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Calamari on the Grill
By Charlie Burke

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One of my fondest memories of vacation is of our then seven year old son,
Michael, wandering away from me while I was fishing in Cape Cod Canal for
bluefish to watch in amazement as Portuguese fishermen caught squid a few feet
away.

They used a lure which was brightly colored and shaped like a badminton birdie
with small wires sticking our a quarter inch of so. The squid grabbed onto the
lure, were pulled in and dropped into a pail as the lure was inverted. Michael
excitedly related this fascinating story to his grandparents, instantly creating a
family legend as he substituted the word for certain human anatomical parts for
“tentacles”.

He’s not the only one with a misunderstanding of this abundant local species. I
believe it’s a combination of the word “squid” and the appearance of the
aforementioned tentacles which cause some to shun this delicious and
inexpensive seafood which is adaptable to many recipes and is a favorite in
Mediterranean cuisine. This is unfortunate because squid’s flavor is milder, and
they are less fragile than scallops, which develop a slight bitter taste when they
are not truly fresh and handled properly. To my knowledge, squid is among the
few species in the north Atlantic which are not threatened, and, unlike other
seafood, there is little or no difference between fresh and frozen calamari.

I have a weakness for perfectly fried calamari served only with a squeeze of
lemon juice and a little salt but save this caloric dish for special occasions. When
prepared on the grill over a very hot charcoal fire, however, they take on a smoky
char which combines perfectly with their mild sweet taste, providing a healthy
low calorie meal.

They can be served as a main course, a hot or room temperature first course or
placed atop pasta or a salad of fresh greens for a great healthy lunch. In the past,
grilling calamari has posed problems for me. If cut into rings, some would
inevitably fall through the grill, and if I grilled the bodies whole, they would emit
milky fluid if the cavities were not wiped dry prior to cooking. I solved the latter
problem by slicing through one side of the body, but the result was a slightly
curled unattractive rectangle. If grilling rings, I had to use a pan with holes in the
bottom which was designed to grill small vegetables and which prevented the
rings from charring or browning before they were done.

I found the solution in Jasper White’s latest cookbook “The Summer Shack
Cookbook”, published this year by W.W. Norton. He lays the calamari body flat
and slices across the body as is done to make rings but stops a third of an inch
from the top, leaving all the pieces attached, like teeth on a comb, thus solving
both of my problems. A sure sign of a good idea is when we see a simple solution
and say:”why didn’t I think of that?”

Cooked over the hottest of fires, calamari grill in just a few minutes, firming up
and becoming round when done. Jasper uses his “universal vinaigrette” as a
marinade, but I prefer lemon juice and olive oil, perhaps with some oregano or
marjoram, which are traditional in both Greece and Italy.

Four servings:

2 pounds cleaned calamari
Juice of 1 lemon
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram, optional
Kosher or sea salt and ground pepper to taste
Lemon wedges, optional

Several hours or the night before cooking, prepare the calamari by laying the
bodies flat and cutting 1/3 inch slices across the bodies, stopping 1/3 of an inch
from the top of the body. Place into a plastic bag, add lemon juice and mix
thoroughly with the squid. Add olive oil and herbs, if using, and again mix well.
Refrigerate until shortly before grilling.

Build a very hot hardwood charcoal fire in the grill (briquettes may be used, but
the fire will be less hot and the natural smokiness of the hardwood will be
lacking). If using a gas grill, light 30 minutes before grilling and turn all burners
to high with cover closed.

Lightly oil the grill using long tongs and a paper towel well saturated with oil.
Place calamari on the grill and cook until the rings tense and the body puffs up, 1
-2 minutes a side. If the fire is hot enough, they will color and char in places. If
serving hot, add salt and pepper to taste and plate immediately.

This simple preparation combines smoke form the hardwood with the slightly
sweet flavor of the squid. Lemon and olive oil perfectly complement this
combination. Some prefer an extra drizzle of lemon juice, so I serve them with
lemon wedges. Other variations include adding red pepper flakes or finely
chopped garlic to the marinade. For pasta, dress hot pasta with olive oil and a
little finely chopped garlic and add the previously cooked calamari which will
reheat in the hot pasta. A dry white wine, such as Chenin Blanc or a French
Sancerre goes perfectly with grilled calamari.

About the author: An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice
president of the
New Hampshire Farmer's Market Association, president of the NH Farm to
Restaurant Connection and helps run the Sanbornton (NH) Farmers' Market.  Along with
his wife, Joanne, Charlie grows certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill
Farm in Sanbornton, NH.  
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