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Calamari Time

January 12, 2010

May 14, 2009

The squid are… around. I can’t report that these mysterious inky creatures are coursing in great numbers through the Cape’s Nantucket Sound-side estuaries, eagerly visiting traditional spawning grounds, and hungrily hitting bright-colored Yo-zuri jigs dropped from bridges and docks around Chatham and Harwich and even Hyannis. With any luck, those days will come, and soon. For now, there are weir-caught delicacies available to folks with a link to a trap-boat.

Sometimes seafood can have sort-of funny sources. I’ve long been a curious admirer of  Bait Eaters, folks who will fry up American Eels garnered from enterpreneurial fishermen who trap the black beauties to sell as striper bait. I’ve heard tales of a fruitless fisherman bringing home his bags of sand eels and putting the cast-iron pan to work making the slim, silvery bait into a meal. While I haven’t yet been reduced to eating bait, I have intentionally cast my net for small and undervalued seafood. Last week I went looking for blue crabs and happened upon some kind of migration of ‘other crabs.’ In a few minutes I had 25 maybe-Jonah-crabs, who quickly found themselves in a big pot of water seasoned with Old Bay. Though the flesh was a little more stringy than the treasured blue crab meat, the flavor was excellent. A few days later, we boiled spider crabs, and they were even less delicious, but still ‘crabby’ and acceptable.

Our first batch of calamari came from a chance meeting with a young gill-netter who was bait-fishing for striped bass at a bay-side beach. His six-year-old son proudly showed off his considerable skill at casting – and his father’s whole squid, the bait of choice for the day’s fishing. After chatting it was revealed that the squid came from my childhood neighbor’s weirs on the Sound, and that they had come in just the day before, and that they had been well-refrigerated since. With a blue-eyed, suntanned smile, the fisherman reached into his cooler and gave us lunch. And, thus, I became a bait eater.

My jigs are ready. I have my eye on the tides, the moon, and the Southeast wind, as my mind replays images of spinning, ink-spurting, color-changing squid flying out of the water and over the rails of the bridge. Will the Vietnamese still be there, calling in reports on their cellphones while huddling close to the anglers hot on the squid? I don’t know. I also don’t know if I’ll be there. While I have a pretty hot lead on where to get some really fresh squid, there is absolutely nothing like pulling them in yourself. You haven’t eaten calamari until you’ve been properly inked.

To be very good, squid must be very fresh. As such, it will be hard to make excellent calamari with squid purchased from a fish market, unless you can be assured that they were caught no more than one day before the time of purchase. If you are lucky enough to find fresh squid, you will most likely have to clean them. Briefly, this is how:

Cut the tentacles off just above where they attach, under the eyes. Squeeze out the beak from the base of the tentacles and discard. Place the tentacles in your bowl of parts you will keep. Cut the ‘head’ away from the long body and discard. Run the back of your knife from the pointy tip of the squid’s body to the open end where the head once was, forcing the guts out. If there are any remaining guts, scoop them out with a finger. Feel around the open end of the squid’s body for the quill. It is a stiff, translucent thing in the soft, opaque body. Grasp the tip of the quill and pull it out. Run the back of the knife along the body to remove the skin. Peel the skin off the squid’s wings. Do not try to skin the tentacles. Rinse the squid bodies and tentacles well, and head inside to prepare the catch.

Calamari

  • Fresh Squid
  • Enough milk to cover
  • Enough flour to coat
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Enough oil to fry
  • Newspaper
  • Fresh cocktail sauce

Cut the tentacle sections in half. Remove the two long tentacles if desired. Cut the body sections into 1/2 inch rings. Place the squid in a bowl and cover with milk. Let soak for at least 15 minutes.

Heat frying oil in a wok. Pour flour onto a plate and mix with fresh ground pepper. Dredge squid in the flour until well-coated, banging off the excess. Carefully ladle squid into hot oil and cook for about 5 minutes. Squid should be soft but not squishy to taste, and the coating should be lightly browned. Transfer batches to newspaper to drain, then serve with cocktail sauce.

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