Sometimes all you need for a perfect meal is for two ingredients to come together happily.
I’m a big believer in the maximalist appeal of a lot of Indian cooking. But I’m not finicky about it. I love the layered, complex flavors of a slow-cooked and delicately spiced biryani but I’m also a fan of the special magic that happens when you bring together a handful of well-chosen ingredients in a simple dish whose taste far outstrips its promise.
This salad of grilled squid served over mixed greens is unbeatable on a summer day, especially if you have a blazing-hot charcoal grill going and the shade of a good tree to enjoy your meal under. But, thankfully for those of us stuck in a Northeastern winter, it’s a seasonally forgiving dish, just as delicious in the winter, especially if you can get a hold of lovely local squid, and some peppery baby greens.
I should note that this is less of a recipe and more of a set of precautions. Any idiot can grill squid (I submit myself as evidence). There are, however, a few things to watch out for that can make your life easier, and your squid even tastier. So, read the instructions on preparing and cooking the squid, and then feel free to change the seasonings, the greens, and the dressing to suit your own tastes.
A note on toasting pistachios: I’ve recommended blanching, skinning, and toasting your pistachios before using them. It’s a time-consuming chore, and a bit of a fool’s errand. Feel free to skip it if you’re making this for a large group, but I find that it does wonders for the flavor of the nuts, so do try it at least once for a small group or on a day when you’re making this for yourself and are feeling indulgent and a little spendthrift with your time.
Grilled Squid with Mixed Baby Greens
6 oz baby greens (use a blend of different leaves if you can find it) gently washed and dried
1 lb squid cleaned, mantles and tentacles separated
Juice of 1 lemon, strained
1 garlic clove, very finely minced or pounded in a mortar and pestle
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup pistachios, blanched in boiling water, skinned, and gently toasted at 300°F until dry but not browned, 5–10 minutes.
At least an hour or two before you plan on cooking, thoroughly pat the squid dry using plenty of paper towels. You want to remove as much moisture as possible from the squid to encourage it to develop deep, dark char marks when you’re cooking it.
Using a sharp paring knife, cut open one side of the squid mantles, so that you can spread them open on your cutting board. Using your paring knife, very gently score a shallow crosshatch pattern on the outside of the mantle, taking care not to cut all the way through. This will help prevent the squid from curling up too drastically when you cook it later.
Set the squid aside in the refrigerator between sheets of paper towel until ready to use.
While the squid is in the refrigerator, combine the lemon juice, garlic, 3–4 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Mix well, adjust seasoning, and set aside until you’re ready to use it.
When you’re ready to start cooking, arrange an equal amount of salad greens in 4 wide plates. Sprinkle with the toasted pistachios.
Heat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet or grill pan over high heat. If your kitchen has an exhaust fan or a hood, turn it up to high, or open the nearest window and keep a magazine handy to fan the smoke out and away from your smoke alarm.
While the pan is getting hot, transfer the squid to a medium bowl with 1 1/2 tsp sea salt and 1 tbsp of olive oil. Mix well to coat the squid with the oil.
When the pan has preheated for at least 5 minutes, test it by flicking a drop of water onto its surface. The water should immediately vanish in a furious sizzle.
Working quickly, place the pieces of squid on the hot pan, making an effort to ensure that the mantles are not folded in half and are fully spread out on the pan, for maximum browning. Place the tentacles between the mantles. Do not crowd the pan or the squid will steam instead of grilling. Cook the squid in two or more batches if needed.
Let the squid cook, undisturbed, for at least 3 minutes.
Using a pair of tongs, peek under the squid to make sure that its has browned.Once all the pieces are browned on one side, turn them over using tongs and let them cook for another 2 minutes.
Once all the squid is cooked and tiger-striped with char marks, divide it between the 4 waiting plates. The salad will wilt slightly—this is fine.
Stir the dressing quickly to reemulsify the ingredients and then drizzle it generously over the grilled squid, making sure each plate gets its fair share of garlic.