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Just because something’s unfamiliar doesn’t mean it’s hard to cook. OK, I understand that when you think “TV dinner,” squid is hardly the first thing to come to mind, but I am asking you to think again. This is unexpectedly easy to shop for as well as easy to cook. Baby squid (better here than tougher, grown-up, windsock-sized ones) can be found, frozen, in 1-pound boxes, to be stashed in your freezer and thawed as needed. And while any recipe that involves a mortar and pestle can seem like too much kitchen fussing when you get back from work, let me tell you that a bit of murderous bashing can be a great stress-relieving exercise. But if you’re not convinced (and believe me I understand: until recently I had only to read the words “mortar and pestle” to be filled with dread and intimidation) you can always use one of those little electric coffee-bean or spice grinders for blitzing the salt and pepper. Already-ground pepper and fine salt is not an impossible option; I won’t pretend they’ll be as good, but as long as you don’t use that pepper-container dust—more sneeze-powder than aromatic spice—it’ll be just fine.
- Approx. 2 cups peanut oil (to come about ½ inch up in a frying pan)
- 2 tablespoons Maldon or other sea salt
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 1/3 cup cornstarch
- 18 ounces baby squid, cut into rings, tentacles left unchopped
- Lemon for squeezing
Put the oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Bash the salt and peppercorns in a mortar and pestle till a bit more than bruised but not quite pulverized, and combine this mixture in a freezer bag with the cornstarch, adding the squid and tossing to coat well but not heavily.
When the oil’s very hot—not quite smoking but nearly—fry the squid (knocking any excess cornstarch back in the bag first) in batches (about four, probably) and cook each batch for about a minute or so till just crisp on the outside and still sweet and tender within. You probably won’t need to turn the squid since the oil should bubble up and cook both sides at once, but do if you feel better. Remove to plates lined with a paper towel. After the squid’s sat for about half a minute, remove the greasy towel—though sometimes, I dispense with this stage—squeeze lemon over and eat with your fingers, quickly.
© 2002 Nigella Lawson