Thursday, February 16, 2012

Release the Kraken!

I love squid, or I guess the more genteel term is 'calamari'. You can't hide the fact that it is an aggressive, eight arm invertebrate with a bird-like beak. If you find yourself bobbing about in the ocean, and you get enough squid swimming around you; make no mistake about it, they will kill you. Off the Pacific coast of Mexico, there is a particularly large and aggressive species of squid called a Humboldt squid, or as the locals call them, diablo rojo (now say it with a dramatic voice. It really does sound impressive - it means 'red devil'). So as they say, better to eat them...then the other way around.

Either way, one thing that I don't like about typical squid recipes is that the 'nature' of the squid is hidden. Case in point, the most popular restaurant dish using this ingredient is probably deep fried calamari rings. I loathe this dish. I think squid should be either served in their whole form, or at least include the tentacles and don't stodge it up with breading. Also, squid is much better grilled than fried - grilling produces much more tender flesh. In fact, I have to put that on my short list for 'death row meals': simple grilled squid with a bit of lemon and chilies and lots of salt and pepper. It's a clean and simple dish that doesn't hide its nature. With this in mind, I decided to grill some squid in much the same spirit as the fish tacos I made a while back.  Squid in Toronto is almost always previously frozen - in fact, most squid is frozen at sea on the fishing boats. They spoil so quickly, that the stuff that has never been frozen (I've seen it occasionally at the St. Lawrence Market) is really hit and miss in Toronto. I would much rather pull a squid straight from the ocean and grill it on the boat, but that's not in the cards. I find freezing ruins most delicate fish flesh, but the robust flesh of the squid holds up...not bad. Previously frozen it is then.

Here's what I did:

I took two medium sized squid (the bodies were a good eight inches long). I cleaned them up by removing the 'wings', which are the little stabilizing fins at the top of the body. They can just be torn off with your hands. (I think some people eat the wings, but I find they're too tough. Also when you remove the wings, a whole bunch of slimy membranous stuff comes off with them - this must be a good thing.) Typically the beaks have been removed from squid, but I find the little muscle that is left behind around where the beak once was (you'll notice it's got a slightly yellowish tinge to it), is kind of tough, and well, a bit icky to be frank. Cut it out with a paring knife. Next give them a really good wash. Turn 'em inside out and get all that slimy stuff out of there.  The squid at your fish monger will usually have the 'quill' removed (a long thin piece of cartilage). However, sometimes a bit is left behind, so poke around in the body cavity to make sure there is no tough, plasticky feeling thing in there (I find broken bits of quill all the time, so it's certainly not a rarity).  Once that's all done, dry them thoroughly with kitchen towel. Wet squid will not brown on the grill! Then you can lightly marinade. I made a simply marinade of olive oil, cayenne pepper, lime juice (just a little lime juice or else you'll end up with ceviche) and salt and pepper.  A quick 15 minute steeping  will suffice. Then get a screaming hot grill (or grill pan in my case) and throw 'em on. They only take about five  minutes to cook. If you over cook them, they'll get rubbery. If doing indoors, make sure you have a good extractor fan - it can get  bit stinky.

I cut my squid up into bite size pieces, split the tentacles down the middle and tossed it all on a flour tortilla with a grilled jalapeno, scallion and tomato salsa, some sweet corn and some sliced avocado. Finish with a bit of hot sauce and lime. Squideriffic. 

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