Thursday, 18 February 2010

Calamari Salad with Thyme, Lemon, Chilli and Olives

This light, summery seafood salad, sparked with lemon juice, red chilli and fresh herbs, takes just ten minutes to make and keeps very well in the fridge for three to four days. Typically, not a single member of my fish-hating family was prepared to taste it.

Marinated Calamari Salad with Thyme, Lemon and Paprika
Plate by David Walters
'I don't do tentacles', said my teen son. 'Are you kidding me?' said the other son.  'Eeeuw!' said my daughter. So guess who gobbled this up for lunch, three days running?

 I think it's such a pity that my kids, and my husband, are so wary about seafood.  Sure, they will eat battered, deep-fried linefish and calamari, and they tolerate - at a push - tinned tuna in a salad, or in a cheesy pasta sauce.  But if I present a fat fillet of spanking-fresh ocean fish, grilled and dressed with lemon juice and olive oil, there is a sullen mutiny at the dinner table.

But I'm determined to convert them, especially now that we are living ten minutes away from Hout Bay's beautiful fishing harbourWhen I have a yearning for seafood (every second day or so), I visit all three of the fish shops located in the harbour, and spend a happy hour poring over the day's catch.  Most days, there's something fresh, flappy and shiny-eyed lying on a bed of crushed ice, but if the weather's bad, and the fish on on display looks like yesterday's goods, I'll grab a slab of something from the freezer.

I feel no shame at all in buying good-quality frozen seafood - including calamari, prawns and mussels - and I'm heartily sick of reading diatribes by food writers who claim that frozen shellfish (or frozen anything, for that matter) is disgusting, mushy and akin to dog food. Of course I'd rather have a fresh crayfish plucked from the ocean floor than one that's been ossifying in the deep-freeze for a month, but I reject, with a sniff, the idea that all frozen seafood isn't worth eating.

Now that I've got that off my chest: for this recipe, you will need small tubes and tentacles of calamari, which you will find fresh in selected branches of Woolworths, and frozen at good fish shops. I bought this batch from Mariner's Wharf, and it was as tender and sweet as a baby's bottom. The trick with calamari is not to overcook it: be warned, it turns from butter-soft rings to chewy elastic bands in a matter of minutes, so do set a timer - or watch the clock - while you cook it. If you can't find fresh calamari, use frozen Patagonian tubes.

This recipe is easily doubled.

Calamari Salad with Thyme, Lemon, Chilli and Olives

500 g small calamari tubes and tentacles, thawed and cleaned
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
12 calamata olives, pitted and halved
1 t (5ml) fresh paprika
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves stripped from stalks
a small red chilli, deseeded and very finely diced
200 ml fruity olive oil
the finely grated zest of a lemon
the juice of two lemons
salt and milled black pepper
a handful of chopped fresh parsley

Rinse the calamari under cold water. Slice the tubes into slender rings. Fill a large pot with water, add the salt and bring to a rolling ball. Throw in all the calamari rings and cook for exactly one minute. Fish the rings out, using a slotted spoon, and place in a colander to drain. Now do the same with the tentacles, but cook them for a minute and a half.  Drain.  Place the calamari in a dish and add all the remaining ingredients, except for the parsley. Toss well, and place in the fridge for at least three hours for the flavours to mingle. Add the chopped parsley just before serving. Serve with brown bread and butter.

Serves 4 as a starter.
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Nina Timm said...

I have mixed feelings about you attending the conference.....I am ecstatic that I finally get to meet one of my blogging idols, but at the same time I wonder looking at this post...."what one earth can I teach people!!"
You are the pro......beautiful as always...

Rose&Thorn said...

Okay, here is a deal - your family can go live with my carnivores and we'll move in together and eat fish everyday!
I love this salad and I always have calamari in the freezer, so it's definitely on my menu this week. I have given up meat for lent, so this is perfect.
Thanks again, and well done on not giving up on trying to convert your family to the sea!

Marisa said...

What a deliciously different salad! I also have an uphill battle trying to convince my seafood-weary hubby when I want to make something seafood related. *sigh*

browniegirl said...

Such a vibrant eye candy looking salad this one. Stunning photo. I just worked with and ate calamari for the first time last week *blush* and I dont know that I could ever stretch to tentacles....but I must say that if I absolutely had to...I could possibly try these of yours.
I will mail you this weekend about that little matter you mentioned re the Friday 26th....Have a grand weekend xx

Juno said...

Ag man Nina, you are so kind. I am very pleased to be called an 'idol' --> but.. PUHLEASE! I dream of taking food pictures like yours!

Rose, we have a deal. You are, of course, offering to take my carnivores for a full year?

Marisa: I keep thinking that if I persist, they will finally buckle and eat the damned yellowtail.

Colleen: Try the fokken tentacles. (Didn't you love that line from District Six: 'Don't point your fokken tentacles at me!). Look forward to hearing from you.

Rose&Thorn said...

Juno - a year, no problem...but I still get to have fish with you everyday?

Jeanne @ CookSister! said...

LOL - love the comment referencing Distric 9!

This salad sounds fantistic - my only addition would be some bits of fried chorizo, just because I think calamari and chorizo are the perfect combo :) Glad to hear somebody else defending frozen fish - get over it people! Not everyone leads the kind of life where you can skip down to the market and buy fresh fish before each meal!!

Louise said...


I made your calamari salad for my mom's birthday dinner last night as a starter and it was a hit!

I bought fresh calamari from fish4afrika in Woodstock.

I followed your instructions to the letter and did the calamari in 2 batches. There was a bit of panic when I started taking the first batch out of the boiling water with the slotted spoon at exactly 60 seconds but then couldn't get them all out till about 30 seconds later! The second batch I just poured through the colander.

i decided to serve it cold in the end and used half the amount of chilli as my mom is not great with spicy food.

She says to thank you for the lovely recipe!