Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Calamari Provencal.

There's a steak in there. © Ryan Schierling
There are a lot of things I don't understand about the ways of food wording. When a cow is grazing, wandering, giving milk, it's a cow. When it's butchered, it's beef. Baby cow... calf. Unless you're eating it, then it's veal. A pig is a pig until it's pork, a moniker issued upon its demise. Chicken, well, that's just... chicken. A squid out of the water and on its way to your plate is calamari, unless you're Italian. In that case, in whatever state, it's still calamari.

Most people are familiar with the breaded and deep-fried rings of calamari, oft-dipped in marinara or aioli. This chain-restaurant appetizer staple endured somewhat of a scandal a while back. Given the shape, color and texture of calamari rings, some insidious folks had been passing off "imitation" calamari as the real thing, and you don't want to know what the faux calamari was made of. Or maybe you do. Let's just leave it at the fact that "seafood fraud" is apparently a common occurrence in the food industry, and you may have been enjoying a delicious plate of sliced, deep-fried hog rectum. Prepared in a similar fashion, pork bung has a texture that is frighteningly close to calamari rings. Fried and dipped in a sauce that masks most flavor, not many would be able to tell the difference. Hell, after a few glasses of wine, most people would mistake supple Italian shoe-leather for milanese if you breaded, deep-fried and seasoned it nicely.

Now that I've put you off squid for good, let me tell you a secret. There's far more to calamari than deep-fried rings. The body of larger squid are cut into sections, tenderized and sold as calamari "steak." These cuts take well to a nice long braise, starting tender, toughening up like a chewy rubber band, and then relaxing back to their delicate state. This simple recipe draws upon my love of Pacific Northwest cioppino, and there's nothing better than sopping up that rich, tomato and calamari-infused liquid with toasted sourdough bread.

Calamari Provencal

2 calamari steaks, cut into 1/2-inch strips, then cut to 1-inch pieces
1 14.5 ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes
1 white onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 small waxy white potatoes, peeled and diced
1/4 cup dry red wine (Syrah works nicely)
2 tablespoons capers
2 sprigs fresh thyme
crushed red pepper flakes
salt to taste 
chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

In a large skillet, saute the onion and garlic over medium heat with a bit of olive oil. Once the onion has softened, add the tomatoes and juice from the can, calamari, wine, capers, thyme, red pepper, and a good hearty pinch of salt. Let slowly simmer with a lid on for 45 minutes. Add potatoes and cook for 15 more minutes, until just tender. Adjust salt and spoon into small bowls. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with toasted sourdough bread. 

Serves 8.

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