Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Treasures from the deep - deep-freeze, that is

I found a bag of calamari rings at the grocery the other day; they seemed to be at a decent price, so I bought them. On the bag, it had a recipe for calamari salad, starting with poaching the rings 1 or 2 minutes. OK, I thought, I'll follow the directions, but use them in pasta sauce instead. I've often done that with fresh squid with excellent results.

For starters, I could tell as soon as I put them in the hot liquid that they were chosen for their size, not freshness. But what was worse was they had probably been cooked 1 or 2 minutes before they had been frozen. So add on the poaching time to thaw them and they were overcooked. Chewy. Unappetizing.

A disaster? No way. 

I remembered my first taste of calamari, which wasn't like most non-Italians' experience of a mound of deep-fried rings. It was at an Italian restaurant in Philadelphia that had been the site of a mob hit just two weeks before, which meant we were the only non-Italians in the place. Alan ordered me a dish that he said I'd love, but it would be a surprise. Sure enough, it was a plate of what I thought were giant Spaghetti-Os in a very rich and spicy tomato sauce. The white rings had the texture of al dente pasta, but they were calamari.

You can cook calamari to tenderness two ways: Cook them very fast over high heat, just until they become opaque and serve them immediately; or cook them slowly over low heat for at least a half hour. They will relax and expand and become delicious once more.

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