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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Calmar, Calamar, Chipirons, and Encornets. Dining on Calamari in France; Look out for Calmar, Calamar, Chipirons and Encornets on your menu.

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan G. Newman
Calmar Frit, Sauce Marie-Rose.
Deep-fried calamari with French Cocktail Sauce.
Photograph by rusak/
Calmar or Calamar  in France–  Calamari  and squid in English.
Calmar (calamari) are tremendously popular in France and not only on seafood restaurant menus. Calamari in France will be on restaurant menus grilled, baked, stuffed and or stewed.  Very small calamari are called petit-calmar or chipirons and there is a special small calamari called an encornet.  Very small calamari may be only 3 to 4 cms (1.5” long) and will have their own recipes designed for them.
The largest calamari on any menu, before being cut into small circles and pieces, will have been, at the very most, 30  to  40 cms (12” – 15”) long.  Larger calamari will be thrown back. Monster squids; those that may be seen on the National Geographic channel will not be part of any fisherman’s or fisherwoman’s catch.  Calamari when cooked correctly are mild and tender; calamari is only rubbery when overcooked. 
Your menu may offer:  
Calamar Farci de Ris de Veau et Épinards – Squid stuffed with veal sweetbreads and spinach.
Stir-fried calamari.
Photograph courtesy of roboppy.
Calmars Frits Sauce Marie-Rose – Deep-fried calamari rings served with the European lightly-spiced cocktail sauce.  Deep-fried calamari, like elsewhere, is the favorite calamari dish in France.  The  favorite French seafood cocktail sauce is called Marie-Rose and  is nothing like the North American cocktail sauce, which is heavy on the horseradish.  A Sauce Marie-Rose is much milder; just fresh mayonnaise, tomato ketchup, Worcester sauce or a dash of Tabasco. Occasionally a chef may add a touch of Cognac or Armagnac.
Calamari With Sauce Marie-Rose.
Photograph courtesy of NwongPR
Risotto à l’Encre de Seiche et Calamars – Risotto prepared with the ink from cuttlefish and calamari. Cuttlefish, called seiche in French, and calamari both have dark inks with slightly different flavors.  The ink that will be used for the dish on your menu shows the chefs personal preferences, in this case both.
Calamars Sautés à la Provençale et sa Purée à l'Encre de Seiche – Calamari fried in the manner of Provence and served with mashed potatoes flavored and colored with cuttlefish ink. For seafood prepared in the manner of Provence, the calamari will be fried in olive oil with tomatoes and flavored with garlic.
Risotto with cuttlefish ink and calamari 
prepared with the AOC/AOP red peppers from the town of Espelette
topped  with flakes of Parmesan cheese.
Photograph courtesy of MaryyyM.
Small calamari on the menu.
The French names used for small calamari are encornets or petit-calamars; and called the chipiron in the France's Basque country, its Pays Basque. However, do not be surprised that the names used change with the area you are visiting.  Casserons are tiny cuttlefish and are often confused with tiny calamari.  Worry not; you will not taste the difference and these tiny cuttlefish may be on another menu as supies, supions, sépiole or sépion. 
Chipirons aux Champignon sà la Plancha. –  A particular small squid cooked with mushrooms on a plancha.  A plancha, in the Basque language a planxa, is a very thick metal slab that is used in traditional Southern French and Basque restaurants to achieve a taste somewhere between grilling and frying. 
Petit-Calmars à la Plancha, sur un Lit de Pâtes à l'Encre - Calamari cooked on the plancha and served on a bed of pasta cooked in calamari’s ink.
The encornet is highly prized small squid  with its own recipes.  
When cooked I acknowledge that I cannot identify an ecornet by sight; I can only advise you, like me, to sit down and enjoy.
Fricassée d'Encornets aux Olives – Encornets stewed with olives.
Friture d'Encornet à la Fleur de Sel et son Chutney de Tomate – Lightly fried encornets sprinkled with Fleur de Sel and served with a tomato chutney. Fleur se Sel, the flower of salt, a dried sea-salt from the salt crystals on the very top of the salt pan;
Encornets farcis de Noix de Saint-Jacques et Tourteaux, 
crème à la rouille.
Encornets stuffed with scallop and crabmeat from the edible brown crab, served with a lightly spiced rouille sauce.
Photograph courtesy of louisvolant
Salad Tiède d'Encornets Farcis au Caviar d'Aubergine – A warm salad of encornets stuffed with eggplant caviar.
Calamari and cuttlefish ink.
Calamari and cuttlefish and octopus have a black ink that  is used in the sea as a smoke screen to escape predators. In a restaurant’s kitchen, the ink is used to color and flavor sauces for other seafood dishes. Calamari and cuttlefish ink, encre noir, are the most popular.
Confusion with the French names of calamari and cuttlefish.
Do not be surprised that calamari, baby calamari and baby cuttlefish will be found under a variety of names in different parts of France.  Fishermen and women never respected borders and France’s borders have historical connections to many languages. Spain  and France  and Italy have  long interconnected histories and language influences.  
 In the French Basque country, the Pays Basque, up against the Pyrenees, you will hear Basque spoken all the time. Part of ancient Catalonia is in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France and so part of France’s population has Catalan as a second language. France also borders Andorra where the official language is Catalan. To add to this tower of babel much of southern France has Occitan as a second language along with Occitan dialects such as Provencal.  Italian influences the Savoy departments and the city of Nice was part of Italy until 150 years ago.  Then in areas close to the Italian border, you may hear Piedmontese, a language still spoken in the Italian region of Piedmont next to France’s South Eastern corner. The language of the Roma, French Gypsies,  also provide additional input in France’s south-west.
What’s the difference between calamari, cuttlefish and octopus?
Those who have not yet tried calamari sometimes assume that calamari, cuttlefish and octopus, poulpe in French, are all variations on a theme; however, they are very different and have different tastes and textures. They are not at all the same and apart from tiny calamari and baby cuttlefish they will all be served with different recipes. For the record squid and cuttlefish both have ten tentacles or feelers while an octopus has eight tentacles.   When ordering any one of the three in a good restaurant you will not be displeased.
Calamari in the languages of France’s neighbors.
(German – kalmare), (Italian – calamaro or calamari), (Spanish – calamares).
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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2012, 2014.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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