Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Recipes #81 and #82: Squid and Octopus Appetizers

Octopus and squid are known as "blõsa" (bosa?) among the Ewe people. While this recipe was not part of the traditional diet, Barbara has adopted traditional seasoning and deep-frying cooking techniques to produce what has proven to be one of Flair's popular appetizers. While the recipe calls for octopus or squid, or a combination, other firm fish, or shrimp, could be substituted. Here are 2 ways of preparing this dish: one without a batter, and one with.

Recipe #81: Squid or Octopus Appetizer
In Ghana we used a kilo (a little over 2 pounds) of squid, and also a kilo of octopus. However, I believe that was before everything was cleaned and prepared, and I remember that we did not use the tentacles of the octopus. Barbara said that the kilo provided enough for 9 to 18 people.

However, when I prepared it in Pennsylvania, I was only able to find already cleaned and prepared baby squid (I did not buy the tentacles, just the tubular part of the body), and also baby octopus, which was quite a bit softer than the octopus we used in Ghana. 

I recommend a pound of the squid (over a pound of the octopus, since I did not cook the tentacles from them, but only if you have another use for them. Or, you could try coating them as well. I did not.).

Assemble the ingredients:
  • 1 pound of squid (or substitute octopus, or a half pound of each)
  • 1 lemon
  • water for washing the squid
For the seasoning:
  • 1 heaping teaspoon dried ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 heaping teaspoon fresh ground ginger
  • 1 heaping teaspoon ground shallots (or onion)
  • 1 teaspoon ground fresh garlic
  • 1-2 teaspoons of salt (to taste)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon fish seasoning (I used a fish masala)
To fry the squid/octopus: 
  • vegetable oil like canola for deep frying
  • a little flour (optional)
To prepare:
  1. Cut the squid into small strips the long way, about 1/2 inch wide, and cut the strips in half or thirds. When we used the large octopus, we cut them into strips about 1 1/2 inches by 1 1/4 inches. However, with the baby octopus, I simply cut them into small pieces as shown.
  2. Add 2 cups of water to a small bowl, and squeeze the lemon into the water. Wash the squid/octopus pieces in the liquid, swishing them around well, shake the excess water off, and place them in a colander lined with paper towels to drain. 
  3. Prepare the seasoning paste. To simplify matters, I simply put the peeled shallots, coaresly chopped fresh ginger, and several cloves of garlic in a small blender container, but had to add a tablespoon or two of water to get it to grind thoroughly. Then before I made the paste, I poured the blended ingredients into a fine strainer to get the water out, and used that water to flavor a gravy for stew. I was afraid the paste would be too thin if the water was not removed, and would splatter when frying.
  4. Mix the blended ingredients with the dried red pepper, salt and fish seasoning to make a paste.
  5. When we were in Ghana, I believe we simply coated the squid/octopus pieces with the paste and fried them in a heated deep pot of oil, but I found several problems when I tried that: the paste did not properly stick to the pieces, and also they splattered excessively when I put them in the oil, so I added another step: dry the pieces well with paper towels, and lightly dust them with flour before coating them with the paste.  Carefully put them in the hot oil using a long-handled spoon or tongs and be careful of splatters (It's a good idea to wear a full apron if you have one, and follow standard deep frying procedure--e.g., don't overfill the pot, make sure the oil is hot enough---about 360 degrees F). As soon as the first batch is in, cover the pot or fryer for a couple of minutes, then remove the lid and stir the pieces to make sure they brown on both sides. 
  6. When they are nice and crispy, remove to another paper lined colander or tray to drain. When we cooked this in Ghana, the octopus was much thicker and took longer to cook than the squid. When I used the baby squid and octopus, it cooked in just a few minutes. Repeat until all are cooked.
Serving: At Flair they often dip the pieces in a gravy and serve them on a skewer like a kebab, alternating the fried octopus with fried squid, sweet bell pepper,  tomato, and/or onion slices. I made a basic Ghana gravy (with hot pepper), dipped the fried pieces in it, and threaded them on skewers that way, as shown in the photo at the top. Another way they eat them is with little steamed cassava "pancakes" called yakayake, but I have neither the dough nor the equipment to make those. Sometimes, when they cook a large fish at Flair, they sprinkled the fried squid or octopus over it as a garnish.

Recipe #82: Batter-coated Squid and Octopus Appetizer
The  way I got cautious Sam to be willing to try (and like) squid and octopus, was to dip them in batter before frying them.

For this recipe, you follow the same instructions as for #81, but there is an additional step. Actually, it's a good idea to make the batter first, then let it rest while you prepare the squid/octopus. As I noted above, in Ghana we made a double batch of this, but I'm cutting the recipe in half here.

Assemble the ingredients:
  • 8 ounces of flour (about 1 3/4 cup)
  • 2 eggs (actually, one and a half, but that's kind of awkward)
  • 1/4 cup of evaporated milk (if using fresh milk, simply decrease the water below accordingly)
  • 1 cup water (or 3/4 cup if not using evaporated milk) (or more as necessary, described below)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 heaping teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried ground red pepper (or more to taste)
To prepare:
  1. Sift the flour into a large bowl.
  2. Crack and add the 2 eggs.
  3. Shake, then open and add the evaporated (or fresh) milk and mix all well with a wire whisk.
  4. In Ghana they added part of a shrimp-flavored seasoning cube, crushed, but I used a no-salt seasoning substitute, or perhaps you could substitute some ground shrimp powder.
  5. Add the baking powder, salt, and dried gorund red pepper.
  6. Mix again with the wire whisk, then add more water if necessary. I had to add about 1/4 cup to get it the right consistency.
  7. This batter can be used to coat squid, octopus, or any fish before frying it. As was the case in recipe #81, I suggest dusting the fish lightly with a powder of flour before dipping it in the batter. If you accidentally make the batter too thin, add more flour. 
To serve: I served this with a couple of different sauces: a hot sauce and a horseradish cocktail sauce. It would also go well with shito or ketchup. It goes well with any drink (beer, red or white wine, soda, juices) as an appetizer, or as a savory snack with tea or coffee.

Isn't it about time you had a party?

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