Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Spice is Right #1: Ancient Spices

Barbara from Tigers & Strawberries certainly had me scouring through the reference books and asking the question "What is the oldest spice?"

It was quite fascinating reading up on the history of spices - I would not have known that Cinnamon & Sesame seeds have been used for over 5000 years or that Nutmeg only dates from the 7th century if not for this blog event and it's encouraged me to keep on investigating the historical side of these ingredients.

I wasn't quite able to pin down the oldest so I eventually settled on a humble spice that has a recorded history of 4000 years and is probably one that we use everyday. That spice is Pepper.

Pepper has been a part of our trading past - it's value at one time equalling gold. The peppercorn itself is a bit of a chameleon, it's many colours, not the result of different varieties but of different stages in the peppercorns maturation. Green being the immature peppercorn, black are simply dried green peppercorns and white are produced by allowing the peppercorn to ripen on the vine and then removing it's hard red shell to reveal it's white core. With each stage, a variance in flavour is obtained. White pepper offering a clean flavour whereas black is sharper in aroma and piquancy - green peppercorns are a different beast, texturally softer and milder in taste - they add a delicate spice to sauces.

Once decided on Pepper then it's companion Salt had to come along and with Good Friday looming the obvious dish, in which pepper stars, would be the perfect one to make. That dish is Salt and Pepper Calamari! The warmth of the pepper perfectly compliments the sweet flesh of the calamari.

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Salt and Pepper Calamari

2 medium sized fresh calamari
¼ cup potato flour
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper
2 teaspoons freshly ground salt
2 teaspoons sumac
oil

When choosing calamari I tend to go for small to medium sized as I find the flesh to be more tender and a touch sweeter. You can clean them yourselves or ask your fishmonger to do so - don't throw away the wings or the tentacles!

Open up the tube of your calamari to form a flat surface - there's a line you can follow on the tube itself. Place the flattened tube on your board with the inside facing you. Taking a sharp knife, lightly score the flesh at a diagonal - then repeat in the opposite direction to form a criss cross patter. You then need to cut the tubes into smaller pieces - about two fingers in width - they don't have to be even in size, you actually want to have a bit of variance.

Repeat the criss-cross process on the wings but don't cut them into smaller pieces.

Slice the tentacle ring into 4 - don't worry about the extra long tentacles they will contract during the cooking.

In a bowl mix together the spices then toss in the pieces of calamari - then dump the mixture into a large sieve and shake off the excess flour.

To cook, speed is the key and having the oil at the correct temperature is important. If you have a deep fryer then heat the oil to around 180°C/350°F. Be warned that calamari does tend to spit - especially the tentacles - using a lid will come in handy. Cook only until they are golden and remove to paper towels to drain off any excess oil.

Serve hot with tartare or lemon wedges.

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6 comments:

  1. There must be something in the air. A few of us have all posted recipes for calamari this week! Looks fab.

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  2. Calamari is so sweet and delish - just perfect for good friday.

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  3. Great dish and as usual, gorgeous pictures! Reminds me of the Italian version of Queer Eye on the Straight Guy where the cooking expert taught one particularly clueless man how to make "calamari sale e pepe" (salt and pepper calamari) and the guy ended up serving it at a party and endlessly calling it "calamari con sale e pepe" (calamari, with salt and pepper).

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  4. Thanks Susan for the lovely comments. We can't expect too much from some of those guys - he did the calamari part right!

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  5. mmmmm....I have a weakness for calamari...especially salt and pepper calamari.

    Great contribution to the event!


    j

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  6. Hi Jasmine

    Thanks so much for the comments - I'm sure there must be something addictive in calamari

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