Get the App(s)

When the year 1999 passed into the new millennium, we were living in Maine, and decided we would spend that New Year's Eve cooking globally.

Starting at 11:00am, as midnight began to sweep the other side of the globe, we made and ate an appetizer - just a nibble or two - every hour until 6:00pm, by which time it was midnight in Paris. At that hour we ate our final hors d’œuvre, clinked our glasses of Prosecco, watched the city fireworks from our front stoop, and celebrated the coming of 2000. (We still like to toast each New Year on Paris time...)

The fun thing was choosing the hors d’œuvre-of-the-moment from the cuisine where it was turning midnight at that hour. That worked fine until we got over the Atlantic Ocean... for many hours. I simply opted for a seafood theme for those ocean hours.

This year, we decided to do hourly hors d’oeuvres through the afternoon and evening, but this time with an all fish/seafood menu. The inspiration for this menu was a bottle of 2016 Côtes du Rhône white wine, Le Caillou. You can read about the pairing in my monthly Wine with Food column in the Provence WineZine.

In the sequence of intermittent apps were smoked whItefish spread, grilled red Thai curry shrimp on lemongrass skewers, smoked salmon and goat cheese on cucumber slices with dill, homemade blini with crème fraîche and caviar, grilled oysters, and finally salt-and-pepper calamari served over a salad of mizuna with a soy-citrus dressing.

The calamari recipe came from a new book we received from Cathy and Heather for Christmas: Caz Hildebrand’s The Grammar of Spice. Beautifully illustrated with lush chromolithographs by 19th century Welsh architect Owen Jones, this book gives you the origin, history, and usage of each spice, as well as suggested pairings and a recipe.

Markipedia peeked over my shoulder at the illustrations and said, “Hmmm. These remind me of Owen Jones, who wrote The Grammar of Ornament [here is the book online] in the 1850s.” (Do any of you know how annoying this is??). He then went and pulled his two massive facsimile volumes from the library shelf.

By complete happenstance, when I flipped open the book, the first spice I saw was Pepper. The accompanying recipe for salt and pepper calamari looked so good that we decided it would be the ultimate dish for our New Year's Eve celebration.

The only change I would make (and it is reflected below) is that I would use less salt than called for in the recipe. And, instead of simply serving it with a dipping sauce, as suggested, we used the sauce as a dressing and served the calamari over salad. Mizuna was a perfect match for the calamari and sauce, but arugula would work well, too.

I won this beautiful mortar and pestle from a contest on Perfectly Provence.
We will definitely be making this again, and look forward to trying many other recipes in the book. While the New Year is now months behind us, I know many are glad to see that spring is on its way!

~ David

Salt and Pepper Calamari
minimally adapted from The Grammar of Spice

6 squid tubes, with tentacles, cleaned

juice of 1 Meyer lemon, or the juice of 1/2 lemon and 1/2 orange
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce, to taste
3 tablespoons Mirin
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1-inch piece ginger, finely grated

1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
2-3 teaspoons sea salt (originally called for 4 teaspoons!)
4 teaspoons cornstarch
neutral oil, for frying

4 cups mizuna or arugula, on four salad or dinner plates.

Trim the tentacles off the calamari tubes, then cut the tubes into 1/4-inch rings. Trim tentacles, of needed. Set aside.

Whisk together the lemon juice, soy sauce, Mirin, oyster sauce, rice wine vinegar, and grated ginger. Set aside.

Grind the peppers in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. Place them in a large plastic bag and add salt and cornstarch. Shake the bag to mix the ingredients.

Heat 1/2-inch of oil in a large shallow skillet.

Add the calamari pieces to the bag with the salt and pepper and shake well to coat. Carefully drop the calamari pieces into to the hot oil and fry till golden. You may want to do this in batches; the calamari shouldn’t be crowded in the pot.

When golden, remove calamari with a slotted spoon and drain them on several layers of paper towels.

Toss the mizuna with half the dressing, and divide among four plates. Top each salad with a quarter of the fried calamari and drizzle with the remaining dressing.

Serves 4 as a first course.

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