Searing squid is a slippery task

New York TimesMay 14, 2013 


A dish of sauteed squid with chiles, mint and lime. To get a pale golden sear on squid, the trick is getting it very dry first.


Squid is easy to cook but hard to sear. It releases so much moisture when it hits the pan that it tends to steam rather than brown. And since it cooks so quickly (2 to 3 minutes will do), it is usually done before much of the liquid evaporates.

If I’m cooking squid in a sauce, the excess pan liquid is an asset. It has a wonderful ocean flavor, like fish stock without the work.

But sometimes, a pale golden sear, with its gentle toasty notes, is what I’m after. The secret is the meeting of an extremely hot pan with some extremely dry squid.

Since squid continues to ooze juices as it sits, the vigilant wiping is a necessity. I like to rinse the sea creatures thoroughly, then cut their slim bodies into rings (tentacles can be left whole or halved as desired).

I lay the rings out (cut side up) on a clean dish towel or several layers of paper towels and pat them dry. If I’ve planned ahead, I’ll let them air dry, allowing them to sit out for up to an hour.

Meanwhile, I’ll heat a heavy-duty pan for at least 5 minutes. Don’t use nonstick here; it impedes browning.

Then (and this is the crucial part) transfer the squid from the towels to a plate before moving it to the pan. The reason for this is that as the squid sits, it will release liquid and glue itself to the toweling. Transferring it to a plate first unsticks it, encouraging it to slide into the hot pan in one fell swoop so all of it cooks at the same rate.

Unless the pan is large and the quantity of squid small, cook the squid in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. If you cram the bodies in like a rush-hour subway car in August, they’re bound to sweat.

Seared squid, deeply saline and caramelized, doesn’t need much in terms of seasonings. But garlic, fresh mint and sliced jalapeno provide a welcome kick.

For a printable copy of the recipe, click the link:

Sauteed Squid with Chilis, Mint and Lime

Sauteed Squid With Chilis, Mint and Lime 1 pound cleaned squid 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil Kosher salt, as needed 1 jalapeno chili, thinly sliced and seeded if desired 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped Lime juice, as needed 1/4 cup chopped mint Crusty bread, for serving Sliced avocado, for serving

RINSE the squid under cool running water. Drain and transfer to a paper towel to dry completely. Cut the bodies into 1/2-inch rings and leave the tentacles whole. Pat dry again with paper towels.

PLACE a large skillet over high heat. Let the pan get very hot, for a good 5 minutes. Move the squid from the paper towels to a bowl, so that they don’t stick before you add them to the pan. Add half the oil to the skillet. Sprinkle half the squid with salt, slide them into the pan along with half the chilis and cook without moving for 1 minute. Flip squid and stir in half the garlic; cook 1 to 2 minutes more, until squid is tender. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining squid, garlic, chilis and oil. Make sure not to overcrowd the pan; if your skillet doesn’t fit the squid comfortably, cook them in smaller batches.

SQUEEZE lime all over the squid and sprinkle with mint.

TOP the crusty bread with sliced avocado if you like, and season avocado with salt and lime juice. Serve with the squid. Yield: 2 to 3 servings

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