I Love Cephalopods

I was living in Mexico when I first fell in love with cephalopods. Octopus was the primary cephalopod I ate with abandon. Though I still have not learned to cook it.

Some chefs say cook it with a cork in the water for 30 minutes, others say one and a half hours. So I continue to leave it to the restaurant world in Mexico to perfectly prepare my octopus.

You could have pulpo (octopus) in ceviche, as carpaccio, grilled, a la plancha (cooked on the flattop) or sauteed. It might have been cooked with lime or garlic, in a sweet-tomato sauce with onions and bell peppers (campechana) or in a butter-garlic sauce. No matter how they served it, you could rest assured I would order it.

So when we moved back to Texas, where we kept a home, 'puss, as we call it, was one of the foods I missed the most. Along with the tomatoes, prolific basil, fresh fish, spiny lobster, langostinos, flowing tequila, gorgeous weather, gargantuan breakfasts, spectacular coffee...and the list goes on. To eat in Mexico is to eat well, no matter what your socio-economic standing.

It took us a while to find Groomer Seafood when we moved back to town, but we eventually stumbled upon it at a friend's recommendation. This local seafood shop saved us from seafood starvation. They have everything you could imagine and are very knowledgable. From ahi tuna to grouper to snapper to halibut (when it's in season) to amazing salmon and the most gorgeous swordfish. And, yes, they have cephalopods, too.

Lots of snappers, flounder, mackerel

That's one big swordfish!

Grouper, halibut, mahi-mahi

Fresh yellowfin tuna

Squid is also in the cephalopod family and it's definitely easier to prepare, much more readily available in the US and extremely well-priced. I am not a fan of what you think of when someone says "calamari," which is the fried rubber rings you find everywhere. It's not that I don't like it, because I do. It's just that I think it's an overdone menu item and mostly prepared very poorly. If the grease isn't hot enough, it's greasy, or there's too much breading, or they are rubbery or there's just no flavor.

I prefer my squid grilled.

Yes, it's a labor of love, but fortunately, my husband loves me.

A few months ago, we made this dish that is in Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italy cookbook and I made the fatal error or serving it over mixed greens. I admit it was a bad call on my part and I owned up to it.

Now that the weather is warming up a bit, I am craving lighter foods, but foods that are packed with flavor. And this dish has it all, so we decided to follow Jamie's instructions this time. To the tee.

Without the greens, David and I ate every last morsel. We served the grilled squid salad with a piece of grilled country bread that we topped with thinly sliced good-quality salami and a piece of prosciutto. This crunchy, meaty side saved the meal, as David wanted something more than just "squid salad."

If cephalopods are in your repertoire, give this grilled squid salad a try. It's worth the effort and may make a believer out of non-believers. Or non-lovers of cephalopods.

Buen provecho!

Grilled Squid Salad with Tomato and Fennel
The Cowgirl Gourmet found this recipe in Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Italy cookbook and slightly modified it

Print recipe

Scoring the squid and then grilling it is time consuming, but worth every bite! It's a light and fresh appetizer or a totally satiating entree. It's even great leftover the next day.

Serves 5 as app or salad and 3 for entree

1 lb. squid tentacles
1 lb. squid bodies, cleaned and skinned
1 dried red chili, crumbled
1 lb. mixed tomatoes (cherry or pear, homegrown or heirloom), sliced, halved or quartered
1/2 red onion, sliced super thin
1 bulb of fennel, plus the herby tops
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 orange
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 T. good red wine vinegar
6 T. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Prepare your cleaned squid bodies by slicing them along one side and flattening them out. Now score the inside flesh in a criss-cross pattern with a knife. Season the squid with a little salt and pepper, sprinkle the dried chili over it and drizzle with a little olive oil on both sides.

Notice the criss-cross pattern on the squid above.

Slice, quarter or halve the tomatoes into erratic chunks and put them in a bowl with the red onion. Remove the herby tops of the fennel and put to one side. Cut the bottom of the fennel off, then cut it in half, remove the core and the outer layer, if necessary. Slice the fennel very finely and toss in the bowl with the tomatoes and onion. Zest the lemon and set the zest aside. Squeeze in the lemon and orange juice and add the oregano.

Dress the salad with the red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and toss everything together. Taste and correct the seasoning if needed.

Over a hot charcoal or gas grill, put the tentacles on first, as they take twice as long to cook as the bodies. We use a grill saute pan with holes in it so the tentacles don't fall through the grill grates. Then lay the flat, scored pieces of squid bodies on the grill over high heat. They will tend to curl up, which is fine, just keep grilling them and they will be easy to slice into rings.

I like to see some char on the outside which may take a little while. Keep flipping them until you achieve the desired color. be careful when flipping that you don't lose pieces through the grill grate. If you do, you can fish them out and put them back on the grill. The grilling process may take a while...up to 10 minutes, depending on how hot your fire is.

Once colored on both sides, slice the squid on an angle and throw the pieces, while still warm, into the bowl of tomatoes, fennel and onion. Toss around and have one final taste to make sure the seasoning is just right and divide equally among four or two plates. Drizzle with any extra juices and a little extra olive oil. Sprinkle the lemon zest and herby fennel tops and serve immediately.

Refrigerate any leftovers and enjoy the next day for lunch.

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