Love is a Many Tentacled Creature
Things have changed a lot for Mike and I over the past couple of years. We got married, went on a couple of exceptionally fun vacations, and were blessed with a gorgeous baby girl who is our absolute world. What hasn’t changed, thankfully, is that we’re still best friends, spending time with each other is the best part of every day, and I still derive no greater pleasure than tricking him into eating things that horrify him, or the few dishes that he thinks that he hates.
For real. I always keep an emergency block of tofu in the fridge specifically for times that I’m feeling wicked.
Anyway, I had used my culinary wiles to earn a bit of credit in the Love Bank lately, by making a rather special multi-course Valentine’s Day dinner that featured a fabulous dry aged organic rib-eye as a main, and the following weekend for Family Day we celebrated by staying in our pajamas all day and eating chili cheese burgers with Greek fries for dinner (staying at home all day was his real present, because as you might have guessed, if I don’t leave the house for at least a few hours every day I actually start to degrade and will eventually perish). I like to think of chili cheese burgers as a valuable gold-tone bargaining chip when it comes to our relationship, and because of those two Mike-centric dinners, I was able to look him steadily in the eyes and say, “We’re going to St. Lawrence Market next weekend.” And he just sighed and nodded his head.
Let’s be honest; many men don’t love going to the farmer’s market as much as most of the ladies that I know. It involves waking up early on a critical Only-Day-To-Sleep-In morning, shlepping off to spend exorbitant amounts of money on produce that claims to be “organic”, braving throngs of other tired and cranky people who would shiv you for that basket of chanterelles without a second thought, and for those of us in the suburbs it also includes a 40 minute commute and a $20 parking fee. Although a morning at the market will leave me exhilarated and giddy with culinary optimism, it leaves poor Mike feeling beleaguered, broke, and filled with trepidation about dinner.
This is partially because it is impossible for me to leave the market without buying a glut of fresh seafood, some manner of exotic game meat (camel sausages, anyone?), at least two particularly stinky cheeses and a big bunch of kale. And they might all get cobbled together into dinner. YUM.
As with every time that I’ve been to the market, I fully intended to show restraint but when I reached the seafood section, well, the flesh was weak. I was only looking for a bit of fish for dinner, but I also left with a bag of wild caught colossal white shrimp and some snowy white squidoos. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that Mike is no fan of anything tentacled. You also know that apparently I don’t care … at all. I’m that kind of wife.
So yes, I made squid for my cephalapod-averse husband. Again. Because I love it, and frankly, I feel like I’ve earned it. And to be honest, he muttered a lot but he didn’t really mind because in the dead of winter, the flavors of this dish bring us right back to the fabulous memory of the seafood feasts that we ate in Spain on the beach as the sun was setting. It was magic. The good thing is that you can capture some of that Mediterranean sunshine at home with one of the quickest weeknight dinners that I know.
Mediterranean Grilled Seafood with Garlic and Lemon
Serves 4 with bread and salad
- 1 lb calamari, cleaned *
- 1 lb jumbo or colossal shrimp **
- 1/3 cup kalamata olives, about 2 dozen
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 medium cloves garlic
- 1-2 lemons, (1 tsp zest and 3 tbsp juice)
- 2.5 tsp dried oregano ***
- 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
- 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
* When you buy pre-cleaned calamari, which is generally how it is sold, all that you need to do is break down the bodies. However, if your calamari has not been cleaned, you can remove the grody bits by following these excellent instructions.
** Look for shrimp that are less than 21-25/lb. The juicy fatties that I bought were 15-18/lb and they were perfect. Unlike the calamari, colossal shrimp are generally sold in the shell and need to be peeled and deveined. It does take a bit of extra time, but I far prefer that to previously frozen shrimp that was already shelled, which is usually the alternative, as the texture of the shelled is inferior. Cleaning the shrimp is easy enough and there is a good diagram here.
** Fresh herbs are usually superior to dried, but I find that fresh will just burn and blacken immediately when the seafood is grilled. Dried oregano is pungent and powerful but has much better staying power for a recipe like this.
Peel the garlic cloves and use a garlic press, or grate them on a rasp, into a small mixing bowl. Add one teaspoon of lemon zest, the dried oregano, chili flakes, salt and pepper.
Squeeze in the lemon juice (1 plump and juicy lemon or 1.5 smaller lemons will be fine. Don’t worry about being too exact here) and pour in the olive oil. Stir until combined.
The great thing about this recipe is that it is so delightfully quick and easy. You just made both the marinade AND the finishing sauce in less than 5 minutes!
Separate the squid tentacles from the bodies. If the tentacles are particularly large, cut them lengthwise into 2-3 pieces. Smaller tentacles can be left whole.
Lay the calamari tube flat on your cutting board and slide a sharp knife along one side to open it up like a book. Using very gentle pressure from your knife, slide it along the body in long and shallow grooves, each about 1/8″ apart, as you score the flesh. This will help the calamari to cook quickly and evenly, as well as allowing lots of room for the garlic and lemon marinade to penetrate and collect.
Peel and devein the shrimp, if that hasn’t already been done, but feel free to leave the tails intact for presentation purposes.
In a large bowl, combine the shrimp, squid and kalamata olives. Pour 2/3 of the marinade over top, making sure to reserve at least 3 tablespoons. Ensure that all of the seafood has been evenly coated in what is essentially a flavor mania.
Let the seafood marinate for 30 minutes, if you can. That’s the perfect length of time for the flavors to permeate, but not enough time for the acid in the lemon juice to start denaturing the shrimp.
Set your grill pan over high heat. If you have one of those fabulous and long grill pans that spans multiple elements, well, I’m jealous. Also, that means that you can multitask and put the seafood on in stages according to how long each cooks. However, for those of you who have just a regular one-element pan like me, start by nestling in all of the shrimp and olives. Let the shrimp grill on each side for about 1-2 minutes (depending on size and how hot your grill pan gets), and take them off as soon as you can see grill marks, or the shrimp are pinkly opaque and curling. Please try not to overcook the shrimp as they really do grill up quite quickly. As soon as the shrimp are cooked, take them out and keep them warm in a heat proof bowl.
The olives, on the other hand, can stay down and just need a little nudge.
Next up are the calamari tentacles. Grill these until they shrink, curl, and feel slightly springy to the touch, or about 2-3 minutes total.
When the tentacles are cooked, they can join the shrimp. Give the olives another little turn.
Finally, lay the calamari bodies on to the grill pan with the hatched side down. Let this cook for only about a minute before turning the bodies over and letting them cook on their backs for another 30 seconds or so. Calamari cooks up exceptionally quickly so don’t leave the pan unattended. Don’t turn around. In fact, if you want to just stand and stare at it as it cooks, feel free. Other people may judge you for that, but not me, my friend. I stare too.
As the calamari bodies cook, they will begin to curl. Take them out of the pan and set them on a cutting board, nudging the bodies gently to encourage them to curl into tubes, which they will do quite willingly. Slice the bodies crosswise into slices that are about 1/2″ thick before adding them to the rest of the mix.
Oh yes, and those delightful grilled olives can now join the party too.
Spread the seafood and olives on a platter and drizzle the remaining garlic and lemon mixture over top. Feel free to garnish with a few additional slices of lemon if you feel the yen.
This simple but succulent grilled seafood is a perfect light dinner served with a fresh loaf and a simple salad with a bit of acid. Although it is winter, we found some perfect hothouse grown cherry tomatoes at the Market which were super sweet and perfect in a tomato and cucumber salad, dressed simply with naught but a drizzle of very good olive oil and some crunchy flaked sea salt.
If you aren’t sucking your fingers and fighting over the heel of bread to sop up every last drop of those delicious garlicky, lemony seafood juices, I’ll eat my hat. Although, by “hat” I actually mean “your share of the tentacles”, because they’re totally the best part. That must be why Mike always lets me eat his, because he loves me. Yes. That’s why.
Garlicky and bright, with the briny sweetness of grilled olives and all that succulent fresh seafood, this is one of my absolutely favorite ways to cook calamari and if you give it a shot, you will completely agree.