Recipe Sleuth: Kinkead’s Grilled Squid With Polenta and Tomato Fondue

Is there a restaurant dish you’d love to get the recipe for? We’ll track it down. Today we've got the goods on one of the most popular appetizers at Kinkead's.

For two months one summer, Kinkead’s chef/owner Bob Kinkead took his grilled squid with polenta and tomato fondue off the menu. Little did he realize the backlash it would cause. “People were accosting me on the street!” he claims. Indeed, one hungry reader wrote to us asking for the recipe, which is also available in the chef’s Kinkead’s Cookbook. Kinkead says the dish is a unique alternative to the fried calamari you see everywhere else. The squid is covered in bread crumbs and cooked over a wood-fired stove (a charcoal grill will work too). He recommends not threading the squid rings too closely together on the skewers and turning them just once on the grill. The less you handle the squid, the better it will taste. If squid isn’t your thing, try substituting shrimp. The extra tomato fondue can also be used with other fish and pasta.

Kinkead’s Grilled Squid with Creamy Polenta and Tomato Fondue

Serves 6

Grilled Squid

6 to 8 fresh squid (about 2 pounds)
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs, plus more as needed
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup Italian parsley, leaves only
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper, plus more for seasoning
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup clarified butter
Olive or vegetable oil for brushing the grill
2 tablespoons pesto drizzle (see recipe below)
6 basil sprigs, for garnish

Creamy Polenta

3 cups milk
1⁄3 cups polenta or cornmeal
½ cup butter
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Tomato Fondue

3 cups (about 18) canned peeled plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
½ cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic; 2 minced, 2 very thinly sliced
½ teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
½ teaspoon cracked black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade

To prepare the squid, soak 12 nine-inch wood skewers in ice water for 1 hour. Wash the squid in cold running water and remove the tentacles and side wings (discard or refrigerate for another use). Remove the cellophane-like inner fiber from the body. Slice the body into 3⁄8-inch rounds. Pat dry and double-skewer 6 to 9 rings to make 6 servings. Keep in the refrigerator.

To make the polenta, in a saucepan over high heat bring the milk to a boil. Add the polenta and decrease the heat. Simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for about 20 minutes until thick. With the heat still on, stir in the butter, cheese, salt, and pepper. Because of the fat (butter) and the amount of milk, the polenta will be fluffy, not too thick or pasty. Cover and keep warm. Transfer to a warm water bath if holding for a long period of time.

Remove the squid from the refrigerator. Place the bread crumbs and garlic in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Coarsely chop the parsley leaves and add to the processor bowl. Add the salt and pepper and olive oil. Mix until crumbly and moist but not wet. Add more crumbs if needed.

Combine the extra virgin olive oil and clarified butter in a baking dish or wide bowl. Salt and pepper the skewered squid and dip them first in the oil-butter blend, and then in the seasoned crumb mixture to coat on all sides. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

To make the tomato fondue, preheat the over to 375 degrees F. Place 1 cup of the tomatoes in an ovenproof saute pan and sprinkle with a little of the olive oil. Roast in the oven for 5 to 8 minutes, until the tomatoes start to brown and release juice. Transfer to a blender; add the remaining olive oil, the minced garlic, and the sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper and puree to make a vinaigrette. Reserve.

Place the remaining 2 cups of tomatoes in a stainless steel bowl. Add the sliced garlic, thyme leaves, 2 tablespoons of the extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste, and toss together to marinate.

In a saute pan set over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the marinated tomatoes. Stir in the roasted-tomato vinaigrette and the basil chiffonade and heat through.

To grill the squid, heat a grill to medium heat and oil it with a little olive oil or vegetable oil. Lay the squid skewers on the hot grill and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until they come off the grill easily. Brush with some of the leftover oil-butter mix, turn them just once, and grill for 2 to 3 minutes more. The trick is to handle the skewers gently and minimally so the crumb mixture stays on the squid. Check for doneness by separating a few of the squid rings. If they are opaque, they are cooked.

To serve, warm 6 plates and place ½ cup of polenta in the center of each one. Surround the polenta with the tomato fondue. Remove the skewers and place one skewer’s worth of squid on the polenta on each plate. Garnish each serving of squid with pesto drizzle and a basil sprig.

Pesto Drizzle

Makes 1½ cups

1 bunch basil leaves
¼ cup pinenuts, toasted
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

To make the pesto drizzle, pulse the basil, pinenuts, cheese, salt, and half of the olive oil in a food processor until coarsely pureed. Transfer to a stainless steel bowl and gradually add the remaining oil to the mixture. Store, refrigerated, up to 4 days. 

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Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.