The 8-Second Seafood Dinner

Precook your squid for just a few seconds

Closeup of a plate of linguini with small, curled squid tentacles.
Closeup of a plate of linguini with small, curled squid tentacles.

In her China Moon Cookbook, the late Barbara Tropp gives recipe after innovative recipe for bright dishes that seem no less fresh today than they were when the book was published in 1992. She also describes clever techniques that tend to lodge in the reader’s mind, such as her way of cooking squid.

It is a kitchen maxim that squid is best cooked either very briefly or for a very long time: In between, it can become tough or too chewy. But for brevity, Tropp wins the blue ribbon: In her book, the medium-size squid we most commonly see in the market or fish store is cooked in 10 seconds or less.

Specifically: After cleaning your squid (if you haven’t bought them already cleaned), bring a pot of salted water to a full boil. While it’s heating, cut cleaned squid bodies into rings, and cut the tentacle sections into bite-sized pieces. Depending on size, these could be individual tentacles or pairs. Drop the rings into the water, then use a skimmer or big slotted spoon to remove them after 6 seconds, by which time they’ll have turned opaque-white, and immediately plunge them into ice water to cool quickly. The tentacles need 8 to 10 seconds in the boiling water: The visual cue is that they’ll curl up and, again, become opaque. Drained and dried in a towel, they can be stored in the fridge or used immediately, either in a seafood salad or other cold dish or in a hot preparation — fold them into whatever you’re cooking just before serving to heat them through.

A plate with many squid tentacles.
A plate with many squid tentacles.

The result is squid with a bit of give but no toughness — and as much flavor as squid can muster.

Last week, Jackie and I had a pasta dinner using squid caught in nearby waters, sweet-tart-savory local tomatoes, and new garlic. Mint and anchovy lent an accent that could pass for Sicilian, which gave us a reason to drink a bottle of Sicilian white wine. It was Barbara Tropp’s super-quick squid-cooking method that defined this dish, enabling us to briefly cook the tomatoes into a sauce that remained fresh-tasting without worrying about when to add the squid.

Despite its nod to a Chinese cookbook, the dish has a sort of Mediterranean feel about it; someone with an active imagination could just about conjure up an image of dining in the shade of a big umbrella on a Palermo terrace.

Linguine With Squid

Serves: 2

Ingredients

  • 4–5 ounces (115 to 140 g) squid, cleaned(I used only tentacles because that’s what the fishmonger had)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled and sliced thin
  • Small pinch dried chile flakes or a whole dried chile, seeded
  • 1 anchovy fillet
  • 3 tablespoons white wine
  • 1 cup (240 milliliters) peeled and finely chopped tomatoes (or substitute ⅔ cup of a simple tomato sauce and ⅓ cup water)
  • 10 to 12 ounces (I used 150 grams) linguine or spaghetti
  • Grated zest of half a lemon
  • Generous handful of fresh mint or parsley leaves, or (my preference) a mixture of the two; washed, patted dry, and chopped
  • Salt

Instructions

1. Cut, boil, and chill the squid as described in the headnote; if you’re not proceeding immediately, refrigerate until needed. This can be done hours or a day in advance.

2. Put a pot of salted water up to boil for the pasta. In theory, you could use the water in which you cooked the squid, but I started afresh.

3. Heat the oil in a 10-inch (25-centimeter) frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic to the oil with a sprinkling of salt. After half a minute, add the chile flakes, then a moment later the anchovy. Use a spoon or spatula to mash the anchovy into the oil; it will pretty much disintegrate.

Thin, triangular slices of anchovies cooking in oil in a pan.
Thin, triangular slices of anchovies cooking in oil in a pan.

4. When the garlic is just turning blond, about 2 to 3 minutes, add the wine, raise the heat to medium, and cook for a couple of minutes until it has reduced by half and no longer smells of raw wine. Add the tomatoes (or tomato sauce and water) and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the sauce has become slightly viscous and is no longer downright watery. Check for salt and remove from the heat.

5. Cook your linguine. When it’s not quite done (start checking after 5 minutes), put the sauce back over medium heat, and use tongs or a pasta-grabber to add the linguine to the sauce. Toss or stir to combine, and simmer until the pasta is cooked to the consistency you like. Add pasta cooking water if necessary to keep everything loose. Stir in the squid, turn the heat down to very low, and toss or stir until the squid is warmed through, about 15 to 30 seconds.

Overhead shot of a pan of linguini in sauce with squid tentacles on top.
Overhead shot of a pan of linguini in sauce with squid tentacles on top.

6. Check for salt one more time. Off the heat, stir in the lemon zest and the mint and or parsley, and serve.

Overhead shot of a pan of linguini in sauce with squid tentacles on top, being topped with chopped herbs.
Overhead shot of a pan of linguini in sauce with squid tentacles on top, being topped with chopped herbs.

7. You could finish the dish with a drizzle of your best olive oil, but I usually don’t.

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