It’s time to embrace the cephalopod; it’s a new year filled with new experiences and a Brand-New You. A You who wants to cut back on cholesterol and saturated fat by embracing leaner proteins! A You who wants to expand your kitchen repertoire by testing new ingredients! A You who isn’t afraid of slimy stuff! And, not to be understated, a You who wants to save money.
Squid, octopus and cuttlefish are some of the most overlooked fruits de mer. Isn’t the French term for seafood so much more complimentary? Outshined by glamorous bivalves and crustaceans like clams and lobster, squid is a humble ingredient that with patience and creativity can be transformed into $25-a-plate dishes at home. Squid is cheap (about $6 per pound — and a pound is a lot of squid) and easy to find. Perhaps best of all, because properly cooking squid only takes a few minutes, it’s conducive to dinner-in-a-flash.
Cook It Now: Charred Squid With Boudin Noir, Peas and Herb Oil
Deep-fried calamari, while delicious, voids all the health benefits of using fresh squid. Squid is a lean protein low in saturated fat and sodium but high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Squid steaks, made from the bodies of larger specimens, can be quite meaty and make excellent alternatives to pork and red meat. So shelve the panko crumbs and beer batter and opt for herbaceous, Mediterranean-influenced dishes that embrace the freshness of the ingredient while keeping your waistline trim.
Many recipes call for flash-cooking the squid for just a few minutes to avoid overcooking (which leads to rubbery texture), but I like to roast the bodies whole in a fresh sauce. Instead of sautéed or pan-fried rings and slices, the whole bodies are excellent for stuffing, creating more robust, heartier and flavorful dishes. The recipe below uses whole grains and herbs to elevate the modest filling and act as a grounding base note against the acidity of the tomato sauce. A dash of harissa in the sauce gives the whole dish a subtle kick, which is always welcome. Stuffing the squid can be a little tricky, so just be patient (and use toothpicks). Or recruit an unsuspecting significant other and call it Date Night.
For the squid:
- 6-8 whole squid bodies, cleaned, with tentacles reserved
- 2/3 cup cooked quinoa
- ½ cup cooked long-grain rice (white or brown, depending on preference)
- 1 generous handful parsley and/or cilantro, chopped
- 4 small green onions or chives, thinly sliced
- 3 shallots, diced and deeply caramelized
- ½ lemon
For the sauce:
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons harissa paste
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Chili flake
- ¼ cup black olives, pitted and halved (ex: nicoise, kalamata, luguria- use something briny)
- Turn oven to 325°F.
- Start the sauce. Sauté the diced red onion in a generous amount of olive oil for about 3 minutes, then add garlic, salt and pepper and cook until soft, about 10 minutes.
- Add tomato and harissa pastes to onion mixture and continue to sauté on low until pastes are fully incorporated and start to caramelize. Add crushed tomatoes and a splash of water, cover and simmer on low for another 30 minutes until the sauce starts to resemble thick oatmeal.
- Taste and re-season. Remove from heat.
- While the sauce is simmering, prepare the squid. To make the stuffing, combine quinoa, rice, cooked shallots, chopped herbs, and chili flake in a small bowl. Stir until evenly blended. Squeeze in lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. *Stuffing can be made one day ahead and kept in refrigerator. Be sure to bring to room temperature first before stuffing (it’s easier to stuff the squid with a pliable mixture).
- To stuff the squid, hold the bodies open in one hand and, using your fingers, gently stuff the quinoa mixture into the squid. Be sure the stuffing fills down into the triangular-shaped point; otherwise you’ll end up with flat, potentially rubbery pieces at the ends.
- Once the bodies are stuffed, use toothpicks to secure the tentacles on the bodies. The tentacles help close the openings, ensuring the stuffing doesn’t fall out. Sprinkle stuffed squid with salt and pepper.
- In a rectangular casserole dish, spoon about half of the room-temperature tomato mixture into the bottom of the dish. Place squid on top and cover with remaining tomato sauce. Arrange remaining tentacles and olive halves on top.
- Cook uncovered in oven for about 18-22 minutes until squid are just opaque and firm to the touch. Remove and let cool 5 minutes before serving. Serve with crusty baguette and/or zucchini noodles.