Monday, September 13, 2010

Calamari: it should be served with tentacles.

Our family was too big to fit around the kitchen table, so we ate every meal at a picnic table outside (thank god for the California weather). My mother fed us fearlessly - there was no tip-toeing around vegetables or picky eaters in our household. With five children it wasn't the most expensive fares, but no one was allowed to leave the table until everyone was done so there was more than enough peer pressure to keep us from being fussy eaters. So she had room to play.

A favorite dinner was probably calamari. Before it was widely fashionable you could buy just the tentacles of the calamari for less than the price of chicken. My mom would fry it up in large batches and bring it outside hot and crispy to her waiting brood. My brother David would pretend he was being attacked by the octopus creatures as he scarfed them down. I remember after moving to the east coast being served calamari for the first time in a restaurant. I was sure that it was processed food, as I'd never seen calamari in golden rings with nary a tentacle in sight. There was something terribly wrong about it.

I soon forgave the east coast for it's lack of tentacles and ate calamari whenever I got the chance. After all, it was one of the only fried foods I grew up getting to eat. My calamari life was changed forever while I was in college in Richmond, VA. I grew to love a restaurant called Bacchus, and it was there that I had my first sauteed calamari.

Their recipe was simple, but I guessed it completely wrong the first few times I tried to recreate it. They were willing to just tell me the whole time too.

Hot olive oil
Red pepper flakes
Calamari splashed with white wine as it hits the hot oil.

With the beautiful soup of a mixture at the bottom of your bowl I realized it was far better to serve calamari with hot bread (for sopping) rather than coating it in bread for a dipping sauce. I have since discovered many beautiful variations of sauteed calamari - with tomatoes, with olives, with lemon and herbs... each of them wildly surpassing it's fried relations. But however it ends up being served, one thing remains true, calamari is always better with a large portion of tentacles in it - otherwise how are you supposed to feel like a kid again when you eat the octopus-like creatures?

Calamari with tomatoes and black olives
from Pepperoncino in Park Slope Brooklyn

*This might just be the start of my love affair with capers as well.