Sunday 31 August 2014

Low-Carb Mediterranean 'Pasta' Salad, but with Calamari

A bright mixture of tender calamari rings, olives, tomatoes, capers, feta, baby marrows and frizzled chorizo bits, in a punchy garlic & lemon dressing. I've invented this recipe to quell my longings for my favourite pasta salad, because after almost a year on a punishing low-carb regime, I still find myself battling cravings for carbohydrates.

Low-Carb Mediterranean 'Pasta' Salad, but with calamari
Wine recommendation from Michael OliverHe says: "Môreson Mercator Premium Chardonnay 2014"
Go to the end of the page for more detail about this wine pairing.

I dream about buttery mashed potatoes, and would love to plunge my face into a bowl of fresh pasta ribbons cloaked in a creamy sauce. But, as a diabetic, I can't eat any of these things without my blood sugar having hysterics, so I've had to find smart ways of going without them.

Calamari, if it's of great quality, and cooked in a flash (see my recipe below), has a mouth-feel not unlike that of al dente pasta. I admit this is an expensive salad, because it's not worth making unless you can lay your hands on beautifully tender calamari tubes.

An easy, nourishing salad, but frying the calamari to tender
perfection takes care and attention. 
Please don't use calamari 'steaks' or strips, which are either unpleasantly spongy or toughen to leather in the pan, even if they've been 'tenderised' (that is, pierced multiple times by being rolled through, I imagine, some fearsome machine with many sharp blades).

The best little calamari tubes and tentacles come from Patagonia, and you can buy these frozen (and occasionally fresh) from good fishmongers and supermarkets.  If you can't find them, ask your fishmonger to order them for you - it really is well worth the wait.

This marinated salad improves upon standing, and keeps well in the fridge for up to 24 hours. However, please add the crisp chorizo bits to the salad just before you serve it.

Serve on a bed of crisp lettuce leaves or - if you're not on a low-carb regime - with plenty of crusty bread to soak up the juices.

If your calamari tubes are small and delicate, there's no need to slice them into rings. You can fry them whole, but please do so for 30-45 seconds longer than I've recommended below. I always laboriously slice them, though, because I like the pasta-like look of rings. The choice is yours.

Low-Carb Mediterranean Calamari Salad 

1 kg small, tender Patagonian calamari tubes and tentacles, thawed overnight in the fridge if you've bought them frozen
3 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil, for frying
1 x 200 g chorizo sausage, cut into a fine dice
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated or crushed
5 Tbsp (75 ml) dry white wine
10 baby marrows, very finely sliced
1 punnet  (about 350 g) ripe cherry tomatoes
4 Tbsp (60 ml) baby capers
16 black olives
16 green pimento-stuffed olives
a small bunch of chives, finely sliced
a small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
2 x feta cheese 'wheels' (about 140 g), crumbled
1 Tbsp (15 ml) dried chilli flakes
milled black pepper, to taste

For the dressing: 

1 fat clove garlic, peeled (or more, to taste)
a pinch of salt
finely grated zest of 1 small lemon
¼ cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
½ cup (125 ml) olive oil
2 tsp (10 ml) Kikkoman soy sauce
2 tsp (10 ml) Dijon mustard

First make the dressing. Using a mortar and pestle, pound together the garlic clove, salt and lemon zest to make a paste. Stir in the lemon juice and, when the salt has dissolved, whisk in the remaining dressing ingredients to form a smooth emulsion.  (Or, if you have a jug attachment for your stick blender, whizz everything together.)  Set aside.

Trim the tubes and cut them into rings, or leave them
whole if they are tiny.
Rinse the thawed calamari under a cold running tap for 1 minute, tip into a colander, shake well and drain for 5 minutes. Separate the tentacles from the tubes, and place on two different plates.

Prepare the calamari tubes as follows:  using a sharp knife, cut away about 2 mm of the ragged opening at the thicker end of each tube, at the same time dragging the knife blade to one side to pull out any membrane.  Trim away the pointy end of each tube. Now neatly slice the tubes into 5-mm rings, and set aside.

Dry the tentacles and rings by dabbing them firmly with plenty of kitchen paper.

Heat 1 Tbsp (15 ml) of the olive oil over a high heat in a large shallow pan, until the oil is shimmering. Fry the tentacles first, in three batches, for about 90 seconds each, or until they are slightly stiffened and golden, but still tender. Remove from the pan and set aside in a large mixing bowl.

Add the diced chorizo to the pan, and fry over a high heat until the pieces are toasty and just crisp. Don't overcook them!  Remove from the pan, drain on a sheet of kitchen paper and set aside.

Fry the calamari rings (or tubes; please see my note above) in three or four batches for 45-90 seconds, stirring often. It's crucial not to overcook the rings!  If the pan seems a little dry, add more olive oil. Remove the rings from the pan and set aside in the same bowl as the tentacles.

Turn down the heat a little. To the frying pan, add the garlic and fry gently for about 45 seconds, just to take the sting off, and without allowing the garlic to brown.  Turn up the heat again and deglaze the pan with the white wine, stirring and scraping to dislodge any golden brown sticky bits.   Bubble briskly for 1 minute, or until the liquid in the pan has reduced by half.

Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool for two minutes. Now whisk in all the dressing ingredients, tilting the pan to one side if necessary.   Pour this mixture over over the calamari rings and tentacles.

Add all the remaining salad ingredients and toss so everything is well coated.

Tip the salad onto a platter and top with the crisped chorizo.

Serves 6 as a main course (alongside a big bowl of green salad), and 8 as a starter. 

Wine pairing by Michael Olivier

Môreson Mercator Premium Chardonnay 2014

It looks like: Pale gold straw in the bottle.  In the glass there are some lime green flashes around the edges.

It smells like: Soft dried apricots, crème brulée, hazelnuts and vanilla

It tastes like: Rich windfall citrus, lime squirt acidity.  Undertow of oak and vanilla.  Full broad palate and long aftertaste.

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Anonymous said...

Fabulous looking salad, will surely try, thanks!

I would advise strongly against calamari on a wooden cutting board as that potentially could create some food safety issues, also smells that might be difficult to get rid of. Some wooden boards are too porous, and trap all sorts of bacteria, fluids, and even whatever chemical you use to clean it with. Best for seafood would be plastic (although not a big fan myself, I admit) as it cleans well. Glass is sometimes advised but invariably is very unkind to all knives, so I would not easily use that. said...

It involved quite a lot of work as a salad dish, but It looks nice and yummy. I like the way you prepare the calamari and lemon flavor dressing. I am not on a low - carb diet, thinking to add some crushed potato chips. :)