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Mediterranean Grilled Calamari Salad

Admit it.  Calamari is great.

Calamari’s popularity spans the Mediterranean, Latin America and throughout Asia where it is just as likely to be an entrée as it is an appetizer.  Dipping sauces vary from country-to-country.  Italian restaurants use marinara sauce.  Sweet chili sauce is common is American and Southeast Asian cuisines.  In Japan, squid is served raw on sushi, and grilled on skewers as a popular yakitori.  Anthony Bourdain pointed out that if you are looking for the best food the world has to offer, you would do well to start where Italy and Japan overlap.  Calamari is a great example of his observation.

In America, fried calamari is an extremely popular dish and a common shared-appetizer.  Even the seafood-averse among us venture to enjoy crispy rings of (hopefully) tender calamari.  They are not at all fishy, in fact, fried calamari is more neutral in flavor than an onion ring.  The issue of the tentacle-portions remains divisive.  The tentacles may be unappealing to behold, but the fact of the matter is that the breading-to-squid ratio is much, much higher on the breading side, and the shape is a much better vehicle for dipping sauce!  Indeed the most squid-looking pieces are the ones that taste the least like, well… squid.

The big problem with all of this is that it is fried.  Squid on its own, is nice and high in protein and low in saturated fats.  Turn it into “Fried Calamari” and things go downhill pretty quickly.

I couldn’t say that squid is healthy.  The idea of what is, or is not “healthy” is subjective.  Boiled Shrimp may be a healthy choice for one person, but a deadly choice for a person with a shellfish allergy.  That is simply true.  However, at face value, calamari as food is high in protein, low in calories relative to beef, pork and chicken, and lower in fats and cholesterol than its fried counterpart.

Mediterranean Grilled Calamari Salad is a simple and delicious way to enjoy calamari without breaking out the deep-fryer and the added fat and calories that come along with it.  Preparation is a breeze and with the likely exception of the squid, you probably already have all the ingredients you need.

Ingredients

  • 12 cleaned squid
  • Olive Oil
  • Lemon Juice
  • Garlic Powder
  • Onion Powder
  • Oregano
  • Paprika (smoked paprika optional)
  • Salt & Pepper (smoked salt optional)

Preparation

Use a pair of tongs to spread out the calamari on the broiling pan or aluminum lining pan and season generously with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika.  If you are looking for a charcoal-grill flavor, use smoked salt and smoked paprika instead.  Spritz with olive oil and do the same to the other side.

If you were looking for “rings”, now is not the time for that.

There are lots of reasons to wait until after cooking to make the rings.  For one, not a lot of people cherish the thought of handling raw squid.  It is also not very easy to handle; a slippery texture and a dull knife can be a dangerous combination.  There is also the question of size.  Calamari shrinks a lot when you cook it.  The nice meaty rings you think you’re slicing may cook down to a thin rubber bands.  Also, with squid, the cut edges curl.  This does not affect the taste, but the appearance can be off-putting. And so, we wait.  All these issues go away after cooking.

It is fine if the calamari overlap in the pan, they are going to shrink and inflate like beach balls so there will be plenty of room soon enough.

Set the Sharp Superheated Countertop Oven to Broil/Grill at 485°F and set the timer to 30 minutes.  It won’t take that long, but you can always cancel out the rest of the time.  Timing will vary.  I purchased fairly small, fairly young calamari, so my cooking time was actually 18 minutes.  You may purchase larger, older, or a different variety of squid which could have thicker, denser flesh.  Calamari is cooked when the flesh is completely opaque – anything after that should match your desired doneness.

Grilled calamari is typically well-done, but admittedly chewy.  That texture doesn’t work for everyone.  Just remember, squid almost never gets really browned, so don’t take it too far.  Chewy can be satisfying, but eating little rubber tires is not.

For me, this is done.  Now, about those rings…

Place each squid on your cutting board and slice through to make rings of your desired thickness.

One thing that needs to happen is… well…  I’ll just say it.  You need to cut away the face.  Don’t go looking for the eyes; now is not the time to establish a relationship.  Simply slice through near the base of the wavy little arms and discard.

The other thing that could happen here is that you may discover a quill.  With relatively few words in the English language that contain a “Q”, calamari uses up two of them.  All squid contain a quill.  It is what passes for a skeleton.  If you purchased cleaned squid, it shouldn’t be there.  However, mistakes do happen and you may find one.  I found a few quills while preparing this dish.  While slicing, you may drag through what you would think is a clear, thin piece of plastic.  That is the quill.  Simply discard whatever quill or piece of it you find.

Transfer the cut calamari to a mixing bowl and prepare the dressing.

For the Dressing

Whisk together 1 part fresh squeezed lemon juice with 3 parts olive oil in a non-reactive Le Creuset bowl.  Add salt, pepper, garlic powder and oregano to your taste.  You are looking for a salad-dressing quality emulsion.  Whisking is fine, blender is better, but if you would rather put the ingredients in a bottle and shake, that is fine too.

Give everything a light toss and serve

Mediterranean Grilled Calamari Salad should be richly seasoned, lemony and can be served warm, room temperature or chilled.  I garnish with a few fresh oregano leaves and enjoy it warm as tapas.  If you are serving it chilled, consider some sliced black olives for color, sliced celery for crunch and a teaspoon of capers for tang.  Pour yourself a glass of Pinot Grigio or a white sangria and enjoy!

 

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