Banded Armor, Plus Two Against Mush

Don’t get me wrong, I love Providence style fried calimari. You know, the battered rings fried with the peperoncini and served with marinara? Dress it up, dress it down, it serves equally well in a pub as it does as a starter on white linen al fresco.

But this is not exactly a dish I’m going to be attempting at home any time soon.

How then to enjoy the truly unique texture of squid at home?

I recommend finding out if your monger deals in calimari steaks as well as the hoods or rings. These should be a very unassuming white square, not entirely unlike a mouse pad, trivet or pot holder. As long as one remembers the golden rule for cooking shellfish (30 seconds or 30 minutes) this humble looking sheet meat can provide some nearly fat free protein, and with some careful additions, can also become a platform for epic flavor.

And then of course there’s the texture.

Don’t get me wrong. I love flakey, broiled or poached fish. I love a tender steak. Heck, I love lentil dip. But don’t you find yourself from time to time wishing for something with a bit more to latch onto, teeth wise, without having to turn to the world of crunchy or crisp? There has to be more to the world of texture than fresh apples or potato chips, doesn’t there? There does, and it is known as chewy. Chewy is usually a pejorative in the kitchen, and that’s a real shame because it has given us a cuisine landscape comprised mostly of soft foods, with some sideline crunchy and crisp foods off to the side.

But chewy can be a good thing. A very good thing.

If your monger is of the better sort, they will already have scored the surface of the squid steaks at roughly eighth inch intervals (much like what one sees on squid served nigiri style at a sushi bar) with long, shallow knife cuts. If they haven’t, ask if they can. If they can’t, I hope you’re better with a santoku than I am. Without this step, your calimari will curl up like a cannoli and flavor will find no purchase on the imperviously smooth outer surface.

Upon a sufficiently roomy expanse of iron or steel combine a small quantity of very high heat neutral flavor cooking oil, kafir leaves, garlic, lemongrass and fresh ginger. Stoke your inferno slowly so that the oil is infused with the flavors of the aromatics. Once up to full heat (I’m talking in danger of leading the neighbors to believe you are invoking unholy powers kind of hot, here), cook no more than two steak at a time for about 15 seconds on each side and then set aside. Either remove the aromatic chunks or strain off the oil. Combine (back on the heat) with a generous splash of lime juice and chili sauce (a sriracha will do nicely) and thicken.

Serve with saffron basmati rice (or gruel) and stir fried vegetables (or raw turnips), dressing the squid with the sauce (which will stick in all the scores which will have opened up like grooves on a vinyl record [1] during cooking) and either a cold lager or an Alsatian white wine. You’ll want a steak knife and plenty of time to savor and chew. And chew. And chew.

You’re welcome.

 

 

[1] Yeah? You come up with a fantasy game chronologically relevant metaphor for that. 😉

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Water Dragons

You’ll want to start with a reasonably sized, closable vessel for the oven (a dutch oven may be too big in this case) and a couple of thick cuts of fish (fillets are probably too thin, steaks are cut the wrong way, I used cod loin, but if that is not cost effective in your area, or is out of season, make the smallest possible adjustment from this option you can).

In addition, you want a mango (soft, but not mushy), a large stick of lemongrass, hot peppers (I used habanero I oven dried two Summers ago), olive oil and basic seasonings.

Apply a thin (but complete) layer of olive oil into your cooking vessel. Lay the fish flat, keeping the upper surface dry of the oil. Cut the lemongrass into a handful of large pieces which you bruise with the back of a knife, but keep whole (you need to remove them later, and you really don’t want pieces of lemongrass ending up in your creamy sauce), and scatter these and the hot peppers around (but not on top of) the fish.

Season the top of the fish.

Slice the mango into long, thin strips and arrange these on top of the fish.

Cover and put into a 225f degree oven for at least an hour, two might be better.

Transfer the fish to plates, and get out the lemongrass (compost it). Everything else goes into a blender or food processor to be rendered smooth and creamy.

Dress the fish and serve with saffron rice. Depending on how many hot peppers you used, have alcohol or dairy on hand.

If you have extra sauce left over, it makes a fantastic sauce for pasta with lump crab meat.

Well, unless you don’t like sweet heat.