Tuesday 15 April 2014

Squid and Pepper Stew with Indian Spices

In a recent post I mentioned that I had been reviewing a video series from renowned French  chef, Raymond Blanc. One of the episodes is all slow cooked dishes. It inspired a braised vegetable dish that I recently shared. There was another dish from that episode I wanted to try. He made a squid and chorizo stew with tomatoes, potatoes, onion and garlic. I've had squid fried or grilled before but I had never tried it slow cooked. Like braising, cooking the squid gently at low temperature in liquid breaks down the collagen in the meat making it soft and buttery. I wanted to use Raymond Blanc's cooking technique but translate into a different flavour profile. I really enjoy Indian food and it's been a while since I've done something from that part of the world. Mind you, this is not an authentic Indian dish but I used turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander, ground fennel and ground pepper. The key to so many Indian dishes is using whole spices, lightly toasted and then ground yourself. The difference that it makes is most definitely worth the extra step. The flavour becomes warmer and more pronounced. 

I started out with 1 tsp fennel seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp coriander seeds and literally 7 peppercorns. I added them to a warm, dry pan over medium heat and gave the pan a shake for 30-40 seconds. Toasting whole spices doesn't take long. In fact they're quite easy to burn and if you do, you completely compromise the flavour of your dish. 30-40 seconds seems to do the trick. The spices should not toast enough to change in colour or smell. All it takes is just a little heat transferred from the pan to warm up and awaken the essential oils within the spices. Keeping the pan moving will prevent burning.

Note to Self: Get nicer pans :S

Then I dumped my freshly toasted spices into my mortar and pestle and ground them by hand into a fragrant powder. Afterward I added about 1 tsp of ground turmeric. This was perfect for a mildly spiced curry, which was a better pair for the natural sweetness of the squid rather than a gutsy curry blend that would have overpowered the star ingredient.


Let's go over how to prep the squid. Before you prep, rinse your squid thoroughly with cold water and pat with paper towel until very dry. When I picked up my squid from my fish monger it was already cleaned (which is different from rinsed). You can get your fish monger to clean the squid for you. Otherwise, you'll just have to cut the squid just beneath the eyes. This will separate the smaller tentacles from the head in one piece. Pull out the "beak" (the squid's mouth) from the middle of the tentacles, which should be quite effortless. Discard the beak. Gently pull the head out of the main cavity of the squid. You may have to make a few small incisions with a knife to free the head, being careful not to pierce the ink sack. When freed, the head can be easily removed and it will come out with a bit of guts and the ink sack intact. Discard the head and the insides. The last thing to do is to remove the quill from the cavity of the squid. The quill acts as the squid's backbone and very closely resembles a clear, plastic feather. It runs along the inside of the squid at its full length and can easily be removed with your fingers. Discard the quill. Then you should end up with a set of tentacles and a hollow cone for each squid.


Each squid will have two parallel fins on either side of its body. Carefully slice those away without piercing the cavity. They are perfectly edible, but you want to remove them from  the body for better presentation. Keep the fins aside with the tentacles.


Here is what your cleaned, prepped squid cavity should look like at this stage:

Then, butterfly the squid. Gently insert a sharp knife into the cavity and pierce through the tip.Then run the blade through the squid in one fluid stroke so that it can be opened like a book. You may have to make an extra incision near the tip so that the butterflied squid can lay flat on your work surface.

Then use a sharp knife to gently score a cross-hatch pattern into the squid. Make the diagonal lines about half a centimetre apart. Be sure the knife doesn't go completely through the squid at any time. This will not only tenderize the squid but create more surface area for flavour to penetrate. As it cooks, the shallow cuts will allow the pieces of squid to curl creating a beautiful presentation.

Then slice the cavity into 2 - 4 pieces. No more than that, or the pieces will not be big enough to create a full enough curl. I cut both of my squid into 4 pieces each. In retrospect, I would have rather used four squids and cut each cavity into only two pieces... but live and learn. 

That's a fairly basic way to prep squid for all kinds of applications like soups, stews and stir fries. If you prefer, you can always cut the cone horizontally to make rings instead, like you would for fried calamari. 

The rest of the technique is similar to other curries, tagines, soups and stews that we've made on the blog. In a bit of ghee (clarified butter) I fried off a finely chopped onion and a pinch of salt . Whenever I make an Indian style dish, I always fry the onions and leave them untouched for about a minute or so at a time. This will create a good sear and caramelized flavour. It's not like a French soup where you would only want to sweat the onions before adding liquid. When making curry, you want a good amount of browning on your onions. Even if it takes you longer than ten minutes to achieve this.


Then I added a diced green pepper, 2 minced garlic cloves, and a thumb size piece of ginger that was peeled and finely minced. Then I stir fried for about a minute.

Then I added the ground spices, some fresh, minced chili and a dried bay leaf. I stirred this just to incorporate all of the spices into the onion and allow the flavours to warm up and come alive. About 30 seconds.

Then I added some diced vine tomatoes. The tomatoes will immediately release liquid which will stop the frying process and prevent the garlic and spices from burning. Give everything a good stir and allow the tomatoes to break down for a couple of minutes. Feel free to taste and adjust seasonings at this point.

Then add just enough stock to barely cover the ingredients. I used chicken stock but vegetable or fish stock would be great alternatives. 

Bring the liquid up to a very gentle simmer. One or two bubbles is perfect. Then add the prepped pieces of squid and stir them into the stew.

Cover and reduce the heat to low. Then allow it to cook gently for one hour and not a minute less. The liquid should remain at that stage of gentle simmer throughout the entire cooking process.

Afterward, remove the lid, taste and adjust for seasoning then serve. This is great with bread but you could eat it with rice or just by itself. This was an interesting dish because the sauce was too thin to really call it a good curry but it wasn't thin enough to be soup. It was just an interesting squid stew with an Indian flair. Quite tasty! The texture you get from slow cooking squid is just as good as Raymond Blanc made it out to be. The gentle simmer is so important because if the liquid is too hot, the squid will go rubbery and the peppers will turn to mush. Even after an hour of cooking the peppers still had enough bite to them and the squid was so tender. Just remember to remove the bay leaf before enjoying.

I really recommend that you give this technique a try. Feel free to be as adventurous as you please with the flavour and have fun with it.

Talk to you again soon!



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