This week, my recipe is, in all honesty, a bit of a mish-mash. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s good to get the confession out
of the way early.
Sometimes mish-mashes and random ideas can yield great results. We’re making a delightful savoury seafood dish, combining crunchy-fried squid with a tangy, tasty potato salad.
Since opening my spice cupboard the other week for our sacrilegious tikka lasagne, I’ve kept having the urge to add a flicker of warm spice to many dishes, and a potato salad was one of the dishes I had in mind.
Also buzzing around in my mental recipe centre was a mention by a food-writer friend of fried calamari with oatmeal coating, and I thought the two might actually make a good combination. The recipe was taking shape. I love squid, whether it’s slowly stewed in rich tomato-y garlic-laced sauces in the classic Greek style, or coated and crisply fried for the classic Italian dish Calamari Fritti.
There’s a wonderful thrill from that ever-so-slightly sproingy texture lurking within a crisp, crunchy coating. They can sometimes be rubbery, but the key with squid, and indeed octopus, is to work either very quickly or very slowly. If you seize the firm raw flesh in hot oil, it’s cooked within seconds and still tender, but if it’s overcooked it can become incredibly tough and unpleasant. However, very prolonged slow cooking eventually has a tenderising effect, and the flesh eventually becomes beautifully silky and soft. We’re after the fast method here.
The oatmeal adds a novel texture to the dish, crunchy yet still with a little of the chewiness that oats possess. On top of the squid we’re going to scatter some freshly-fried curry leaves. I have my Sri Lankan chef Chami to thank for introducing me to the scented wonders of this leaf. It grows as large bushes in India and the subcontinent, and is much used in the local cuisines. It’s an amazing ingredient, with such a powerful, aromatic and savoury flavour, instantly deepening any curry or stew.
If you make your own curry powder mixes, try adding some curry leaves before blending – the resulting spice mix will be the best you’ve ever made. One or two local supermarkets now stock fresh curry leaves, and most of your local independent Indian or Pakistani stores will have bunches of the stuff.
The leftover leaves will freeze well, for future use, and you’ll find that adding a few to any spicy dish you make will add an incredible new broad dimension of flavour.
This delightful spiciness carries over into our accompanying potato salad, a combination of soft new potatoes, crunchy red onion and lots of mustard seeds, along with the kick of some chili, ginger and garlic.
I’m using a vaguely French method for the salad, making a warm, richly-flavoured dressing and binding it around the potatoes as soon as they are cooked, allowing them to ‘drink’ the liquid and infuse themselves with all those wonderful aromatics.
If you leave the potatoes to go cold, the dressing simply coats the spuds and pools in the bowl, with the result that you don’t get half as much out of the dish as when using the hot-dressing method.
You should be able to find fresh squid at your local supermarket’s fish counter, but I always suggest you use an independent fish merchant. My fish people for over 25 years, Sailbrand, on Red Doles Lane, are always happy to help, and have a new public counter which makes life a lot easier for the passing fish fancier.
FOR THE SQUID:
500g whole fresh squid, cleaned, rinsed and patted dry
150g plain flour
A pinch of paprika and fine salt
2 large free-range eggs, beaten
FOR THE POTATO SALAD:
900g new potatoes
1 large red onion, finely sliced
1 small piece fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green chili, finely chopped
2 tsp toasted black mustard seeds
2 tsp toasted white mustard seeds
2 tsp toasted cumin seeds
1 tsp turmeric powder
The juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
A large splash of cider or white wine vinegar
4 tsp sunflower oil
1x70g bag lamb’s lettuce (or watercress)
A handful of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
A handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
Oil for deep-frying
A large handful fresh curry leaves
First, make the potato salad; bring a pan of well-salted water to the boil, and cook the potatoes until tender. Heat the sunflower oil gently and sizzle the garlic, chili and ginger for a few minutes, just to take out the rawness.
Remove from the heat and add the toasted spices, plus the lemon juice and vinegar. When the potatoes are cooked, drain and, if your hands can bear it, slice them as quickly as possible into a bowl. Pour over the spice dressing, and stir to coat completely. Tip in the lemon zest, red onion and the chopped green herbs.
Keep the lamb’s lettuce to one side, as it will wilt if kept in the dressing too long.
Chill the salad until you’re ready, but ensure it comes up to room temperature for serving, as it improves the flavour no end.
Prepare the squid next. Gently score the tube all over with a small sharp knife – this allows the coating to stick and prevents the rings from tightening too much.
Cut the squid into rings about 1cm thick. Prepare three bowls, one for the flour, one for the beaten egg and one for the oats. Season the flour with salt and paprika, and dredge the squid rings, covering completely. Shake of any excess, and submerge the rings in the egg. Then transfer one by one to the oats, covering completely. Place on a wide plate until all the rings are ready.
Heat a pan of sunflower oil to 180ºC, or until a cube of white bread sizzles the minute it hits the surface.
Fry the rings in small batches until golden and crisp – it should only take a minute or so, and drain well. Keep the squid warm as you finish each batch – a low oven is ideal.
Finally, throw in the curry leaves and allow them to sizzle for a few seconds, then drain and sprinkle with a little fine salt.
Scatter the curry leaves over the squid and serve immediately.
Toss the lamb’s lettuce into the potato salad and set to one side.