For those of you who don’t like eating things with tentacles, stop right here, because I’m going to talk about…squid.
You don’t see them very often in this country. I stumbled on a batch at our local supermarket, imported all the way from China, and I grabbed them because I like squid.
I first ate them over forty years ago, at a Chinese restaurant in Boston—but I didn’t even know they were squid then. We’ve probably all had them as bar food (where they're labeled "calamari") or a starter course, batter-dipped and deep fried, and those are undeniably tasty if done well (crisp, not soggy), but they’re more coating than squid.
I lived in California for a decade, where squid were easy to come by, and I learned to clean and cook them then. It’s kind of a pain to clean them, but my new ones came already cleaned. And I was reminded of how much I like them when I had them in a seafood dish in Italy last summer: the tentacle end was about the size of my thumbnail. Lovely.
When I bought this batch, the nice fish lady (who I chat with every time I’m there) asked, do you want the tentacles? I said, of course—that’s the best part. (If you like a bit of crunch, that is.)
These are kind of small squid, the bodies less than six inches long, ready to cut up. The only real warning with cooking squid is not to overcook them, or you’ll find you’re eating rubber bands.
I decided to make a risotto with them. Risotto is a dish I avoided for years, because it sounded like too much work—all that stirring, you know. But I’ve come to appreciate the way the rice absorbs the liquid, far more than when you cook it the regular way, and the whole becomes rich and creamy without adding any extra fat or cream. I am now a risotto fan, and you can add almost anything you like (preferably at the end, so you don’t weight down the mixture and interfere with that critical absorption, although you can cook it with mushrooms from the beginning if you like).
1 Tblsp olive oil
2 tsp oregano (fresh if you have it)
1/2 tsp rosemary, chopped (ditto, but go easy on it because the fresh stuff is pungent)
Pinch of dried red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, minced (I use a garlic press because I’m too lazy to chop the things)
6 cups fish stock or diluted clam juice (note: you can buy canned fish stock, or fish bouillon cubes, or fish stock paste—your choice)
1-1/4 cups (1/2 lb) Arborio rice (not regular or instant rice)
3/4 cup parsley, chopped
Pat the squid dry. Chop off the tentacles, if they’re still attached. Slice the bodies (that tubey thing) into 1/4” strips lengthwise; quarter the tentacle clumps lengthwise. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat 1 tsp of the olive oil in a non-stick skillet until it is hot but not smoking. Sauté the oregano, rosemary, pepper flakes and 1 tsp of the garlic for about 30 seconds. Add the squid pieces and sauté, stirring constantly, until they turn opaque and curl, about 1 minute. Do not overcook! Place the pieces in a sieve over a bowl to catch any juices, and set aside.
When you’re ready to start the rice part, combine the squid juices with the fish stock in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Put on the back burner and keep at a low simmer throughout.
Heat the remaining 2 tsp olive oil in a large heavy saucepan over moderate heat until the oil is hot, then cook the remaining garlic, stirring frequently, until it is pale golden, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add 1 cup of the simmering broth and cook at a strong simmer (not a boil!), stirring frequently, until that liquid is absorbed.
Add more broth, a half-cup at a time, and stir frequently, letting each addition be absorbed before adding more (no, you can’t cheat and just dump all the liquid in at once—then you’ll have rice glop, not risotto). Taste regularly after about 15 minutes to see if the rice is cooked. It should be al dente but tender (if you still find a hard core in the center of the rice grains, keep cooking), and creamy looking. This should take 18-20 minutes, or maybe more. Don’t worry if there’s broth left over—let the rice tell you what it wants. When it’s soft and it stops absorbing liquid, it’s done.
|(And stop thinking about pictures like this!)|
Coming February 4th! (No squid included.)