22 April 2009

Just keep it away from the bagpipes

Wednesday is President Wilson market day, and since I'm abandoned in Paris for the next several days (awwww....), I decided to spend some time cooking. Not that I don't cook when Karen is here, but when you're feeding somebody else, there are time frames to be considered, odds of success to be calculated, etc. Home alone, there's more room to slide, and I was feeling adventurous.

I picked up what I needed to make vegetable stock. Too much vegetable stock, actually, since I keep forgetting that I don't have either a real stock pot or a freezer big enough to store anything. Got my eggs, some more arugula (is there anything better with just a little olive oil, lemon, and parmesan?), some beautiful swiss chard for a gratin with some leftover roasted potatoes, half a loaf of crusty and chewy polka bread (the only description of the origin of this name I could find refers to a bread of the Loire valley of a very different shape and style from what is called Polka in Paris; someday I'll ask the lady I buy it from why it's called that) and some big softball-sized globe artichokes for braising and adding to a light tomato sauce with pasta. On the way out of the market, though, I passed the best of the several fish vendors, and there on the end of the table was squid.

Though I like squid, I've never cooked with it. It's hard to find any truly fresh seafood in Philly, I think, so I cook with whole fish whenever the availability warrants it, but I've never seen squid that looked so good that I had the urge to try it. I'm not sure I did today, either, frankly. Judging by the dull gills and less-than-brilliant eyes I see on most fish sold in Paris, I'm not sure the freshness of the to-the-public seafood retail is that much better than in Philly. But today, as I said, I was feeling adventurous. And I've been thinking about squid for the past couple of weeks as a potential partner for the myriad of artichoke varieties that are everywhere at the markets. Heck, I already had artichokes in my bag, so even if it wasn't sparklingly fresh (there's nothing cheekier than a fresh squid...), a little over 2 pounds of whole squid came home with me. Hey, company for the week!

And they have friends

Once it was in the apartment, it was a little more intimidating. It didn't look anything like the calamari waiters bring when I order it.

Ummm, where's the dipping sauce?

I'd read about cleaning squid, but the first encounter was a little tentative. You've got to loosen the insides from the body, then pull the head-and-insides out (hopefully in one piece and without breaking the ink sac). Pull out the inedible cartilage quill and clean out the body thoroughly, making sure that all of the mucusy stuff has been pulled out, and then cut off the little wings .

Head-and-innards alongside the still-winged body, long feeler tentacles removed

If you separate the arms/tentacles from the just-dislodged head-and-innards just beyond the eyes...

Aim just below the eyes

... you can push the beak out intact in its little round cartilage pod and have a nice clean set of tentacles.

Beak and tentacles divided

The edible bits (membrane still attached)

Pull the pigmented membrane off, and you're done. One I got rolling, it was a little over a minute per squid. Not bad at all, really, and kind of fun once you get in there. Slice 'em up and you're ready to roll.

A bowl full of potential

By the 2nd (of 8) squid, it was pretty obvious I had way more squid than I could eat tonight, maybe all week. And it was also obvious that it wasn't going to get any better sitting in the refrigerator, so I cleaned them all and boiled them just 30 seconds in salted water before stopping the cooking in ice water. For a tender result, squid is supposedly best cooked either as fast as possible (eg, frying) or in a long, slow braise. I'm hoping the quick boil is allows me several options in future preparation while extending the squid's refrigerator shelf life.

After the quick cook

Tonight I braised one of those giant artichoke hearts in white wine with onion and garlic, and added both the artichoke and a handful of the squid pieces to a light tomato sauce just before adding the pasta. I wouldn't call the squid meltingly tender, but it wasn't rubbery, either, and the squid and the artichoke were definitely a nice pairing.

With 3 artichokes and a bowl full of squid still in the kitchen, I'm in need of additional ways of pairing them. I wonder how they'll taste with cereal in the morning?

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