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Calamari 101

The Martha Stewart Show, December 2007

 

Abundant, inexpensive, and ecologically sound, calamari requires little expertise once you know the basic rules. Although its rubbery reputation is not entirely undeserved, calamari turns tough only when overcooked. The trick to coaxing it to a soft, supple texture is to cook it quickly over high heat or slowly over low, whether sauteing, roasting, stir-frying, grilling, or even deep-frying.

Pounding
To help tenderize calamari, pound them gently a few times on each side using a kitchen mallet or a heavy skillet (be careful not to tear the flesh).

Slicing
After pounding the calamari, slice the bodies into rings or strips; leave tentacles whole or cut any large ones in half. To make calamari rings, slice the tubular portion of the calamari crosswise to desired thickness. To make strips, right, cut along the visible seam that runs the length of the body, and then open it like a book and slice.

Buying
Look for calamari that have firm, shiny white bodies, with a pleasantly briny aroma, like the ocean. (Pass up any that have a pink or purplish hue.) The smaller the squid, the more tender the texture. Squid ink is an ebony liquid that lends a deep-sea essence to pasta and rice dishes.

Storing
Refrigerate calamari for up to 1 day in a sealed plastic bag in a bowl of ice. It freezes beautifully, with no adverse effect on taste or texture, for up to 1 month when stored in an airtight container. To defrost, rinse bagged calamari under cool running water.

Prepping
Most calamari are, thankfully, sold already cleaned. Rinse briefly just before cooking. Pat dry with paper towels, working quickly so the calamari don't stick. Slice them uniformly for even cooking.

Tenderizing
Pound the squid on both sides before cooking, no matter what the recipe. You also can soak them in lemon juice for 5 minutes, or score them on one side (calamari will curl during cooking if not weighted).

Cooking
The proper temperature and timing also determine calamari's tenderness. In general, cook them briefly over moderate to high heat (30 seconds to 2 minutes) or slowly over low heat (at least 30 minutes).