Early on in our marriage, my husband and I took a trip to Naxos, Greece. All of the food we ate during that trip was delicious, which probably explains why we like Greek food so much. (In truth, I am pretty sure we loved it from the very first day on. The first date he took me on was to a Greek restaurant.)
However, the most memorable food-related experience on Naxos by far was that of eating grilled calamari by candlelight on the dock beside the water.
I had never had calamari grilled before that—only battered and deep fried. The grilled calamari was served with lemon zest and herbs and was so tender and delicious—nothing like the rubbery stuff I had previously experienced. I think of that experience every time I think of calamari.
So, the other day, when my husband mentioned that he had a hankering for calamari, I decided to try to recreate that dish. The original dish involved calamari (squid), but I could only find sepia (cuttlefish) in the store. While I marinated my cuttlefish, I decided to look up the difference.
Both are known as “ink fishes” because they secrete an inky fluid. The word calamari is the plural form of the Italian word for squid, calamaro. Calamarium derives from Greek kalamos meaning “reed,” “tube,” or “pen.” The tube and tentacles are fried, or the tube is stuffed. Calamari are sized by tube length, which can range in size from a few centimeters (about an inch) to 25 meters (80 feet). Squid’s cousin, the cuttlefish, is referred to as sepia from the Italian seppia (“cuttlefish”), from Latin sepia “cuttlefish,” and from Greek sÄ“pia.“Sepia” in English often refers to the cuttlefish’s rich brown secretion that was used to prepare brown paint and ink for “sepia” drawings or photos. The body of the cuttlefish is similar to that of the squid except that it is usually larger and fatter.
Squid is found in the waters of both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Since cuttlefish is not, it is not as well known in the USA as its cousin the squid. However, in Europe and Asia, cuttlefish is valued for its for flavor and consistency. I love both—and if you haven’t tried to make either one yourself, you should. It’s incredibly easy.
Honestly, I have never come across either one that had not been cleaned, but here’s what I gathered from my research on the Internet: Fresh cuttlefish and squid are sold either cleaned or uncleaned. Cleaned, they are bright white and firm, with their tentacles usually intact and attached. Uncleaned, they have a purple-tinged thin skin covering their bodies, which should be removed. Your fish monger can do this for you. Squid and cuttlefish should be shiny and firm and smell of the ocean. When buying uncleaned squid or cuttlefish to use in a recipe that specifies “cleaned,” you will need approximately 25 to 50 percent more. Up to half the body weight can be discarded during cleaning. Most frozen product is precleaned. I have never had to clean anything. All I have ever had to do is give it a good washing.
Squid and cuttlefish can be eaten raw, pan-fried, baked, stewed, stir-fried, or battered and deep-fried. The ink of squid and cuttlefish are also used to color pasta or used in a sauce to accompany seafood.
This recipe works well with either one. First, I marinated my cuttlefish for about two hours.
Then, I put them on a clean grill. Both, if cooked lightly, will have a slight chew, but will definitely NOT be rubbery, so watch your cooking times carefully. Taste one as a sample as soon as the color changes from translucent to opaque.
- 500 g. (ca. 1 lb.) whole sepia or calamari, cleaned
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- zest & juice of 1/2 orange
- zest & juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 tsp. of fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tsp. of dried chili flakes
- coarse sea salt
- fresh oregano and lemon wedges for garnish
- Combine the olive oil, garlic, cumin, orange zest, lemon zest, orange juice, lemon juice, and thyme in a bowl.
- Place seafood in the bowl and toss to coat. Place in the refrigerator to marinate for an hour or two.
- Remove from the fridge and return to room temperature.
- Preheat grill to high. Clean and oil the grill before grilling.
- Remove the seafood from the marinade, and discard the marinade. Season the seafood with coarse sea salt.
- Grill until done, ca. 3 minutes per side.
- Serve with fresh oregano and lemon wedges to garnish.
- Prep time does not include marination time.
- My suggestion: Serve with a greek salad made of tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, red onions, feta cheese and kalamata olives, tossed with a vinaigrette dressing made with fresh oregano and red wine vinegar.