Grilled calamari with fried bread and nduja
I would not normally present a recipe with this many steps. In fact, at home I don’t really have time for recipes with more than three or four components.
This is different. It is a recipe off the menu in the restaurant. It first made an appearance last year, conceived by the then head chef at Cumulus Inc, Casey McDonald. I have eaten this dish more often than any other dish I have served in the restaurant. Due to the repetitious nature of what we do, I rarely eat any of the completed dishes once they hit the menu. I also don’t really enjoy sitting in my own restaurant. Way too many distractions to relax.
Sadly, Casey has left us to return home to New Zealand. Casey’s legacy, however, lives on with this salad. I am somewhat curious as to what Casey was thinking when he paired a fermented soft salami-like paste, nduja, with calamari. Whatever it was, it worked.
Nduja, the ingredient du jour across the country for the past 12 months, is popular for good reason. It’s spicy as hell, highly seasoned and it packs a punch. A little goes a long way. I like having a stash in the fridge and slipping some into a tomato-based pasta sauce. Sautéed with a little oil as per the recipe, the cooked nduja is great drizzled over grilled vegetables or even pizza.
Grilled calamari has to be my favourite seafood to cook on the barbecue. A raging fire is important and a quick kiss on the grill is all it needs. It’s best to just undercook the calamari: it continues to cook a bit with the residual heat from the grill. Timing the calamari is important for this recipe. Overcooked rubbery calamari is not the ideal texture, for this salad anyway.
Grilled calamari with fried bread and nduja
– 2 tbsp nduja
– 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
– 3 tbsp grapeseed oil
– small pinch of salt
– small pinch of sugar
– 1 egg yolk
– ¾ cup grapeseed oil
– 1 clove garlic, minced
– 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
– ½ tbsp Dijon mustard
– ½ cup of canola oil
– 10 curry leaves
– 1 thick slice of bread
– 1 head fennel
– 10 small red radishes
– 250g cleaned calamari
– juice from 1 lemon
To make the nduja dressing, slowly warm the nduja in a non-stick frying pan. Break it apart with a wooden spoon and fry until the oil releases and it becomes aromatic and a slightly darker colour. Transfer the cooked nduja to a mixing bowl and whisk together with the rest of the ingredients.
To make the aioli, place the egg yolk into a small mixing bowl with a pinch of salt. Whisk the yolks while slowly drizzling in the oil until it begins to thicken. Add the garlic, Dijon mustard and vinegar. Continue whisking and drizzling in the oil until it becomes thick. Season with a little salt and fresh lemon juice.
Meanwhile, heat half a cup of canola oil in a frying pan and bring to 180ºC. Add the curry leaves and fry until they stop bubbling and go crispy (about 10 seconds). Carefully remove and drain on absorbent paper.
Continue to warm the oil at a low heat, remove the crusts from the bread and cut into fingers about two centimetres thick. Fry the bread, turning on all sides until it becomes evenly golden brown and crispy. Drain the bread on absorbent paper.
Next, remove the outer layer from the fennel and slice the fennel into bite-size pieces. If your fennel has fronds on it, pick and reserve them for finishing the dish. Wash the radishes and cut into quarters.
To prepare the calamari, cut down the seam of the tube on one side only, so that you have one flat piece. Using a paper towel, remove all stringy sinew from the inside surface of the tube. Cut the tube into four even pieces and score the inside surface in a crosshatch with a sharp knife. Ensure the calamari is not cut all the way through (this will allow it to curl when cooked).
Lightly oil the calamari on the scored side. Preheat a frying pan or barbecue, grill on the scored side first for two to three minutes, flip onto the other side and continue to cook for 15 seconds. Remove from the heat and immediately season with fresh lemon juice and a little sea salt.
To assemble the salad, cut the fried bread into bite-size pieces. Place in a mixing bowl with the vegetables and dress with all the vinaigrette. Arrange on a serving dish with the calamari and generous dollops of aioli. Garnish with the fried curry leaves and fennel fronds. Serve immediately.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 15, 2017 as "Squid pro crow". Subscribe here.