Friday, January 11, 2013

Salt and pepper squid French style

    It took me a long while to feel comfortable with the idea of cooking non-French food in France. God knows why but it was as if being here meant that, to the exclusion of all else, I should immerse myself completely in duck, foie gras, daubes, grilled  fish, ratatouille and all the other dishes that you flash on when you hear the words "French cuisine".
    (Another misty day, nothing much on the agenda apart from making stock from frozen turkey bones, and catching up with The Archers on BBC so if this is a more rambly post than usual, excuse me.)
    Backing up a bit, there's a terrific organization in France that provides help and support to English speakers with cancer. In our house, we're so, so lucky that we don't need their assistance, but what we can do--and it's not entirely altruistic--is go and buy books by the dozen when their travelling stall comes to the village every couple of months.
    This past Saturday, I managed to get my hands on a few cookbooks, including Rick Stein's Seafood Lovers' Guide, which includes a couple of must-trys: an omelette Arnold Bennett (made with smoked haddock, cream and parmesan) and devilled mackerel with mint and tomato salad. And then there's the recipe for salt and pepper squid. Light, fresh, zingy, just the thing for post-holiday appetites.
     In the UK, or in any large North American city, you could pick up all the ingredients you need year round. Here, in la France rustique, it's more of a safari, as well as thinking on your feet about what can stand in for...I dunno...bean sprouts.
     But there bean sprouts were at Mirepoix market, a bowl of them on a little stall near the Indian restaurant. Elsewhere, long vividly scarlet peppers from Morocco looked piquant but I checked, and the stallholder said that they were. No surprise that there was no watercress anywhere, so I forgot about that for the moment but I did find the necessary cucumber and green onions at SuperU.
     However, the only "squid" at the fish counter were large white oblongs obviously cut from the tentacles of some colossal denizen of the deep. So, mea culpa, I bought the frozen kind, tubes, all cleaned and ready to use.
     Back home, I started thinking about what I could substitute for watercress. Any green really with flavour and crunch. The vegetable beds in the middle of the lawn are almost empty at present apart from a spectacular resurgence of fennel. Not the right taste but the red chard plants that keep producing and producing would do. I thought I'd ripped up the last of the Asian greens but one mustard variety survived. Altogether, I had the necessary 50 grams (see top right) of greenery to go with the cucumber and bean sprouts, all to be dressed with soy sauce, sesame oil and a dash of sugar.
     Squid takes only minutes to cook. As instructed, I pinecone-cut, then flash fried, them in two batches, before adding lots of chopped red chili and green onion. The squid and salad are meant as a starter but adding rice turned it into a meal. Definitely a keeper.

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