Chef Craig Strong left the kitchen of Pasadena's The Langham, Huntington Hotel & Spa at the end of May--after eight years and one Michelin star--and decamped for Laguna Beach, where he became executive chef of
Studio at Montage in June. (Studio's previous chef, James Boyce, left for Alabama; Strong's successor at The Langham is Michael Votaggio, previously executive chef at The Bazaar.) Only ten days after he started at Montage--that would be eleven days after he returned from his honeymoon--Strong had changed the menu entirely. Strong, who is from Camarillo, says that it would have taken "something special" to get him to leave the cozy environs of The Langham. Waves breaking a few hundred yards from his new kitchen and rabbits trimming the lawn probably qualifies.
Although much of the menu at Montage is new, Strong has added some old favorites from his tenure at The Langham (previously called the Ritz-Carlton) for the regulars who have followed him down to Orange County. Recently Strong took a break from manning the
Molteni stoves (the kitchen was assembled around the French-made stoves, which were set into poured concrete) to demonstrate how to make his recipe for bread-stuffed calamari. It's a simple recipe, at least for Strong, and it utilizes a handy technique the chef picked up while cooking in Spain.
After cleaning the squid, which he gets from Monterey, and removing the tentacles, Strong turns the squid inside out before piping them with the filling. When sauteed in olive oil in a hot pan, the squid close up around the filling. Pretty cool, especially "when you're dealing with millions of calamari," as Strong did while cooking in Barcelona for two years before coming to Pasadena.
Strong serves these calamari with garlic aïoli and an arugula and Parmesan salad. "I first thought of this when I was eating a Caesar salad," says Strong. "I just put the croutons into the calamari and changed the lettuce to arugula; instead of anchovy, it's calamari. Not exactly the same, but that's where it came from."
Craig Strong's Bread-stuffed Calamari
Note: Strong serves the calamari with garlic aioli and an arugula salad.
12 whole Monterey squid
1 medium onion, minced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 cup chicken stock
2 cups French bread, cut into small dice
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Clean the squid, remove the tentacles, and turn the squid bodies inside out.
2. In a large sauce pan over medium heat, sweat the onions and garlic in 1/4 cup of the olive oil until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the parsley.
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3. Mix the bread and 1/4 cup of olive oil, spread out onto a baking sheet and bake until toasted, about 5-7 minutes.
4. Mix the toasted bread with the onion mixture, stir in the stock and combine until the mixture is well moistened.
5. Pack the stuffing into a pastry bag. Pipe the stuffing into the squid bodies. Season the stuffed squid with a few pinches of salt and pepper.
6. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the sauce pan over medium-high heat. In batches, saute the stuffed squid until golden brown, turning them so that they cook evenly. Saute the tentacles, adding a little more oil if necessary. Serve immediately with aïoli and, if desired, a salad.