The first order of business, as soon as I set foot on the Greek island of Skopelos, and dumped my luggage at the charming and tiny three-story house with a view of bay I had rented for three weeks, was food. The trip from Los Angeles had been gruelling and, besides the transatlantic flight and the seven hours milling around Heathrow, it involved a broken ferry, a bus ride, a taxi shared with a Greek couple and an overnight stay in Volos. It shouldn’t take three days to get from LA to the Sporades but it did. And the food consumed over those three days was of the snacking variety at best.
It was mid-afternoon when I walked to the very edge of the harbour looking for an open restaurant: a little munchkin of a kid, no older than 9, was sweeping around some square tables and blue chairs and, when I asked him if they were serving yet, he ran in the kitchen to ask his dad: “Sit, lady, sit” and with a huge grin he indicated a chair bigger than him. He turned out to be my favourite waiter ever, even if he didn’t speak more than five words of English, and I went back many times to his dad’s restaurant, either for a meal or for take-out. Sometimes I would see the little kid spring away on his bike as soon as dinner service was over, faster than the wind. But the little munchkin was not the only reason I kept on going back. Squid was.
Skopelos is a little known island not far from Skiathos, its party cousin, and it’s famous for its monasteries and its prunes. Nearly every protein on the island can be prepared with the addition of prunes. When I saw squid with prunes I was a touch skeptical but, as I love squid more than any other seafood, I was willing to give it a shot. And what do you know? The sweet and smoky taste of the softened prunes marries beautifully with charred squid. I couldn’t get enough. And not just at the restaurant at the edge of the harbour but also in every beach dive I happened upon during my daily excursions. The cooks would leave the squid to dry on the rocks, under the sun, a practice that alarmed me somewhat, but, later realizing how much water squid releases while cooking, it makes practical sense. If you are stewing the squid, the liquid is welcome, but if you are trying to char it, it won’t do.
At home, the easiest way to replicate that would be to put the squid on the barbecue (Korean style) or else to pat it dry a few times, let it air for a while before cooking it and then placing it in a very hot pan on high heat. It’s ready in three minutes flat. Which is what I did a couple of nights ago, as it was raining outside and the barbecue was not an option. I simply served it with a splash of lemon and cooked it with some red pepper flakes for a bit of heat, alongside some boiled new potatoes that I slathered in butter and fleur de sel. Not Skopelos style but magical still.
METHOD – serves 4
1 pound of squid, both tentacles and tubes (approx 500 grams)
3 T olive oil
A pinch of red pepper flakes or a fresh jalapeno, de-seeded and minced
- Rinse the squid under cold water, pat it dry and cut the tubes into strips. I tend to leave the tentacles whole, unless they are really large.
- Pat it dry again and let it out to dry for 30 minutes prior to cooking it.
- Heat a large frying pan on high, add half the olive oil, wait until it’s hot and drop half of the squid in. Salt it and let it cook without touching it, about a minute. Turn it and cook it another minute or so. Remove it and repeat with the second batch.
- Serve immediately with a tomato based salad or with steamed new potatoes.
All images copyright of Campari and Sofa