Squid is a beautiful thing…..when it’s cooked well. Yes, I love to drink a beer or ten along with the ubiquitous deep-fried calamari. It's usually nothing but a spongy-fried-rubbery vehicle for whatever the sauce is. The first time I had a perfectly cooked, marinated and grilled calamari with some friends on the east coast I was blown away. THIS is calamari?!?!? It was tender, subtle and was not at all what I was expecting. It was amazing! This was not the old, fishy, leathery, rubbery thing I’d grown to expect.
Speaking of which, let me tell you about my good friend Becky Selengut. Becky is a private chef in Seattle and a spectacular cooking instructor. She's also my fun-nemesis on twitter, although she's not NEARLY as witty as I am and generally loses when we spar (she can also kick my ass, so this is me ducking and running for the door.) I tone down my snark and help her with a lot of her cooking classes, and Learn. A. Ton. She just put out her second cookbook, Good Fish. This book covers sustainable seafood found in the northwest, and celebrates the fish we can eat rather than bitching about the food we shouldn’t. (That said, I still loves me some Unagi. Maybe served with koala paw and tiger penis on an ivory plate.) One of the many things I love about the book is that it has at least 4 recipes per protein, starting with something quick and easy and working up to something restaurant-quality. It’s nice to have a choice, and not just be stuck with 5 minute, 2-ingredient, Rachel Ray-ized options. (Thanks, Becky)
Becky and I were hanging out recently over a very sophisticated dinner of beer and chili, and I admitted I’d never made squid at home. She gave me an incredulous (and slightly judgy) look so I vowed to make squid last weekend. I decided to give it a try, if for no other reason than to wipe that patronizing, disgusted sneer off her face. I bought a couple pounds of squid from Mutual fish, and made her Wok-Seared Squid with Lemongrass, Chile and Basil one night, and her Grilled Squid with Tamarind and Orange the next. Amazing stuff. Tender, it absorbed the taste of the flavors around it, and left us not feeling guilty for eating something unhealthy. Eating a healthy meal like that leaves extra room. For wine. Duh.
1 stalk lemongrass
2 Tbsp high-heat vegetable oil
1 pound cleaned squid, tubes cut into rings and tentacles cut in half lengthwise, or whole squid cleaned and cut (Note: you can find a how-to video on cleaning and cutting up a squid on Goodfishbook.com)
½ small red onion, cut into thin half moons
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
½ cup medium-diced red bell pepper
1 Tbsp Thai roasted red chile paste (Becky recommends Thai Kitchen’s brand)
¼ cup clam juice
½ cup roughly-torn fresh basil leaves
1 tsp fish sauce, plus additional for seasoning
2 medium limes, one juiced, the other cut into wedges for garnish
Cooked rice noodles or rice, for serving
Prepare the lemongrass by cutting off the top half of the stalk (where it is thinner and darker); discard this. Trim the very bottom and discard, then cut the stalk into 1-inch lengths. Smack each piece of lemongrass with the side of a knife to help it release its flavor into the dish.
Heat a wok or large sauté pan over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil to the wok along with the lemongrass. Cook for 1 minute, or until the lemongrass just starts to brown. Add the squid and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or just until the squid ring edges curl up a bit and turn white. Transfer the squid and lemongrass, along with any juices, to a large bowl and reserve. Wipe the wok clean with a paper towel.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the wok (still at high heat), along with the onions, ginger, bell pepper and chile paste. Pick the reserved lemongrass from its bowl and add to the wok. Sauté, actively stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the onions start to soften. Add any juice that has collected from the squid (but not the squid itself) and the clam juice.
Cook over high heat until there is hardly and liquid left, about 2 minutes. Add the squid, basil and fish sauce, and cook for 1 more minute. Season to taste with more fish sauce as needed and add the lime juice.
Serve immediately, over rice noodles or rice, with lime wedges on the side.
April Pogue, Becky’s wife and a Sommelier who paired the right wine with every dish in the book, recommends a Riesling, such as Chateau Ste. Michelle Eroica 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington to accompany this dish, or a Thai beer, such as Singha.