Salt and pepper squid is a staple of many restaurants and pubs, but would you be game enough to try cooking this meat at home?
Beyond their slippery exterior and tentacles, squid and calamari are easy to prepare and very versatile, says Melbourne chef James Maffescioni.
“If you’re looking for something in your diet that’s a protein and something that’s not as heavy as red meat, or pork, or lamb … squid is really light,” he says.
“It works with a range of different flavours — sweet, sour, chilli, spicy, salty. You can bake it, you can sear it, you can deep fry it, you can cure it.”
Squid is not only tasty, but it’s said to be a more sustainable source of protein due to its reproduction rate and the targeted method that’s used to catch them, known as jigging.
“Squid jigging is one of the few clean methods of fishing where it has very little by-catch,” Sunshine Coast marine biologist Julian Pepperell says.
“As far as giving it a tick environmentally, that’s a good thing.”
With all that in mind, a chef, fisherman and food journalist share their best tips for buying, cooking and eating squid.
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Lesson one: Look for shininess when buying fresh squid
Julie Ray is a trained chef who has taught at a seafood cooking school in Sydney for over 15 years. These days, she’s a food journalist based in Byron Bay.
If you’re shopping for squid at the fish markets, or your local seafood store, she recommends:
- Choosing one with shiny skin and a slightly translucent appearance.
- Avoiding slimy or dull-looking squid.
- Asking your fishmonger to cut up the squid for ready for cooking, just as you might a butcher.
- Starting small by buying cleaned and prepared squid hoods and rings — just make sure they’re Australian.
When it comes to different squid species, Julie enjoys frying up loligo squid on the barbecue or in a pan.
She’ll go for Gould’s squid if it’s a dish that’s braised slowly.
Lesson two: Preparing squid is about tenderising and drying
When it comes to cooking squid, Julie uses one of two methods: either a quick pan-fry on high heat, or a slow braise on low heat. “There’s no in-between,” she says.
“When your squid is cooked, it turns opaque, a milky creamy colour.”
Here are her tips for preparing squid:
- On returning from the shops, remove the squid from its plastic bag and place it in a colander with a plate beneath to drain any excess liquid.
- Squid is best cooked within 24 hours of purchasing, but it can keep for three days in the fridge. If freezing, use an airtight container or vacuum pack and use within three months.
- When cutting up your squid, the wings, hood and tentacles are all edible. Discard the beak, quill and guts (the inner part from the eyes upward). It’s also best to remove the thin layer of skin from the hood.
- To tenderise the meat and remove some of the chewiness, soak the squid in either lemon juice or kiwi fruit juice for half an hour before cooking. The acidity helps to break down the texture.
- Alternatively, tenderise by soaking the squid in milk overnight, covered and refrigerated.
- Before cooking, bring the squid to room temperature and pat it dry with paper towel. James says if the meat is cold and wet, it will steam and make the meat chewy.
- Julie also recommends scoring the shiny side of the squid hood using a knife to create a diamond pattern. This allows flavours to sink into the meat and also looks great on the plate.
Lesson three: Flavours and ingredients that work with squid
Julie makes her own special seasoning to get that classic salt and pepper flavour.
It includes a tablespoon each of salt, black peppercorns and Sichuan pepper, dry roasted in a pan over medium heat and then ground using a mortar and pestle.
You could also try:
- Marinating the squid in olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and dried oregano for half an hour. Remove the squid from the marinade before barbecuing on a flat plate. Never tip the marinade on top of the squid while cooking — it’ll stew.
- Marinating it in sweet chilli sauce, lime juice, soy sauce, palm sugar and lemongrass before frying. Can be barbecued or pan-fried.
- Stuffing the hoods with pork mince mixed with fish sauce, spring onions, ginger, garlic and chilli. Bake, or possibly fry before finishing in the oven.
- Covering the squid in a light tempura batter before deep-frying for a minute or two in a neutral-flavoured oil.
- After grilling or frying squid, serving it with mayonnaise mixed with lemon juice and wasabi.
- Prefer to cook from a recipe? Try crispy calamari rings, squid with potatoes, lemon and parsley, squid and white wine casserole or salt and pepper squid with salad.
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Recipe: Squid with green beans and chilli pancetta
Ready to cook with squid? Chef James Maffescioni shares one of his favourite recipes.
- 150g chilli pancetta, cut into small cubes (around 0.5cm by 1cm)
- 150g green beans, cut into 5cm pieces
- 400g squid, ideally southern calamari, cleaned, scored and cut into small pieces
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 6 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar, ideally Agridulce de Merlot
- 2 squid ink sacs
- Sea salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 Tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped for serving
- 1.Before you begin, make sure your squid is at room temperature and patted dry with paper towel.
- 2.Sauté the pancetta in a small pan on low heat for three minutes. This will render some of the pancetta fat.
- 3.Add the garlic, then beans and sauté for 1 minute. Set aside.
- 4.Heat a large pan until very hot, then toss in the squid with half of the olive oil (3 Tbsp). Work quickly here, searing for 50 seconds and tossing often.
- 5.Mix the remaining 3 Tbsp of olive oil with the squid ink and merlot vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.
- 6.Place beans and pancetta on rim of plate, all the way around. Serve the squid in middle of the beans, and drizzle the dressing all over dish. Garnish with chopped parsley.
In our Food Files series, ABC Everyday takes a close look at a seasonal ingredient every fortnight. From how we eat it, where to find it, and the best ways to enjoy it at home.