Friday 16 January 2015

Calamari and Vodka Spaghetti

I’m a pretty big fan of reversing the concept of a liquid lunch. Instead of subbing alcohol for food, turn your alcohol into food. I guess a Bloody Mary is somewhere in between… Come to think of it, this is basically a cooked Bloody Mary, with seafood and pasta thrown in for good measure. You know what they say. If you like it then put a squid ring on it!

…Nobody says that, huh? Well they should.

This is a brilliant dish if you want to make something a little different, but aren’t really committed to spending much time on it. Or if you’ve ever watched SpongeBob SquarePants and thought “Man, I could really go for some squid rings rights about now”. And let’s face it, if you’re watching SpongeBob SquarePants, you’re gonna be feelin' them munchies pretty soon anyway…

The core flavours at work here are the cumin and the garlic, both of which go great with calamari (fancy cooking word for squid). The sauce is a little densely flavoured on its own, and when I first tasted it I wasn’t totally satisfied with the result. But as soon as you add a generous squeeze of lemon, the whole thing comes to life. I honestly just stood there with my eyes closed, chewing and nodding slowly to myself.

So, yeah, don’t forget the lemon. That shit ain’t optional.

Gotcha. Now let’s get cookin’!

1) Coat thin calamari rings and prawns in flour, cumin, salt and pepper. Fry in butter and oil.

2) When browned, add finely chopped garlic. Fry until turning golden.

3) Pour vodka into the pan and flambé. Add chopped tomatoes and simmer for 20 mins.

4) Cook spaghetti. Drain, then mix with the sauce. Squeeze lemon juice over it and serve.

Couldn’t be simpler.

Listen, if I wanted to eat rubber for dinner, I’d just go chew on a car tyre.

So, ehh, I’m guessing you’ve had a bad experience with calamari before, eh? The problem with calamari is that if you either cook it for too long, or for not long enough, it will be tough and rubbery. So deep fried calamari should only be in the oil for less than a minute. Past that, and the proteins change and it will toughen considerably. Once that happens, the only answer is to continue cooking for at least half an hour, at which point they will become tender once more.

There’s a couple of changes you can make to the recipe, if you’re really worried about the squid. Keep reading for some suggestions.

Ingredients (serves 2-3) - €10

  • 250g squid (~350g if frozen)
  • 150g shelled prawns / shrimp (~220g if frozen)
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 15g butter
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 50ml vodka
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes (400g)
  • 250g dried spaghetti
  • 1 lemon
  • some fresh parsley or basil, if you have it (to garnish)

Optionally, you can use some milk and baking soda to soften the calamari.

Oh, and you’ll also need a match or a lighter. Cause we’re about to have ourselves some fun!

    First up, defrost your seafood if frozen. Can’t do anything until it’s thawed. You can just leave it in a bowl of cold water to speed up the process. Don't mind me, I’ll just wait right here.

    Done? Good. If your squid comes whole (in tubes), then slice it into rings at most 5mm thick. Thicker rings will take longer to become tender when cooking. If you’ve got time, and really don’t want the calamari to be chewy at all, soak the rings in a bowl of milk, with about a tablespoon of baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) mixed in for 1-4 hours. That will ensure they’re good and tender.

    Once your calamari rings are ready, pat them dry as best you can, along with the prawns. In a bowl, combine the flour and cumin, and grind in the salt and pepper. Toss the seafood into the mix and coat them in it. If the calamari is still wet, the coating will just clump. Mostly on your fingers. Leaving you cursing under your breath (or at the top of your lungs, either works) while you try to scrape it off your hands and back into the bowl, now in paste form. Which really isn’t ideal. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s better if it’s evenly distributed.

    In a large frying pan, heat up the oil to get it nice and hot, just below smoke point. Add the butter and it should immediately melt and bubble. Without giving the butter time to burn, add the coated calamari and prawns. Try to get as much of the seafood in direct contact with the pan as possible, then leave them to brown. After 3-4 minutes, flip them over and brown the other side.

    While they’re frying, peel and finely chop your garlic. It might seem like a lot, but if you even think about using less, you’re dead to me. Trust in the garlic, and ye shall be rewarded. When most of the calamari are browned on both sides, add the garlic to the pan and stir. Let the garlic fry until it starts to turn golden brown.

    Now the fun starts. Get a match or a lighter ready. Pour the shot of vodka into the pan, and the heat will make it boil pretty much instantly. If you have a gas cooker, tilt the pan into the flame. Otherwise, strike your match over it and enjoy the show. If you want to keep a slight taste of alcohol in the finished dish, skip the fireworks display and just move on to the next step.

    Once the flames have died down, give the pan a stir and add in the chopped tomatoes. Drop the heat down low and just let it gently simmer for at least 20 minutes. Feel free to simmer the sauce for an hour if you want to really ensure the calamari is soft, but it isn’t necessary. Your work is pretty much done at this point. Go now, and be free! Just stir the sauce occasionally and add a little water if it becomes too thick.

    In your own time, when you’re in the mood like, boil a pot of salted water and cook the spaghetti until it’s to your liking. Drain it, then mix it straight into the sauce. Plate up, and sprinkle with chopped up fresh parsley or basil, if you’re so inclined. Serve with a big lemon wedge or two, and squeeze the juice over the dish right before eating. Awwwwwwww yeah.

(The price of seafood varies greatly depending on where in the world you live. I like the prawns because they add a bit of variety and a little goes a long way, but don’t be afraid to leave them out if they’re too expensive. Scallops or monkfish would make a good substitute.

Always get your seafood from sustainable sources. I’d very much like to still be able to eat fish in a few decades, as I’m sure would you.)

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