Serious Eats: Recipes

French in a Flash: Provençal Calamari Salad with Tarragon and Mint

[Photographs: Kerry Saretsky]

This is a recipe of unsung heroes: calamari (calamars in French) and tarragon. I can still remember my first encounter with the thing that is calamari. It was in a spooky old cliffside restaurant near Woodstock in upstate New York. Up until that point, my only knowledge of squid was the sculpture of the giant one in the whale room at the Museum of Natural History. The crispy rings and tendrils were a revelation: crunchy, salty, chewy, briny, and even sweet in that delicate and tender way peculiar to seafood. That was twenty-one years ago, and I've eaten calamari at least once a week since.

Calamari is all you could every ask for: It's cheap, it cooks in seconds, and it goes with anything, a Proteus that assumes and absorbs the flavors, and even sometimes the hue, of whatever you are cooking. And yet, for all their virtues, their ease, their inexpensiveness, they are still evocative of expensive seafood dinners, and generally bring an ooh or ahh from expectant eaters.

This salad is summertime, which is the dominant season on the east coast this week. The calamari are sautéed until just opaque, like cloudy smoke rings, and tossed with olive oil, lemon, chili, tomatoes, and then the dynamic duo of tarragon and mint. So often we see calamari served Italian style, with tomatoes, garlic, and basil (which, incidentally, are also a quotidian combination in Provence). But the anise of the tarragon and the fresh bite of the mint play to the sweetness of both the calamari and the tomatoes. I top the salad with a true Provence gem, chopped roasted almonds, for a salty, woodsy crunch.

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About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the The Secret Ingredient series for Serious Eats.

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