Home > Food, Wine > Frightfully Quick Calamari

Frightfully Quick Calamari

Preparation Time: 15 minutes Cooking Time: 15 minutes Yield: 4

Yummy flash-fried calamari with 'dirty rice'The ocean off the Peruvian coast is populated by giant squid, with tubes so thick, that strips cut horizontally from the tube walls, are up to 4cm long. I’ve eaten the resultant calamari strips, and believe me, it is amazing. Tender, succulent and a long way from the tough and unappetising rings that so often get passed off as calamari in South Africa.

I understand that these “giant squid” are considered fair game by the Peruvian fishing authorities, because they are something of a pest, predating on the fish stocks in the area, and to some extent threatening the livelihoods of local fishermen.

The other day, I sailed into my favourite seafood supplier, Seafood on Sail in Gants Centre – where co-owner Claudio Paioni me this fascinating story some months ago – on the hunt for some calamari, but rings this time, because the recipe I had concocted lent itself to rings rather than strips. The 800g pack of frozen rings with which I departed – after due consultation with manager Mike – was just right for four servings.

Not having a deep fat fryer, I had to resort to flash-frying the rings, a risky business since if they’re in the pan for too long, they become tough and leathery. As a rule of thumb, the quicker you cook calamari, the more tender it will be.

Having said that, I recall reading somewhere that you must cook calamari for either a very short period or a very long period, in order to get it tender enough to eat. I concur, since including it in paella for example, means that it could cook for as long as an hour, which makes it tender and sumptuous. The other end of the spectrum suggests that if you fry it, it should be in the pan for no longer than two minutes. To achieve this, you need a pan which is big enough to accommodate the entire quantity of calamari in a single layer, it must be piping hot, and the calamari must be as dry as possible. This means you may have to pat it dry with paper towels before frying it.

What follows is my take on fried calamari rings with that very Cajun side dish, ”dirty rice”.

Ingredients, Selection and Preparation

800g calamari rings: the best quality that you can afford, and fresh if at all possible. If frozen, be sure to thaw them completely, and to rinse them very well. Pat them dry with paper towels before frying.

1 large onion: peeled and chopped, but not too small.

½ each red, green and yellow pepper: deseeded and chopped into squares about half a centimetre square.

2 cups rice: preferably a long grain variety such as Basmati, but the choice is yours. Cook the rice as you normally would, either using your trusty rice cooker, or following the package instructions. You’re going to use this as a base for the “dirty rice”.

4tbsp canola oil: it’s not poisonous, and it is also almost flavourless, which considering the delicacy of flavour of cooked calamari, makes it more suitable than live oil

3 sprigs of chopped parsley: chopped stalks and all.

2 cloves garlic: crushed.

Juice of one lemon


Set the rice to cook as per your usual method.

Heat 2tbsp of canola oil in a large saucepan, and fry the onion over a low heat until it is translucent and soft. Add the chopped peppers, and cook until they too are soft but not mushy. The onion must not brown.

Once the rice is cooked, the fried onion and pepper to the rice, and mix it thoroughly, being careful not to mash it into a paste. Set aside covered to keep warm.

Combine the chopped parsley, garlic, and lemon juice.

Heat a large pan and add 2tbsp canola oil. When the pan is piping hot, toss in the calamari rings, and fry it moving constantly until just cooked, no more than 2 minutes.

Serve with a mound of dirty rice, and drizzle the parsley, garlic, lemon juice blend over the calamari. Enjoy!

Wine Match

My visit to the Robertson Winery last week, also revealed the 2008 Fat Bastard Chardonnay, a small supply of which I brought back home with me.

The vivid memory of the wine I tasted that day, prompted me to open a bottle to go with this dish.

The very palest of straw yellow, it offers lemony citrus notes on the nose, with vanilla undertones.

The fruit follows powerfully onto the palate, tempered by a tropical element. The mid palate is well supported by a balanced acidity and a subtle creaminess, and the finish is long with a distinct lemon vanilla twist in the tail.

Categories: Food, Wine
  1. Con Meyer
    November 12, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Dear Norman
    My wife Janet and I enjoy all your articles immensely- thank you.
    I am trying to locate the source of your organic free rang chicken here on your blog , but seem to missing it?
    We would appreciate receiving the information. With thanks.
    Con and Janet Meyer

    • November 12, 2009 at 10:54 am

      Hi Con,
      I buy my chicken from Coleen Lesch at the Stellenbosch Fresh Goods Market at the Oude Libertas Amphitheatre every Saturday. Coleen’s farm, Klipfontein, is between Paarl and Wellington, where she raises her happy chickens. You will find her in the far left back corner of the indoor section of the market – her upright glass doored fridge is hard to miss. Get there as close to 10 (opening time!) as you can, as her chickens sell very quickly.

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