Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Whole Shebang!

Tonight I fully intended to write about ice cream, but instead I'm going with squid and fried oysters.  That's what I cooked for dinner tonight, along with a summery little tomato salad, and it was all fabulous.  Squid has been on my to-cook list for quite some time.  I've enjoyed it prepared a number of ways in restaurants, but I was a little intimidated when it came to cooking it myself. Now I wonder why.  It's so simple!  The most difficult part of the entire process was acquiring the squid.
After work I decided to drop by Whole Foods, pick up the squid and other needed ingredients, then go home and cook dinner.  This sounds simple enough, but I ran into trouble when the fish monger at Whole Foods informed me that they don't carry squid. (What?! I still think he's wrong.)  Whole Foods was also out of tonic water (disappointing!) so I left in a huff, muttering a few ugly words under my breath.  I headed to my trusty Publix but was delayed by a fire truck and some serious traffic.  Finally, I made it to Publix only to discover that, much to the surprise of the very helpful fish monger there, the calamari was frozen in a block of ice.  I meandered around the store and read labels while it thawed, then picked it up, and headed home.  Finally.  I left work at 5:00 and walked through my front door at 7:00.  Ugh.  
It was all shortly made okay because dinner was such fun to prepare and so tasty!  Also, Charlie is so wonderfully enthusiastic about food experiments.  I love that about him.  
This whole dinner was planned on a whim.  I found the winning recipe for the calamari on Epicurious after sorting through a few dozen others.  I really wanted something to showcase the calamari, which means no tomato-based sauces to muddy up the flavors.  A simple Italian preparation featuring linguini, anchovies, garlic, and basil won -- so fresh and summery.  It allows the calamari to really shine and focuses on fresh ingredients with crisp, clean flavors.  It proved to be the perfect choice for tonight as it was also quick to prepare.  While wandering around Publix with time to kill I decided to add fried oysters to the menu and a mixed tomato salad (after finding beautiful yellow tomatoes).  The salty, fried goodness of the oysters and the cool bite of the salad gently complimented the calamari dish.  I would serve these dishes together again in a second.  If you decide to try any of these dishes at home I strongly suggest trying all three.  None are difficult, and it makes for an impressive spread.
I made a few modifications to this recipe.   Calamari should be cooked gently, much like a scallop or shrimp.  The rubbery texture that is sometimes encountered is generally the result of overcooking.  The original recipe suggested cooking the sliced squid for a total of 6 minutes which I believed to be too long.  In order to avoid the rubber band texture I switched the order in which several ingredients are cooked.  Let me pause to say that I am a sushi eater -- the raw stuff -- and a  believer in erring on the side of undercooked when it comes to seafood.  It was easy for me to risk undercooking the calamari because I don't really care if it's fully cooked and would rather risk that than an unpleasant texture.  Just the same, it turned out well -- neither rubbery nor too raw.  If you are made uneasy by the possibility of undercooked seafood, then by all means cook it a little longer, but expect it to be chewy.

Linguini with Calamari and Garlic
serves 2

1/2 lb linguini (look for a brand that is imported from Italy and lists only durum semolina flour and water as ingredients)
4 rolled anchovies with capers, from a 2-oz tin; anchovies crushed, oil reserved
1/2 lb cleaned calamari (squid), thinly sliced crosswise)
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 tsp dried crushed red pepper
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves

Check out the calamari before I sliced it. Cool, huh?

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water (it should be as salty as the ocean) until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally.  Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, heat reserved oil from anchovies in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add garlic, crushed red pepper, and crushed anchovies with capers and stir 1 minute.  Add calamari and toss until just opaque, about 1 minute.  

Add white wine; boil until sauce is slightly reduced, about 3 minutes.  Mix in basil.


Add pasta to mixture in skillet.  Toss until heated through and sauce coats pasta, adding reserved cooking liquid by Tablespoonfuls if pasta seems dry, about 2 minutes.  Divide pasta and calamari between two plates and serve.


If I were to make this again I would double the anchovies and add 2 - 3 Tablespoons capers.  Just the same, it's delightful as is.

On to the oysters!  This was my first go at frying oysters, and it was a success!  They were so delicious and will most certainly make an appearance at an upcoming dinner party.  The batter is fluffy, crisp, and light.  Anything heavier would be too much with the richness of the oysters.  Charlie and I marveled at how delectable they are and discussed making an aoili to accompany them next time just for kicks.  Tonight they were flavored with a simple squeeze of lemon, and that truly was enough.  Anything else might just be showing off.
We only fried 6 oysters (1/2 lb), but I'm including the party-sized recipe.  If you want to make fewer nothing really changes -- just make less batter.

Fried Oysters

1 1/2 cups bread flour (or other high-gluten flour)
1 1/4 cups cold water
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp baking powder
2 Tbsp peanut oil
salt, for seasoning

5 cups peanut oil
20 medium-sized fresh oysters (removed from shells, patted dry, and dusted with flour)

The oysters were quite shocking before I cooked them.  Wowzer!

And here they are dusted with flour

Combine all batter ingredients in a bowl.  Heat oil in a wok or stock pot over high heat until it reaches 375 degrees F.   Dip each oyster into the batter until well coated.  Carefully lower the oysters into oil.  Deep fry 5 at a time until light brown, about 3 minutes.  Remove oysters from the oil and drain on paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt and spritz with lemon juice.  Serve immediately.

Here's an inside shot.

Don't forget the tomato pretty with the lacy lettuce and the bright colors.  Only make this during the summer when tomatoes are at their peak.  Otherwise you're just teasing yourself.

Simple Tomato Salad 
serves 2

8 fresh cherry tomatoes
1/2 large yellow tomato
2 handfuls lacy spring mix lettuce
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper

Quarter the cherry tomatoes and thinly slice the yellow tomato.  Divide and place into two shallow bowls.  Top each with a handful of spring mix and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Serve immediately.


Altogether this was one of my favorite meals of the summer.  It was lovely in the sun room with ice cold vodka tonics and The Heartless Bastards playing in the background.  A lovely meal for a lovely night!


1 comment:

  1. "If I were to make this again I would double the anchovies"

    I was a fan of your blog before, but now I'm wondering if we truly were separated at birth!

    Inspiring to see such an amazing meal that's not only put together well, but explained so well.

    Casual Kitchen