Monday, April 6, 2009

In Praise of Squid

Going through the boxes of donated cookbooks is fun because there is always something unusual that we haven’t seen before.

Recently, something truly unusual and interesting arrived – a cookbook that focuses on squid. The International Squid Cookbook, by Isaac Cronin, is a 94-page paperback devoted exclusively to the preparation and consumption of squid. There are not many cookbooks that focus on squid – in English, probably fewer than ten.

Squid has taken its time in getting to North America. As legend has it, American restaurateurs did not serve squid until someone came up with the idea of using the mollusk’s Italian name – calamari, which refers to any dish that contains squid. (The singular is calamaro.)

Up until then, Americans couldn’t seem to process the idea of eating squid, let alone octopus. Most Americans probably get their information about squid from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Even today, most Americans think of squid only as a deep fried appetizer.

The International Squid Cookbook serves as a primer on all things squid: varieties of edible squid; how to buy squid; how to clean squid; how to stuff and cook squid; and even a section on how to deal with tentacles.

Dozens of recipes are broken down by nation of origin as squid is a food that is prepared throughout the world. From Japan, there is squid ball soup. From Indonesia, squid curried in coconut milk. From France, squid and leeks in red wine. There are many recipes from the countries of the Mediterranean.

Obviously, a cookbook devoted to calamari is not something one finds in very many households at this time. They’re hard enough to find in bookstores. That might change because squid might become a more popular food source considering that it grows quickly and many species of fish have been over-harvested.

This is the kind of cookbook that tempts cooks to take a chance, and by doing so, one is rewarded with new and unusual additions to one’s cooking repertoire.