Blue Lemon chef Bryan Malcarney can clean, prep and sear a baby squid in just under 10 minutes, all while making small talk with a patio full of hungry diners. In fact, he makes it look pretty easy.
“That’s my job,” the affable chef joked to a lunch crowd last week at a cooking demo organized by CTBites. The lattice and flower enclosed patio was packed with avocational foodies who had jumped at the chance to learn from one of the area’s most established chefs through the CTBites Invites program, which has regular offerings to take people behind the scenes in some of Fairfield County’s most respected kitchens.
At this particular lunch, Chef Bryan shared the secret to preparing Blue Lemon’s signature dish, grilled baby squid with ginger lime vinaigrette over a bed of arugula.
“This dish has been on the menu since we opened,” said the chef as he went to work performing what one of the guests called “major surgery.” “Connecticut Magazine called it ‘the best squid in Connecticut.’”
After deftly removing tentacles and skin, he extracted a clear plastic-looking piece with his inky fingers. “Cartilage,” he announced. “You just slide it out.”
Squid cleaned, Chef Bryan got down to business. “You need a very hot stove. You cook it for a minute or a minute-and-a-half on each side, just so you get a nice sear. If you cook it too long, it will get tough. That’s no good.”
Moments later, he plated the golden squid over a bed of arugula and dressed it with his ginger lime vinaigrette. “Ready to serve,” he said, before heading back into the kitchen to prepare the same dish for the lunch crowd.
“Where could the rest of us find squid like that?” a guest wondered.
“Pagano’s in Norwalk,” advised the chef. “They have the best seafood.”
Before our squid arrived, we were treated to a bowl of golden beet gazpacho, prepared with tarragon vinegar.
“I’m going to show you how we put the design on this soup,” said Chef Bryan leaning over my bowl with a bottle of red beet puree and a bottle of extra virgin olive oil. “First you start with some circles,” he drew three concentric crimson circles on top of the golden soup. “Then you draw some lines in, and some lines out.” And just like that, the bowl of soup became a work of art, with an almost lotus-like flower design sitting prettily on top.
Guests eased into the afternoon on the patio with the help of a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc the Blue Lemon staff was pouring by the glass. And before we knew it, we were treated to the baby squid salad. As promised, the squid was tender, and deliciously accented by the complementary flavors of slightly bitter endive and sweet candied walnuts.
Lunch ended on a decadent note with a dish of caramelized bananas, vanilla ice cream and fresh strawberries, which was worth every last calorie.
Want in on the next "behind the velvet rope" lunch? Find out more at CTBites Invites.