It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to

By Nicola Harvey

Associate editor online Nicola Harvey attempts to impress guests with a bowl of Sichuan spiced crispy squid, from Pete Evans' 'Canapes and Cocktails'.

Recently my mother celebrated her 60th birthday and made the wise (wisdom must really come with age) decision to hire caterers to provide the requisite little tasty things to accompany the compulsory glasses of champagne. In the same week, in a different country, I too celebrated a birthday of note, but rather than hire someone I decided, due to limited funds and wisdom, to make my own nibbly things.  Fortunately, I had only a small number of guests to impress (six) so my spectacular failure in the hors d’oeuvre department was glossed over by my ability to produce chilled bottles of bubbles from the fridge with regularity.

The morning of my shindig I was confident I could churn out delicate, tasty, light, tender little rings of Sichuan-spiced crispy squid presented in cute bamboo cornets just like Pete Evans did for his new cookbook, My Party, Canapes and Cocktails. Confronted with a couple of whole squid, I got stuck in extracting cartilage, removing the dreaded ink sack, the head and the wobbly tentacles. By the time I was done, I had a stack of pristine squid tubes. Success! Next, I mixed together the rice flour, salt, white pepper and ground Sichuan pepper in a bowl, whisked a couple of eggwhites in a separate bowl and set my oil onto the stovetop to heat.

It was all looking good. The champagne was chilled, as were the back-up bottles of bubbles, and my other little tasty treats were ready.  

The first guest arrived, marking my go-time at the stove. After dipping the squid rings quickly into the eggwhites, then the flour mix, then into the hot oil, I watched with horror as the coating turned into a sticky mess. I tried another batch, and again the same result. Ten minutes later I was done and I’d produced only four delicate, tasty, light, tender little rings of Sichuan-spiced crispy squid. Dejected, I simply transferred the soggy pile to a bed of cos lettuce and set them out with forks and lemon wedges.

Granted, they were blisteringly spicy and quite tasty, but they bore little resemblance to the photograph in Evans’ book. Let’s hope by the time my next significant birthday rolls around, I have the foresight to follow my mother’s lead.


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