Calamari with garlic, chilli, lemon and tomato
As the weather rapidly warms, thoughts turn to outdoors, beaches, quick and easy dishes and Aperol spritzes. Instead of spending hours in the kitchen sweating over a hot stove, it’s wonderful to have something that’s easy and delicious that can be whipped up with little commitment. But just because it’s swift, that doesn’t mean sacrificing depth of flavour.
Calamari fits in nicely here. It is a seafood that enjoys being cooked slowly and gently but is equally happy with a rapid cook, which, when done properly, leaves you with the softest texture to this cephalopod. This dish alone is by no means a balanced meal. Rather it sits nicely in among other easy grazing plates, with the only essential addition being some sort of bread to mop up its sauciness. It also can very easily be turned into a pasta dish. Add it to some linguine or spaghetti and you’ll have enough for two to three people.
This recipe is my take on a dish I first ate at least 10 years ago. I can still taste it in my mind – you know those ones? It was in Sydney, at Potts Point restaurant The Fish Shop, which was run by an extremely talented chef named Jeremy Strode, whose food was always delicious. I remember we had a table laden with bits and pieces, chips were involved and I feel like there was a crisp salad with iceberg lettuce and radishes. I ate this dish there several more times and I believe various iterations of it are still floating around, but as an ode to The Fish Shop dish and the talents of the late Jeremy, I have made my own version to share with you.
Mine is not too dissimilar to Jeremy’s but I have added a few things. Capers because I love that extra salty pop, curry leaves because they are my favourite and bring a delicate savoury note, and tomato because it melts and mixes into that oily sauce, giving extra acid and balance. But really, when you have a dish as good as the original, you don’t want to mess with it much.
As this dish is so fast, it is important to have everything weighed and measured and ready to go. Your bread should be warmed, your salad ready and any other accompanying bits on the table. And then it’s just a matter of 10 minutes by the stove before you are sitting outside with your friends, mopping up the oily goodness with another spritz in hand.
Time: 10 minutes preparation + 10 minutes cooking
- 300g cleaned calamari
- 150ml olive oil
- 6 large garlic cloves, finely and evenly sliced
- salt flakes and black pepper
- 2 long red chillies, sliced into thin rounds
- 3-4 sprigs curry leaves, picked
- 20g baby capers
- 200g cherry tomatoes, cut in half
- 1 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- Cut your calamari on a slight angle into even strips about half a centimetre wide. Set aside.
- Place a large frying pan over a low heat and add in the oil and garlic. Season with a bit of salt and black pepper and stir around in the pan as the oil heats. The aim here is to gently coax the flavours out into the oil without the garlic colouring. As soon as the oil starts to sizzle (about two minutes), add in the chilli, curry leaves and capers and stir them around as they spit and fry.
- Continue cooking until the curry leaves are crisp but the garlic is still pale. This should take about five minutes.
- Add in the calamari and turn the heat up to high as you mix it to coat in the oil. Give it about a minute before adding the tomatoes and again turning the heat down to low.
- At this stage have a little taste for seasoning as you continue stirring occasionally and cooking for a further two minutes. Your calamari should be soft and giving, and the tomatoes starting to break down.
- Add in the parsley, stir and continue cooking for a moment before zesting in the lemon. Turn the heat off and squeeze in enough lemon juice until you are happy with the sauce. It will be super oily so you do want a strong lemon flavour to balance.
- Serve immediately with charred or warmed bread to mop up the juices. A salad is good too.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 28, 2023 as "Squid pro glow".
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