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Squid is so often banished into a bowl of heavy batter followed by a lengthy stay in the deep fryer that most people don’t realize how fresh and healthy this cephalopod can be. Rich in protein and nutrients with a mild flavor that isn’t at all fishy, squid should be enjoyed with as little cooking interference as possible. If you always pass it by at the fish counter (understandably; the appearance can be a little intimidating), we’re hoping this easy recipe for Salt and Pepper Squid will inspire you to finally cook some at home.
The texture of squid is a bit chewy, a trait exaggerated by overcooking, which is why a quick sauté is an ideal way to prepare it. In the recipe, submitted for the Primal Blueprint Reader-Created Cookbook Contest, Nicola Aylin makes this simple cooking method more interesting by sprinkling the squid with Sichuan peppercorns.
Sichuan peppercorns (also spelled szechuan) are native to China and come from the prickly ash tree. Confusingly, they are not actually part of the peppercorn family, which only includes black, green and white peppercorns from pepper plants. Sichuan peppercorns do share a spice level with black peppercorns but their flavor and aroma is unique: perfumed and yet earthy, with a hint of cedar and lemon. Heating Sichuan peppercorns briefly in a hot pan brings out their flavor and aroma, which is exactly what Nicola recommends in her recipe.
Nicola also includes black peppercorns and fresh peppers in her recipe – you choose whether the fresh peppers are hot and spicy or mild bells. While the peppercorns and fresh peppers up the flavor quotient, they are not meant to overpower the dish. Use just a pinch of crushed peppercorns, as Nicola says, and only add more after tasting the squid. Although Nicola didn’t mention it, we couldn’t resist finishing the dish with a squirt of lemon to bring out the mild, slightly sweet flavor of the squid.
Served hot out of the pan for dinner or chilled for lunch the next day, Salt and Pepper Squid is delicious either way. It’s a meal that can stand alone, but Nicola likes to serve it with the Cucumber and Seaweed Salad in the Primal Blueprint Cookbook. You could also serve it over a simple bed of mixed greens.
Many fish counters sell calamari that is already cleaned. If the body is separated from the tentacles you can buy just the body, or throw in some tentacles, too, for variety.
For this recipe, Nicola cuts along one side of each squid pouch to open it out flat. She then scores the inner side in a diamond pattern with the tip of a small, sharp knife and then cuts the squid into 2inch squares. We found that using kitchen shears to cut the squid into rings was a fast alternative.
Heat a frying pan over a high heat. Add the black peppercorns and Sichuan peppercorns and dry-roast them for a few seconds, shaking the pan now and then, until they darken slightly and become aromatic.
Tip the peppercorns into a mortar and crush coarsely with the pestle, then stir in the sea salt flakes. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, then put the peppercorns between two sheets of parchment paper and whack and roll over them with a rolling pin until crushed.
Heat a wok or a large, heavy frying pan over high heat until smoking. Add half the oil and half the squid and stir-fry it for 2 minutes, until lightly colored. Scoop onto a plate, then cook the remaining squid in the same way.
Return the first batch of squid to the wok with the second batch and add 1 teaspoon of the salt and pepper mixture (the rest can be saved for other recipes).
Stir together for about 10 seconds, then add the fresh peppers and onions and saute another few minutes.