Keep getting fresh with calamari

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LAST WEEK it was it was steaming hot mulligatawny soup from Southern India, this week BOB HART switches his taste buds to calamari cooked the Vietnamese way:

IT HAPPENS to me a lot: someone like Steve Cooper, an old fishing mate and my favourite fishing writer, scribbles about calamari and, before you know it, I’m bloody starving. And why not?

Now I’ve caught calamari with Steve, although usually not as many as he catches. But, on the plus side, he is often squirted in the eye by the ill-mannered creatures, and I’m not.

Always remember, however, that there are a couple of questions we need to ask when we find ourselves in the fortunate position of being able make a meal of dangerously fresh calamari, and they are these:

  • Should we eat the big one, or a couple of the smaller ones?
  • Should we fire up the deep-fryer, inside, and cook salt-and-pepper squid? Or should we behave like a serious grill masters and try the Vietnamese barbecued approach?

Frankly, if the squid is fresh enough, there is no wrong answer. Calamari, big or small, are delicious when they are fresh. But my preference, inevitably, is always going to be the version cooked out of doors and over live fire.

That extreme freshness, however, is essential: Vietnamese fishermen often carry a charcoal brazier on their boats to cook this dish minutes after the angry, squirty cephalopod has been hauled aboard.

But live fire on a boat, even for me, is a step to far. I am entranced, however, by this traditional cooking method, and by my chance discovery that the skin of a calamari, which most of us go to so much trouble to remove, is not unlike thin pork crackling after the squid has been quickly seared over hot charcoal.

Try it for yourself:

  • Pull the tentacles, and everything attached to them, from the squid tube of either a large, medium or small, fresh calamari and put them aside to freeze for snapper bait. Without skinning the tube or removing the flaps, split it down one side and open it out flat. Remove the cartilage. And that’s it.
  • Make a paste by pounding together, using a pestle and mortar, three fresh, small red chillies and 3tbs of coarse sea salt. Spread both sides of the squid tube with this paste and clamp it into a flimsy, racquet-like, hinged grill. I bought mine in an Asian market for around $6.
  • Place this over high, direct heat, ideally from a bed of charcoal, for 3-4 minutes. Drop the hood – I like to cook it in on a Big Green Egg, a Weber Go Anywhere or even a good old Weber kettle – then flip it, cover it again, and cook it for about three minutes on the second side. And that’s it. Cook a small calamari for even less time, but watch out for Cooper who will accuse you of stealing his snapper bait, if he can see past the squid-ink in his eyes.

Remove the squid from the grill, cut it into strips and serve these with a squeeze of lime. And that’s it. Except, maybe, for a cold beer or three – perhaps a Vietnamese beer, out of gratitude for their coming up with this recipe.

mm

Author: Bob Hart

BOB HART worked in Fleet Street in the 1960s as a showbiz writer and columnist. After a spell in marketing he returned to Australia and turned his attention to another great love: food. He has written a number of books on the subject and the latest, Bob Hart’s Barbecue Unplugged, will be in shops in late September.

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