The fish monger and the chef both refer to this as “dirty” squid, meaning it hasn’t been cleaned and still has its grayish-purplish outer skin, which gives it tremendous flavor, much nicer than those tasteless alabaster tubes that come wrapped in plastic at the supermarket fish counter. The flavor is sweet and briny, like that of tender clams, and moreover these treasures lend themselves to all kinds of great preparations, including a favorite bar food, deep-fried squid rings with a tasty aioli (okay, so aioli is basically garlic mayonnaise, just as squid is basically calamari) to go with it. Add sriracha to the aioli, or grated orange zest and a few drops of orange juice, or fresh green herbs (basil or tarragon or chervil) pulverized in a blender, and you have yourself a star dish to go with a glass of chilled Franciacorta, so much chic-er than last year’s Prosecco.
If you’re timid about cleaning squid–don’t be! Cut the tentacles away just below that great big eye–which is not an eye actually, although it looks like one. Leave the tentacles whole or split them in half. Then pull out the insides, including what looks like a transparent plastic knife blade and discard it. Rinse the inside of the tube, after which you can do all sorts of things –cut the tubes into thin rings or thick rings for frying; or split them lengthwise and garnish them with chopped herbs, olive oil and garlic before roasting or grilling; or do them up southern Italian style and stuff the tubes with a tasty mix of breadcrumbs, garlic, the chopped tentacles, maybe some capers or grated lemon zest or chopped green chilis, before poaching them in a light tomato sauce.
New Idea from Ronna Welsh
But my latest go-to recipe for squid or calamari or whatever comes from a newly published book that I’m delighting in–Ronna Welsh’s The Nimble Cook, a Rux Martin book from Houghton Mifflin (https://tinyurl.com/yxodl9as).
There are several steps to the recipe but most of them can be done ahead of time. Lay out your mise en place and quickly pull it all together 20 minutes or so before you’re ready to serve. You start by braising fresh leeks in a wine sauce, fragrant with coriander seeds and thyme, then chop the leeks coarsely. You fry up several rashers of bacon, then crumble them into a tablespoon of vinegar. Then you fry squid rings and tentacles in the bacon fat over fairly high heat, stir in the chopped leeks, add a couple of handfuls of fresh spinach and when the spinach is wilted, stir in the bacon-vinegar dressing. Tart, smoky, sweet and fresh, it was delicious for dinner last night, with a dollop of bamboo rice on the side, but I could imagine the combination equally well stirred into a bowl of penne, ziti or rigatoni, with a dribble of good extra-virgin on top.