Stuffed calamari is one of my all time favorites, so whenever I see smaller calamari, about the size of my hand, I buy them for this dish; big ones are not quite as tender and are too much for one person to eat. Calamari are a very Melbourne thing, they are plentiful in the bay and a staple in every fish and chip shop, Greek eatery and a majority of pubs and bistros around town. Popular crumbed or dusted in flour and fried, they are affectionately known as rubber bands, mostly for the few times we have all encounter chewy little overcooked numbers.
Growing up in Melbourne with an enthusiastic fisherman father, I spent a lot of my childhood fishing on piers around the bay and was always fascinated by the extremely long poles used by, the mostly Greek, men jigging for calamari. Jigging means you make the jig or lure dance erratically, a little like a drunken sailor’s jig, to attract the squid. Cephalopods are extremely elusive and tricky to catch, so on the rare occasion one was nabbed there would be much excitement in the little pier community which otherwise kept pretty quiet, all eyes fixed on the middle distance. I don’t know the reasons why we never fished for them; maybe it ran along ethnic lines but I don’t recall ever eating calamari at home. While I never got to try out jigging, I did try my hand in the kitchen and after some early attempts at creating rubber bands I have since learned to cook calamari successfully, including marinated and barbecued, coated and fried, in risotto and slowly stewed with tomato and peas or a spicy chorizo. The trick is you either cook them quickly or stew gently for a long time but nothing in between. A few years ago I tried cooking Guy Grossi’s recipe for stuffed calamari and was amazed how easy and wonderful cooking calamari this way was. The stuffing is simple; the tentacles are sautéed with a chopped shallot, garlic, parsley, cooked peas and lemon zest and bound together with breadcrumbs. Grossi makes the unusual addition of a small amount of grated ginger which really lifts the flavour and gives it a very gentle heat. Browned and then cooked in white wine for no more than 10 minutes, it is a quick and delicious meal, guaranteed to attract attention.
- 2 medium calamari, complete with wings and tentacles
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- olive oil
- a handful of peas, blanched
- 1/2 tsp grated ginger
- 2 tbs chopped parsley
- zest of a small lemon
- 1/3 cup dried breadcrumbs or panko
- 1 glass of white wine
Ask the fishmonger to clean the calamari for you but make you say you want the flaps on the side and the tentacles. They are easy to clean yourself if you don’t mind getting your fingers inside to gently pull out the inside bits and the transparent, plastic-like comb. Rinse the empty tubes under the tap and pat dry with paper towel. Chop the flaps and tentacles into small pieces. You will need a heavy based frying pan with a lid to cook these on the stove or you can use the stove top and finish cooking them in a 180ºC oven if you have a pan that can go from stove to oven.
Gently saute the chopped shallot and ginger in olive oil with a little salt. Add the chopped calamari pieces, garlic and parsley and stir for a minute. Turn the heat off and add the zest, peas and breadcrumbs, adding enough crumbs to bring the ingredients together for a stuffing. Using a teaspoon stuff the calamari, securing the end with a toothpick. Return to the pan and brown the stuffed calamari on all sides. Add the wine, scrapping any bits from the surface with a wooden spoon. Turn down the heat, cover with the lid and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the stuffed calamari to a serving plate and further reduce the wine to syrupy consistency and spoon it over the calamari.