Calamari & spinach

Squid enthusiasts have only one fear: a meal that looks and tastes like white rubber bands. Here’s good news for beginner cooks: a simple, magical way to turn squid into calamari.

Calamari & spinach
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To make calamari and spinach for four you will need:

  • 800g fresh or frozen squid
  • 6 tablespoons Maizena
  • 6 tablespoons plain white flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Canola or sunflower oil on demand
  • 2 big bunches fresh spinach
  • Freshly ground black pepper

And the optional marine sauce…

  • Mayonnaise
  • Tomato sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Red Tabasco

Retail squid comes in a variety of forms, some fresh, mostly frozen. I occasionally have a guest who refuses to eat anything that looks like it did when alive. If you have such a person on your guest list, choose squid steaks or rings. My preference is baby squid, especially heads and tentacles. The best squid comes from the South Atlantic, usually packed as Patagonian or Falkland Island squid.

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Thaw the frozen squid and rinse lightly. Let them drain and ideally pat them dry with a paper towel. Pour a cup or so of milk into a small mixing bowl. Mix the Maizena, white flour and salt in a second bowl. Dip the squid into the milk, give a shake then dredge them through the Maizena, salt and flour mix. Give a second shake and store on a plate until you’ve done the lot. Select a deep frying pan and pour in canola oil to a depth of 15mm. Get this hot, but not smoking.

Deep-fry the floured squid a couple of pieces at a time for 60 to 90 seconds. What we want is a crisp, crunchy exterior and a soft, flavoursome centre. Remove the squid and drain on a paper towel, then reserve under cover. Remove the stems and larger veins from the spinach then drop into lightly salted boiling water for a few minutes. The idea here is to undercook to retain colour and to some degree, texture. Remove, drain and chop the splendid dark green leaves.

Arrange a layer of spinach on each plate and a couple of spoonfuls of calamari on the top. Serve at once, with lemon chunks available to each diner and the optional marine sauce. You can make this sauce very quickly by stirring in two tablespoons each of mayonnaise and tomato sauce, plus a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce or light soya sauce.

A dash of Red Tabasco gives this rich sauce a lightning flash of heat. Serve the marine sauce separately so that diners can elect whether or not to indulge. Those who prefer their calamari straight will require only a squeeze of fresh lemon and a sprinkling of coarse, freshly ground black pepper.

Wine drinkers will enjoy this meal with a light, crisp white such as a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Barbarians like myself, unimpressed by fermented grape juice, will relish an ice-cold Windhoek Lager straight from the bottle.

Contact David Basckin at
[email protected]. Please state ‘Real cooking’ in the subject line of your email.