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Spring squid: Mouthwatering mollusk
By Gao Ceng

SQUID, or calamari in Italian, is popular in Mediterranean countries, as well as Asia for its umami flavor, chewy yet tender texture and its salty, tasty black ink.

Early spring is one of the best seasons for the mollusk, which is in the same family as octopus and cuttlefish.

When properly prepared, the taste is delicate if a bit difficult to describe. When poorly prepared (often overcooked), it tastes bland and rubbery.

Many chefs appreciate squid for its versatility - fried calamari is famous. Squid can be grilled, stuffed, lightly boiled and served cold in a salad; squid ink pasta is popular.

"Mediterranean cuisine involves a lot of seafood and squid is a key ingredient. It's versatile and can be presented simply or with creativity," says Marco Ragoni, Italian chef at Giovanni's of Sheraton Shanghai Hongqiao Hotel.

Grilling and stuffing squid with other seafood and vegetables are the latest culinary trends in Mediterranean countries, according to Ragoni.

Grilled squid has a smoky flavor and tender texture. Stuffed squid has layers of texture and rich flavors.

Olive oil, sea salt, pepper and herbs are typically used for seasoning to enhance the delicate flavor and create a balanced, sweet-sour-salty flavor, says Julie Donohoe, executive chef at Hotel Indigo Shanghai on the Bund.

Dark squid ink is often used to make seafood pasta and risotto, which is pleasantly salty and umami but also blackens teeth and gums.

Squid is popular in Korean cuisine for both main courses and side dishes, due to its fresh taste and chewy texture, says South Koreann Alan Cha, chef de cuisine at Renaissance Shanghai Caohejing Hotel.

"The unique texture of squid is ideal for cooking traditional Korean food, either serving it raw, well-cooked, or as sashimi for a delightful taste experience," chef Cha explains.

Unlike Mediterranean chef using light seasonings to enhance the squid's natural flavor, Korean chefs prefer to highlight the flavor by using chili paste, Cha says.

In Chinese cuisine, especially in Ningbo City of Zhejiang Province and Fujian Province, squid is interpreted quite differently. It is usually deep fried with sesame to create crispy texture and caramel-like flavor. The ink is made into a thick paste served with steamed rice.

Here are four squid dishes at Shanghai's five-star hotels.

Paccheri pasta with squid in black ink sauce
(140 yuan+15%)

Chef Ragoni draws inspiration for this dish from his hometown in Sardinia. The squid ink sauce imparts a rich flavor to the pasta. The firm squid and silky pasta go well together in this simple dish that presents the full flavor of squid.

Stuffed squid with baby bok choy
(110 yuan+15%)

The grilled squid stuffed with prawn has a clean, light taste and the presentation is attractive. The stuffed squid is made into a round shape. Red beetroot juice is used to top the squid and draw a line on the plate. Bok choy is served raw together with the squid.

Venue: Giovanni's Italian Restaurant, Sheraton Shanghai Hongqiao Hotel
Tel: 6275-8888 ext 4276
Address: 27/F, 5 Zunyi Rd S.

Squid pancake
(68 yuan+15%)

This traditional Korean dish is also the signature dish in chef Cha's restaurant. Squid, shrimp and scallops are pound and pan-fried to a golden pancake, tasting crispy outside and tender and juicy inside. Chili is added for richness and intensity.

Venue: Smoki Moto, Renaissance Shanghai Caohejing Hotel
Tel: 3325-8388
Address: 397 Tianlin Rd

BBQ squid with eggplant, sofrito and quinoa
(130 yuan+15%)

A layer of quinoa (a grain-like seed) is spread over eggplant, followed by grilled squid topped with sofrito, a combination of chili seeds, saffron and other seasonings. The chef recommends taking a big bite to include all the ingredients of varied flavor and texture.

Venue: CHAR, Hotel Indigo Shanghai on the Bund
Tel: 3302-9999
Address: 29/F, 585 Zhongshan Rd E2

Customer Service: (86-21) 52920164