Calamari with Sake Batter and Walnut Sauce

Mastigoteuthis flammea                 Illustration of Squid: Wikpedia
An epiphany...

For years, I have avoided cooking squid, more commonly known as calamari because of the way those in Mediterranean countries cook squid: they cut the body of the squid into rings, batter and fry it. 

We don't seem to be able to achieve the same lightness and flavour, here. The flavours of genuine Turkish cooking are like a breath of fresh air. That's my first reason for avoiding calamari. Secondly, it's easy to overcook.  

All the same, I spotted some squid in Morrison's earlier this week, which is where I often go for meat and fish: they have a fast turnover and prepare both in-house.

This conjured up a sharp craving for the unique walnut sauce served commonly with calamari in Turkish beachfront restaurants, the best of which was at Azur in Çıralı, Olympos, a couple of hours north from Antayla.  Take a look:

Calamari with sake batter. VDuBourdieu©2011
At home, I chucked the calamari in the fridge and scoured the internet for a recipe.  My Turkish cookbooks had yielded nothing useful.  According to my nostalgic taste-buds, it surely had bread in. There was certainly garlic and quite possibly yoghurt.

I liked Azur so much that I used to spend ages just sitting there with the ten-year-old son of the restaurant owner, both of us drawing and painting whatever came into view: mostly flowers, sea and boats.  On a later visit, I took the youngster a grown-up container of water paint (in tubes).  Perhaps he became a painter.

Anyhow, earlier this week I found a recipe called Kalamar Tava with Turkish-style Tarator Sauce for Seafood.  This came from Binnur's Turkish cookbook.  (http://TurkishCookbook.com).

The sauce contains ¼ cup of walnut or pine nuts (I used both), ½ cup of Turkish bread (organic brown bread left out overnight did the trick for me), 2 garlic cloves mashed with salt (I used three cloves), 1 cup plain yoghurt at room temperature and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

To break up the bread and the nuts, I blitzed both, then chucked everything in a bowl, and mixed it together.  It filled a 125g jar, a container for mustard in another lifetime.

The Fried Calamari was more of a challenge.  The recipe suggested freezing it to soften the muscle fibres.  So I did just that; and thawed it at room temperature today while I went for an induction at the gym. Ouch!

Then I made a highly experimental but simple batter after a bottle of sake flashed into view.  Swiftly, about half a wine glass of sake went into a bowl, followed by five tablespoons of fine white flour and a pinch of salt.  After whisking, the batter was too thick so I dribbled in more sake until I had a cream-like texture.

Then I fired up the gas ring and tipped light sunflower oil from a 250g jar (I had used the oil once before for something fishy) into a medium-sized stainless steel saucepan.

I tipped half the batter into a bowl and mixed in the squid, rings and tentacles, which I cut more finely than Morrison's had, and dropped one ring into the fat with tongs to see if it was hot enough.  When it was bubbling furiously, I added a few more pieces, leaving plenty of space between them.

When it the calamari was golden, I used the tongs to remove it to a plate covered in paper towelling. If I'd been better organised, I might have turned the oven on to keep the squid warm, but it stayed hot anyhow.

My calamari with its unorthodox batter went down a treat accompanied by a simple green salad flashed through with capers and a Turkish style lemon dressing, 50/50 olive oil and lemon juice with a pinch of salt.


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