Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Saute to Impress: Seafood Dinner on the Cheap!

Savory and aromatic calamari and shrimp stew topped with fresh fennel fronds and lemon zest, served with country style French bread

I love calamari.  Also known as squid, it is chewy and full of seafoody flavor.  Often I see it on restaurant menus, but usually it is heavily breaded and deep-fried.  I find myself wishing I would see more dishes without breading, not fried.  I actually prefer it more simply, in dishes where its delicate flavor is accentuated and not overpowered. 

My favorite calamari dish is a Mediterranean style calamari stew.  It is spicy and sweet.  Tearing off hunks of crumby bread to dip into a rich and zesty sauce is so satisfying.  The light flavor and firm, almost creamy texture of the squid is really highlighted by this dish.  It feels hearty, like you’re eating something sinful, but it’s really very nutritious and low in fat.

Another great thing about this squid is the price.  Fresh calamari may be the cheapest item at my local seafood store.  With the other ingredients (raisins, tomatoes) also being relatively inexpensive, it makes for a super frugal seafood dinner.  My friends are suitably impressed without my having to spend a lot of money.

In this version, I also added shrimp.

Mediterranean Calamari and Shrimp Stew

Time: 35-45 minutes
Makes: 5-6 servings
Difficulty: Ant Icon 32x32pxAnt Icon 32x32px


4 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp salted anchovies
1 pinch red pepper flakes
32 ozs crushed tomatoes
1 tbs capers
1 bunch basil leaves coarsely chopped
3 tbs toasted pine nuts
3 tbsps golden raisins
Black pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
½ lbs squid
½ lbs shrimp deveined
Country style French bread or baguette
1 cup fennel fronds coarsely chopped
Zest and juice of 1 lemon


Separate crushed tomatoes from their juices, keeping the juice to add back into the stew when it needs moisture after the tomatoes have simmered.  Set both tomatoes and juices aside.

Melt anchovies in 1 tbs olive oil.  This is a neat little insider trick.  Potently salty, oily and a little bit fishy, anchovies tend to divide eaters: Some love them, others detest them.  I discovered that with this trick it doesn’t really matter whether your diners like them or hate them.  Anchovies dissolve in oil, allowing them to go undetected.  They are an essential part of this recipe as they add an underlying richness and saltiness.  They cut the acidity of the tomatoes to create a dish that is comforting and interesting to the palate.

Here’s how to do it:  heat the olive oil in a sauté pan on medium low heat and add anchovies.  Press anchovies into oil with a fork.  As the anchovies warm, they begin to disintegrate into the oil.   It should only take a moment or two.

When anchovies and oil are almost completely combined, add garlic, capers and red pepper flakes.  Cook until garlic softens and becomes fragrant. 

A good start to any dish: garlic, anchovies and capers warming in olive oil

Add the crushed tomatoes and increase the heat to medium or higher.  You want to keep the stew simmering, but not over boiling so you may need to adjust the heat.  Simmer for 20 minutes or so, uncovered, stirring occasionally.  Mixture should become denser and tomatoes darken their hue.

While the stew simmers, fry the calamari and shrimp lightly in olive oil.  Heat 1 tbs oil in a frying pan or sauté pan to medium heat.  Add shrimp and squid along with a pinch of salt and pepper.  The calamari increases in firmness as it fries.    It should only take 5-7 minutes.  Shrimp turn pink when cooked and calamari looses its translucence.  Flip to ensure even cooking.  When the shrimp and calamari are finished, remove from heat and set aside.

Return to the sautéing tomato mixture and add basil, pine nuts, raisins, cinnamon and your saved tomato juice.   

Add shrimp and calamari.  Salt and pepper to taste, but remember the capers and anchovies are already salty.  Allow flavors to combine for just a couple of minutes and remove from heat.

Almost finished! Ingredients combined and flavors melding together

You’re ready to serve!  Spoon the stew into bowls and top with chopped fennel and lemon zest.  For a little added pop of acidity, squeeze a little lemon over each dish.  Slice bread or just tear off hunks and voila! 

I trust your guests will be suitably impressed, but just don’t tell them about the anchovies.

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