You’d think I’d be able to pin down the first time I ate squid. Note that I said squid, not calamari. Squid is the in your face cephalopod that says Eat me if you dare. Calamari, by contrast, is Italian for “tasty bit of something fried in a batter by a female relative.” I mean, c’mon, how many of us dissect a piece of calamari? I know when I first tasted calamari. A college girlfriend invited me to her Italian family’s Christmas Eve Fried Fish Extravaganza which featured, among other things, calamari friti. It definitely wasn’t Squid with White Beans.
Naked squid? First time? Haven’t a clue.
Which is odd, because I recall eating it a lot in the period right after after college, during times of no money, few culinary skills, and little kitchen equipment. And that can only mean that I liked it. (I’ll cook anything once, but just once.) But much as I’d like to believe that eating squid was the culinary equivalent of learning about sex or death or that the tv Lassie was actually six different dogs maybe it was NBD. Maybe I was invited to a squid dinner and it smelled so good I never even questioned what it was – it just fit right in. Squid with White Beans certainly has the taste and feel of homey comfort food. You could probably walk the entire Mediterranean littoral and not set foot in a country that doesn’t have some version of this dish, including Israel, where tentacled swimmers are, at least to observant Jews, treif. Squid with beans is the apotheosis of Mediterranean cuisine–seafood protein + aromatic vegetables + olive oil.
A few notes for squid newbies. Squid deteriorates rapidly, so unless you live cheek by jowl with a squid fishery all the squid you’ll encounter in this life is either frozen or used to be frozen. Almost all squid is cleaned and flash frozen as soon as it’s caught. Rarely, you might find a vendor selling squid that still needs to be cleaned. If so, ask for a lesson. It’s not hard and the ew factor is no greater than cleaning your own fish, probably less. Freezing has no effect on the quality of squid.
Cook thawed squid within a day if possible, or buy it frozen. I purchased a 2½ pound block of frozen squid for this post and thawed it in the fridge overnight, just in case I needed extra to photograph. As things worked out we used a pound for this post’s recipe. The following day I sauteed a diced onion in ¼ cup of olive oil, added a couple of cloves of minced garlic when the onions were translucent, then the remainder of the squid (already cut up). After stirring it for a few minutes, enough time for the squid to firm up, I dumped a 28-ounce can of peeled tomatoes with their juices into the pan. I let the whole thing simmer for an hour. Now we’ve got a great seafood pasta sauce that I’ll freeze for a rainy late-night dinner.
Jody goes into more detail about how to cook squid below, but it boils down to a choice of really fast or really slow. The thing to keep in mind with the fast method is to cook everything else first, then add the squid last. Cooking in only a minute or two it’s the ultimate convenience food. Fast, slow, it’s good both ways.
And if this is your first time eating non-calamari, write down you had it here first–otherwise you’ll never remember.
Note: The raw squid in the photos is white, whereas the cooked squid is a little pink. Squid turns a little rosy as it cooks.
Squid with White Beans
Make lunch for 4 or appetizers for 6
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 1 cup onion cut into ¼-inch dice
- ½ cup celery, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
- 1 cup fennel, trimmed out tough outer leaves and cut into ¼-inch dice
- 1 cup carrot, peeled and cut into ¼ inch dice
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cups cooked dried or canned white beans
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 pound squid—tubes and tentacles. Tubes sliced into ¼-inch rings
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat, add the onion, celery, fennel and carrot, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook 5 minutes. This allows the vegetables to steam a little and start to get tender. Remove the lid, turn up the heat to medium and cook another 5 minutes or until they start to brown. Add the cooked beans with ½ cup of their juices, the lemon zest and chopped rosemary and cook 5 minutes to blend the flavors.
- Pat the squid dry with a paper towel. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a second large sauté pan, over medium high heat. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the squid and cook 2 minutes, or until opaque. Season with salt and pepper and the lemon juice and transfer directly to the beans. Toss with parsley, drizzle with olive oil and serve warm or at room temperature.
Cooking squid is easy… hot and quick or low and slow. It toughens in between. We’re using the quick flash approach here, but if you overcook it (it’s chewy rather than tender) just turn the heat to low and continue cooking it for an hour or so in the beans. The flavor will change and it will shrink and soften. In place of crisp briny squid you’ ll have a silky rich bean stew filled with meltingly tender pieces of squid.
Some of you may be wondering about the ham hock.
The night before Ken and I got together to do this week’s post I was rounding up ingredients at Rialto to bring home when my sous-chef Peter insisted I include the lovely little ham hock shown above. For several months now, Rialto and Henrietta’s Table, whose kitchens bump up against each other in the Charles Hotel, have been sharing a whole pig weekly, fresh from the Farm School. Brian, my chef de cuisine, and Peter break down our half of the pig. Every part of the animal is used–the racks are grilled, the belly is rolled and braised, the legs are cured and the hocks are smoked. In one way or another all of it makes its way on to the Rialto menu, except this particular hock, which I took home.
I understand the convenience of canned beans – there are a half dozen cans in our pantry – but I much prefer the flavor of dried beans cooked from scratch, especially when given a little smokey flavor from a ham hock. Despite his reservations that including a ham hock and squid in the same post would reduce our readership to my mom and his sister-in-law Ken agreed to let me use it.
A half pound of dried beans will make roughly three cups cooked, depending on the bean. I soaked dried cannellini beans in the fridge overnight (not necessary, but it speeds up the cooking the following morning). You can use any small dry beans in this recipe. Always inspect dried beans for dirt and and stones and give them a good rinse before you soak them. The next day I discarded the water, rinsed them again and then put the beans, the ham hock and a sprig of rosemary in a pot with enough water to cover everything by an inch. You can use any aromatics you like–herbs, bay leaves or spices, a ham hock, or nothing at all. The one thing you don’t want to do is add salt – if you start the beans off in salted water their skins remain tough.
I brought everything to a to a boil and then reduced the heat to a simmer. I added salt after the beans had been cooking for 30 minutes–they were done 10 minutes later. Cooking times for soaked dried beans vary according to the beans’ age, size, and how they’ve been handled. They can take from 30 to 60 minutes.