’s slimy but not unpleasant or foul smelling, so don’t be afraid of it. You can turn a squid inside out if you want, or pinch it at the bottom (the closed end) and slide your grip up, forcing the stuff out.
This is going to take a few minutes for a few dozen baby squid, but it’s got to be done, and the good thing is that the actual cooking is very quick.
Get the potatoes going first: microwave them for three or four minutes, depending on size, then, when there’s a bit of give in them, cut them into wedges and put them into a bowl or plastic storage box and sprinkle them with celery salt, black pepper and rosemary.
Get some oil hot in a pan and put the wedges in. Fry them until they are golden and crisping up, then remove and set aside.
In another (big) pan, fry some chopped garlic and finely-chopped chillies (mild if you can find them). When the garlic is starting to brown (and before it burns), sling in the cleaned squid. Toss them about a bit and just give them four or five minutes, then take one out and try it. It should be quite tender and taste just of itself and the sea and the garlic.
Arrange the potato wedges in a circle on the plate and put the squid in the middle (well, that’s just dressing the plate – you can arrange things however you like).
And that’s it. Knock up a quick salad of tomatoes and cucumber with olive oil and balsamic vinegar if you like.
With the fresh-tasting squid and the clean, healthy salad, it can feel like you’re doing this at a fishing harbour on a Greek island.
If you can find some dry Greek white wine, such as Retsina, that would be perfect. Otherwise, just a nice dry white from wherever. Or a glass of sparkling water. Just imagine the sun glinting off it.