Supions à la Provençale (Warm Squid Salad with Bibb Lettuce and Garlic Croutons)
Better than bouillabaisse? This down-home seafood dish from Marseille is as flavorful as the city’s signature stew—and much, much easier to cook.
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Everybody goes to Marseille for the bouillabaisse, but after a week in the Provençal capital, I can’t quite figure out why. Sure, the ruddy, saffron-scented soup is tasty and nourishing, but the experience struck me as more about style than substance—the sauces swirled with silver spoons, the solemn ladling of the broth, the oh-là-là filleting in plain view. Reader, it really is just fish stew.
I knew there was no way the local population was subsisting on $90-a-head soup served by white-jacketed waiters, so I set out to determine what folks were really eating. And that’s how I found my new favorite seafood dish, supions à la provençale.
Supions are small squid measuring some three inches in length. At down-home restaurants across the region, cooks sauté them with garlic and parsley until they’re deep brown and crunchy in spots. That crunch, as I’d learn at Restaurant Paule et Kopa, was as much about a quick dredge in flour as it was about the high flame. Behind the swinging door, I watched as a cook tossed the squid into a screaming-hot pan and then let them sizzle, undisturbed, for what seemed like an eternity. “Uh, aren’t they going to burn?” I asked without thinking, immediately wincing at how pedantic I must have sounded. “Patience! Patience!” he said with a grin. “You must resist the temptation to disturb them.” Two minutes later, I was rewarded with a plate of the most tender—yet simultaneously crisp—squid I’d ever tasted.
To better understand the dish, I caught up with Alexis Steinman, a longtime Marseille transplant and culinary tour guide with Culinary Backstreets. “Squid with parsley and garlic is the epitome of old-school Marseille cuisine,” she told me over milky-white glasses of pastis. “Simple. Familial. Italian-inspired.” She then pointed me in the direction of Chez Etienne, another supion temple. There, in the sweaty paper-tablecloth dining room heaving with locals, the squid were meatier, the garlic more assertive. I alternated bites with the side salad the supions came with: Bibb lettuce and radicchio kissed with lemon-mustard vinaigrette. Later on, as I flumped into the taxi, I thanked the heavens for my N95 mask: Every exhale felt like bioterrorism.
Back home in my Madrid apartment, I futzed with the recipe until I had the best of both worlds: the crackly exterior from Paule et Kopa and the fearless garlickiness from Chez Etienne. And borrowing a page from the latter, I dumped the fried squid over a bed of lemony greens and threw on some croutons for crunch.
Last week, as my friends helped themselves to seconds of the supions, it struck me that there is truly no better souvenir than a recipe. This dish, a portal to Marseille’s louche, rambunctious taverns jammed with wine-swilling locals, will stick with me until the end of my days.
Note: If you like your squid with a bit of bounce, follow the recipe as is; if you prefer that it be extra tender, quick-brine it: In a bowl, dissolve 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of salt in 3 cups of cold water, then add the squid, cover, and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Drain and dry with paper towels before proceeding to step 3.
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped, divided
- ¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more as needed
- 2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp. mayonnaise
- ¾ tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1½ tsp. kosher salt, divided
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lb. cleaned squid (see note), bodies cut into 1-in. squares, tentacles halved lengthwise
- 1 head Bibb lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces (7 cups)
- ½ small head radicchio, torn into bite-size pieces (2 cups)
- 4 thick country bread slices, lightly toasted, crusts removed and cut into ½-in. cubes (2 cups)
- 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup vegetable oil, divided, plus more as needed
- ¼ cup finely chopped parsley leaves
- 1 lemon, quartered, for garnish
- To a large resealable bag, add the flour and remaining salt and shake to combine. Add the squid, rub the mixture around until the pieces are evenly coated, and set aside.