Squid, Braised Not Fried, Makes for a Savory Stew
Posted February 6, 2018 4:55 p.m. EST
When the question is “what’s for dinner?” the Italian word “calamari” makes a nicer-sounding answer than “squid.” And squid for supper sounds better than the scientific “cephalopod,” the class of seafood to which it belongs.
But squid (and its thicker-fleshed cousins, cuttlefish), whether deep-fried, stir-fried, roasted or braised, is eaten all over the world, in many attractive guises.
It can be bright and fresh, sautéed with garlic, parsley and lemon. Cooked in a rich sauce containing jet-black “ink,” squid finds a perfect, deeply flavored home in risotto, pasta and paella. Whole squid stuffed with bread crumbs and herbs is extremely popular across the Mediterranean. Crisp Chinese “salt and pepper” squid is addictive, with a whisper of five-spice powder. I’ll never forget a dried squid snack I ordered from a street food vendor in Thailand; it was toasted briefly over coals, then flattened to the thickness of a potato chip and served with a spicy dipping sauce.
In Spain, you can buy a paper cone full of glorious flash-fried cuttlefish rings and the tiny squid known as chipirones for just a few euros. But you’ll also find many types of long-simmered squid stew there, many of which contain chorizo and garbanzo beans and, more often than not, a few clams, too.
For tender results, the rule is, cook it high and fast (think frying or sautéing) or low and slow, just as with many tougher, inexpensive cuts of meat. (Squid is also one of the cheapest items in most fish markets.)
Once, in a restaurant north of Barcelona, I had a dish of long-cooked squid that didn’t seem Spanish at all. It didn’t even seem like seafood. I had ordered it without paying much attention to the menu description. When it appeared, it looked rather like braised veal, served in a brown gravylike sauce, surrounded by peas, carrots and potatoes. This squid stew tasted remarkably like pot roast, in the best possible way. It was savory and satisfying and very meatlike. I fantasized about having mashed potatoes to accompany it.
The other day, when I found large squid at the fish market, that dish from long ago immediately came to mind, and I attempted to recreate it. It is an easy stew to put together in a heavy soup pot with just an onion, a thyme sprig, some white wine and chicken broth. A few carrots and turnips, some chopped leek and a handful of (frozen) peas completed the picture. The squid was fork tender in 30 minutes, and the broth had become divinely complex. Slurping a large bowlful, I felt as if I were in the company of an old friend: comforted, reassured, and yet not at all bored.
Wine-Braised Calamari With Vegetables
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 1 hour
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, peeled, halved and sliced into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh sage
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Pinch saffron threads (optional)
1 1/2 pounds cleaned squid, tentacles left whole and bodies cut into 1-inch slices (small squid may be left whole)
Salt and pepper
1 cup white wine
2 cups hot chicken broth
4 to 6 carrots (about 1/2 pound), peeled and cut in bite-size chunks
2 medium or 3 small turnips, peeled and cut in wedges
2 small or 1 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, finely diced
1 cup green peas (frozen are fine)
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely snipped chives
1. In a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven, warm olive oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes.
2. Add garlic, thyme, sage, red pepper and saffron (if using), then cook 1 minute more. Raise heat to high. Add squid and season generously with salt and pepper, stirring well to coat. Cook, stirring, 3 to 4 minutes, then add wine and boil for 1 minute.
3. Add broth and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer 20 minutes, tasting the broth occasionally and adjusting the seasonings with salt and pepper.
4. Add carrots and turnips, and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes more, until tender.
5. Add leeks and peas and cook 5 minutes more.
6. Serve in wide soup bowls. Garnish with chopped parsley and chives.