I went to the Portobello Market today intending to buy a rabbit and some octopus. I was dreaming, vaguely, of Spanish food. I got there too late for the rabbit (damn jetlag!) and lovely Gary of Gary’s Fresh Fish said that octopus is too expensive right now for him to sell it at the prices he likes. But staring at me balefully from Gary’s bins were some giant – I mean massive – cephalopods. (The baleful stare is a figure of speech. They were, of course, dead.) Five pounds later, I was one squid richer (the bugger weighed nearly two pounds) and images of spicy squid laced with turmeric and tamarind and coconut were swimming through my head.
This is a rich, dense curry. It reminds me of Malaysian curries, which is good, since that’s what I was aiming for. (I can’t promise that all of the ingredients are strictly Malaysian, but since Malaysian cuisine is such a wonderful cross-section of culinary influences – China! India! Thailand! – I think I’m okay faking it.) It is super tasty and it packs a wallop. The key is not being timid about bubbling and reducing your sauce to get that caramel-y intensity of flavour. Now the next thing I need to learn how to make is delicious Malaysian roti, because this is a sauce for dunking. If you eat it with rice (even better: coconut rice) you will be perfectly happy, however.
1.5 to 2 pounds squid. You can buy cleaned squid or you can follow my directions. If using baby squid, feel free to simply slice into rings. More mature squid should be scored with a sharp knife on the diagonal into little diamonds and cut into 1″ x 3″ strips. Do use the tentacles, as they are delicious.
½ teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
½ teaspoon coriander (whole seeds or ground)
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon palm sugar (you can substitute brown sugar)
½ teaspoon tamarind concentrate (if using paste, use the same amount – concentrate just saves time because you don’t have to mix it with water and strain it)
Finely grated zest of ½ lime
Juice of ½ lime
200 milliliters coconut milk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 thai chili peppers, thinly sliced
1 red chili pepper, preferably Indonesian cabe – otherwise, any thin spicy red chili pepper will do, thinly sliced
2-3 teaspoons salt
2-3 tablespoons fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves, for garnish
In a small pan, toast your Szechuan peppercorns, mustard seeds, and, if using whole coriander, your coriander seeds over medium heat until the spices are fragrant and the mustard seeds have started to pop. Transfer to a mortar and pestle (or, if you wish, a mini food processor) and pound to a powder. Add the turmeric, paprika, lime zest, lime juice, palm sugar, tamarind, and coconut milk, and mix thoroughly. (If using ground coriander, add it now too.)
If you have a wok congratulations! Use that. Otherwise, heat the oil in a skillet until quite hot, add the garlic and sauté briefly until it releases an aroma, but do not allow it to brown. Add your delightful curry mixture to the pan and allow to bubble vigorously, stirring occasionally, until it is reduced by at least half and has turned a rich caramel brown colour.
Stir in the salt, chilis, and squid, and continue to cook over high heat, tossing occasionally to ensure even cooking. Young tender squid should not take more than two to three minutes to cook. More mature squid may take four to six minutes. Remove from heat and serve immediately, garnished with fresh cilantro.
Serves 3-4 people (depending on how much squid you use).