Good calamari is ocean fresh* calamari. So Octane‘s experiment is to discover how quickly a swimming squid can be served to plate.
The answer of course for restaurants and shops is about five or six days at best, five or six months if the squid is frozen as are most. Octane‘s challenge is to do it in an hour.
Taking a kayak to sea at dusk to a previously identified offshore reef of rocky and sandy beds I drop a line to tempt Loligo Forbesii, the Atlantic common squid, out in ambush.
I am close to shore but it is now dark enough to only identify my position relative to the two lanterns left 100 metres apart at my point of embarkment on the beach.
After a time of gentle lure jigging, whilst covering good ground drifting in a gentle wind, I feel a tiny tug on the line and hope it is little Loligo asking to be pulled to the breading board.
I slowly pull in the weighted line and get ready to start the clock. As I bring the wriggling catch aboard with a landing net I see it is Loligo and dispatch it swiftly – if it is allowed to stress hormones will secrete into the flesh affecting the flavour. Inserting two fingers behind the head, I squeeze and the animal dies instantly to change colour from a camouflaged and mottled sandy brown to a ghostly milky white. I start the clock.
The recipe I have chosen is surely the best researched calamari recipe ever – Felicity Cloake from The Guardian personally tested 5 calamari recipes from well respected chefs: Nigella Lawson, Tom Aitkins, Mitch Tonks, Nigel Slater and Marcella Hazan all have different methods of making calamari and each of their recipes has its merits. Cloake takes the best parts from each.
I am walking up the moon-lit beach, with a modest-sized squid in my hand, towards the dunes where a camping gas cooker, storm matches, sharp fish knife, chopping board, recipe ingredients and an icebox lie waiting.
I am camped set back from the high tide mark and among the knolling dunes in a culvit under one of the storm lanterns placed up high. I glance accross the beach to the other, 100 metres away.
I wonder, if a passing copper saw the set up, he might think me a wrecker, the century old Cornish hobby of luring passing ships into ‘safe harbour entrances’ only to steal their impending smashed cargo from the rocky reefs the lamps are knowingly placed upon.
But passing coppers are rare on this island and I wonder if one has visited in a hundred years.
I prepare the squid for cooking in the usual way – pulling the tentacles from the body and removing the entrails, clear quill and, from the outside of the squid, I remove the purple membrane and slice off the fins. Returning to the tentacles I remove the head and beak. I criss-cross score the body, dice to equal size rings and place in a bowl of milk in the icebox.
Loligo forbesii is ready for cooking and I glance at the clock.
Impatiently, I wait half an hour for the squid to tenderise in the reduced temperature of the icebox. Whilst this happens I mix the two flours with salt, fill a heavy griddle with an inch of sunflower oil and wait.
Glancing down at the ruggedised expedition fridge I am grateful to its manufacturers. It is designed for NGO’s and charities to carry emergency plasmas and vaccines through unforgiving environments like the Kalahi desert in Namibia. I wonder if they’ve ever seen Calamari in the Kalahi.
After just half hour in the cooler, I heat the pan until the oil sizzles with a pinch of flour.
Draining the squid of milk I shake (not pat or rub) the pieces dry and, one at a time, drag them through the flour and shake off the excess. I fry them in small batches for about a minute until crisp and golden.
Frying in batches keeps the oil temperature up and minimises the release of liquids which would steam rather than fry the calamari making otherwise soggy batter.
The fried squid pieces are placed on kitchen paper, sprinkled with sea salt and served, in batches, with lemon or garlic mayonnaise as they come off the pan. I look at my watch.
56 minutes have elapsed since Loligo Forbesii, the squid that was, mistook my lure for a passing sprat and pounced from within the darkness of his ambush spot in the shadows of the kelp. Or did he?
Usually when jigging for squid it takes longer to get a bite. It seems Loligo may have simply leapt at the chance to prove the assertion that the world’s best calamari is cooked where it’s caught – in the wilderness, Ocean fresh*.
Octane offers gastro wilderness expeditions and, employing Octane’s Eight** methods of sourcing wild food for the pot, we eat the world’s best food, ocean fresh*.
*The term fresh fish is of course relative. On the high-street, at supermarkets and in city restaurants fresh fish really means days old so, when patiently waiting for your number to be called at the fish-counter, be ready to ask where your fish is from and how many days ago it was likely caught. Supermarkets invent terms to suit their needs and, as a discerning consumer, it really is your right to challenge nonsense. At Octane we have therefore made a new, differentiated and entirely transparent definition – Ocean fresh. Simply put, it means caught, prepared, cooked and eaten same-day.
**Octane’s Eight is our philosophy. We believe our travelling guests, being closest to the world’s wildest fresh foods, might quite like to eat the world’s wildest fresh foods. 1. we line fish, 2. we lobster pot, 3. we spear fish, 4. we sea forage, 5. we land forage, 6. we stalk, 7. we seed the sea, 8. we seed the land. Why is it campers and ramblers feel so obliged to consume biltong, baked beans and instant coffee?
See ocean fresh in practice with the post ‘Drive through calamari’ – ocean fresh calamari caught, cooked and served in under an hour