On the whole I tend to cook in waves. Reading a book on India? Expect quite a few spicy dishes to crop up in the rotation. Watching a lot of Pedro Almodóvar films? Pimentón and chorizo are everywhere. Friday I had to go to Kam Man in Quincy to stock us up at school for the upcoming Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and soon Korean classes.
Allowing me loose in there with no time constraints and a long list is like heaven, it also means we will be eating from several cuisines, but all firmly in the far East for the foreseeable future.
I bought a half duck and Friday night I made lettuce rolls dipped in Nước chấm with the chopped up duck and to go with I was craving squid/calamari. For some reason salt and pepper squid popped into my head and wouldn't leave. I've never made salt and pepper squid before but I guessed it would be pretty quick and pretty easy. I hunted around the web and decided on cornstarch as my coating. My tempura batter is heavy on the cornstarch and I like the light 'batter' it makes on the outside. Cornstarch makes a very light, very crisp coating and unlike many traditional batters, it won't separate from what you have coated. The lettuce rolls were good, but the squid, THE SQUID were heavenly.
In fact, I had a few left in the ziploc that I didn't fry Friday night and much to my husband's horror, I fried them up quick for breakfast before I left. He squinted his very British nose at me while he spooned in his milk and cereal and I vainly tried to explain that people in China probably ate this for breakfast and no one blinked an eye. His retort was that we were not in China. My retort back was then why aren't you eating fried beans, fried bread, fried tomatoes, fried mushroom and blood sausage then? He shut up and continued spooning in his Harvest flakes.
Saturday I drove up to Framingham to look at FLOR tiles at Circle furniture for our remodel and I brought along The Little Saigon Cookbook by Ann Le for inspiration before I hit the local Whole Foods. Before I left home I called to check in with Mom and SD. Coincidently that very morning she, many states away in VA, had driven to her local Asian market to stock up and as I waxed about S&P squid she said they had ordered it last night for dinner. Coincidence? I think not. Anyway, I promised her I would put the recipe here in case she wanted to make it at home. Her local had put it on a 'salad' of finely minced sautéed vegetables including chilies and I am guessing shallots, but if anyone knows what it is 'traditionally' served on, let me know so I can try to make that as well.
Sitting in the parking lot of Whole Foods sipping my iced coffee I decided I was going to have the squid again. I know! Again! I never, NEVER eat the same thing three meals in a row. I assure you right now that this is going to be my summer addiction. I flicked through the book at decided that I would make a bún or herb salad to go with it. My garden has a great patch of Vietnamese Coriander this year and that is just something I can't find in the stores. Even Russo's my faithful Asian produce supplier never seems to carry it so I take matters in my own hands and grow it. I find my plants at Russell's in Wayland. That is some Vietnamese Coriander up in the top right hand corner of the bowl with the long pointed leaves. It tastes like a cross of cilantro and Thai Basil. I adore it. Cilantro haters will despise it with equal measure. The salad was loads of mint, Vietnamese Coriander, cilantro, mung bean sprouts, a few sliced shallots and it was all tossed with some cellophane noodles, topped in fried garlic slices and at the last minute doused in Nước chấm. Bright, fresh, and the perfect foil to the fried squid.
For dessert I decided to try my hand at the Chè Chuôi. If you are a tapioca fan like I am this was heaven. Tapioca cooked in water until translucent and then you add in coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, sugar, salt and banana, simmer for a bit and then let it sit. You can top it in shaved coconut, but I had it as is at room temperature and it was heaven.
So for the sake of Mom who requested it, here is all you need to do for heavenly salt and pepper squid.
No measurements here since it will all depend on the amount of squid you have, but I had between 1/2 - 3/4 pound of squid bodies. I cut the cleaned tubes open and then scored them across with my knife and cut each body into 4 pieces. My squid were about 3 - 4 inches long.
In my suribachi (or mortar and pestle or coffee grinder) went about 2 TBS of black peppercorns and about the same of Maldon sea salt.
After I ground it a bit it looked like this. Some larger and smaller chunks of everything.
Into a ziploc went about 1/3 - 1/2 cup of cornstarch (sub coconut flour for paleo) and 3/4 of the salt and pepper. I save some for sprinkling on after frying. In go the squid. Toss, shake, shimmy, toss. Heat oil (coconut oil or rendered lard, I've also used duck fat) in a wok, not very deep, just enough to cover squid. Set up a paper towel to drain. Add in a few pieces at a time and fry quickly, I repeat QUICKLY, 2 minutes...maybe. pull and drain, sprinkle with a bit more s&p.
I served mine with Kewpie, cause I like it that way. But sometimes I would dip it in the Nước chấm
and then the kewpie. Oh....my. Tonight I am feeling a bit French. It will be an omelette with a nice side salad and a glass of wine. Ohh la la.