For us Sri Lankans living in a tiny island surrounded by water, seafood is a staple as the air that we breathe.
Glistening blue waters fringing the golden sands shaded by lush coconut palms from the golden sunshine all year round, Sri Lanka is the tropical paradise that many dream about. Just for a moment, imagine what it’s like living here your entire life.
I, for one, was at point, sick of fish. Having had it for every meal, 3 meals a day for the past 30 years of my life, seafood no longer carries the charm that it does for others who are not so conversant about the island way of life.
It’s not like we go to the beach and buy the catch of the day straight from the salt-soaked boats and charmingly haggard fishermen. But we do have a continuous supply of fresh seafood whether it be at the local fish monger or at the neighborhood supermarket. Amongst the many varieties of fish available are the other seafood that I do not contain so much about – the prawns, the calamari and the crabs.
The most popular way of having calamari for us island dwellers is in a beautifully rich curry of spices, moringa leaves cooked in thick coconut milk. A recent, fast food inspired “Chinese” food trend now sees us having it in this equally tempting (but not so healthy) hot butter cuttlefish dish that is a popular bar snack here in Sri Lanka. The stuffed squid however, is not a popular way of preparing cuttlefish in Sri Lanka, in fact, I believe it is a Sicilian specialty. So here I am, introducing my (spicy, Sri Lankanized) version of the stuffed squid.
The first time I tried my hand at it, I tried it minus the maalu miris (the Sri Lankan green pepper) and it did not have the desired punch for me. The next time, I took care to add the peppers sliced small and thoroughly cleaned of its seeds. The seeds are little atoms of heat that you would not want to bite into, so I took care to take them out of the equation altogether.
- Calamari - 15, medium, tubes intact, washed, cleaned (keep the heads chopped, separately)
- Tinned fish - 1 large can, shredded
- Onions - 3, large, sliced thinly
- Banana pepper (Maalu miris) - 2, sliced thinly, deseeded
- Potatoes - 100g, boiled, mashed
- Chili Flakes - 2 tsps
- Oregano - 2tsps
- Cheddar - 100g, cut into thin match sticks
- Basil leaves - 1 cup, roughly chopped
- Garlic - 2tblsps, pulped
- Butter - 2tblsps
- Salt and pepper - To taste
- Parsley - chopped
Making the stuffing
- Heat some oil in a pan. When hot, add in the onions and let sauté until translucent.
- Add in the garlic. When it is fragrant, add in the chopped heads of the calamari. Sauté till cooked.
- Add in the chili flakes and the oregano. When browned adequately, add in the shredded fish. Sauté for 2 minutes until fragrant and browned.
- Finally add the potato and mix in well. Salt and pepper as necessary.
- Once cooled, add in the cheese and the basil leaves and stir through.
Preparing the squid
- Make sure that the squid is well washed and the tubes are intact. Dry each tube on paper towels before stuffing.
- When stuffing, place a piece of cheddar first in the tube and make sure it is pushed as far as the smaller end of the tube. This makes sure that the filling will be evenly distributed.
- Then with a small spoon or using your fingers, carefully stuff the tubes with the filling that you’ve made earlier. Make sure that you don’t overstuff them because the filling tends to expand and the calamari tends to shrink when cooking and this will cause the casing to break.
- Secure the opening of the tube with a toothpick, stringing the toothpick right across the opening like a seam.
- Heat some butter in a pan. Once hot enough, place the stuffed calamari carefully in the pan. Do not overcrowd.
- Cook turning, until the sides are browned about 6 minutes. By this time, the calamari would have nicely plumped up, looking all juicy and delicious.
- When serving, drizzle the remaining butter from the pan on top and scatter some chopped parsley. Serve warm.
This can be served as a side to a main meal or as a snack – a luxurious one at that. these plump tubes of happiness encase within them all the flavors of the ocean. The tuna, coupled with the fiery heat of the chili flakes brings in a wonderfully bold depth while the potato plays with the complexities of taste within and mellows out the strength of flavor, allowing the lusciousness of the calamari to shine through. The calamari is incredibly soft and when bitten into, the cheese squirts salty-smooth and coats the tongue in a silken embrace – that random piece of sponge that you encounter on the beach. The stuffing simply pops out the casing, through the buttery flesh of the calamari and is a wonderful combination of the surf and the turf, the earthy potato and the marine tuna combining in a cheesy mélange. Bite into a slice of banana pepper and get introduced to a vibrant splash of flavor, that simply makes the rest of the flavors pop and plummet. Overall, each bite is a world of flavor with the taste of the sea running through your taste buds that you can almost feel the ocean breeze ruffling your hair.
- Get your local fishmonger to clean the calamari for you. If not, clean it yourself. It isn’t hard.
- Do not over-stuff the calamari. It tends to shrink during the pan frying and the stuffing tends to expand. So don’t worry if your squid does not look full and plump like the picture, it will become that when it cooks.
- There are other flavor combinations that you can try for the stuffing. An all-potato and calamari heads combined with a green like spinach or basil works as well in creating a milder tasting dish all in all.
- Try with a sweet chili sauce