I started this post in New York City where I spent the past week. Two things really define my visits to the city: catching up with friends and relatives, and the food . (Although, the record breaking heat at the end of this trip made it all the more memorable). More specifically, the fresh food. Quite undoubtedly, New York gets an impressive variety of fresh food - from seasonal fruit to exotic herbs to seafood.
On the corner of Sutphin Boulevard and 91st Avenue in Queens is King Fish. From outside, it is hard to imagine that this establishment, with its small store front and simple sign, is one of the most popular in the borough. Traffic through here is always constant which can easily be due to New York's dense population but which just as easily can be attributed to the impressive selection of seafood here. Red snapper, grouper heads, scungilli, king fish. An excellent variety to say the least; a selection that caters to the city's diverse communities - those grouper heads are a favorite among Trinidadians for fish soup.
If all I could do was peruse the market, I would be content with that. But as luck would have it, I did get to do a bit of cooking during this trip. I knew I wanted to make a seafood dish but the question was which seafood. It's funny how an abundance of fish, clams, and fresh water crab can confuse a usually decisive person. In the end, I settled with squid. My plan was to fry it and serve with a dressing made up of fresh garlic, jalapenos and culantro. Not cilantro. Culantro.
Ask any Trinidadian cook what herb they must have and culantro (also called shadon beni - pronounced shadow benny- and bandanya) tops the list. We use it to season meats and fish (bound for stews, the grill, the frying pan or the oven), salads, soups, curries. You get the picture - anything savory. Its peppery, lemony scent is quite distinct and offers a level of freshness lacking in other herbs. Ok, I am biased. What can I say? It's been used in cooking throughout my life so forgive my sales pitch. Finding culantro in the markets of Queens was not a difficult task- look right next to the thyme and cilantro- but Minnesota is a different story altogether. I was lucky a couple of years ago to find it at the farmers' market. If not, try your closest Vietnamese store. (Last I checked, Sun Foods in Brooklyn PArk stocked it.) If you have exhausted all means and still cannot find it, then a suitable substitute in this recipe is the common cilantro. Whichever herb you use, I hope you have fun with this recipe and enjoy eating it as much as I did.
Crispy Squid with Fresh Culantro (Shado-beni) Dressing
1 lb squid, cleaned and cut into rings
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup corn meal
salt and pepper
vegetable oil for frying
juice of 1 lemon
8 culantro leaves
1 garlic clove
1/3 cup olive oil
1. Combine the all purpose flour, cornmeal, salt and pepper. Toss the squid in the flour mixture and fry in small batches until lightly golden brown. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
2. Add the lemon juice, culantro leaves, garlic, and jalapeno to a blender and pulse until coarsely chopped. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil. Drizzle this dressing over the squid and serve immediately.