Fried Calamari….tender pieces of Squid lightly coated with a fine dusting of flour or cornmeal or rice flour then quickly fried in very hot oil could be one of the most addictive of all the dishes that came over from the “old country” to the USA. Much of the Mediterranean makes this dish but Italy and Spain I think are where it shines and possibly is most popular. I’ve eaten it all over Italy and in Spain and the difference between ItalianAmerican style and European style is what it’s served with, meaning the dipping sauce. In Spain I’ve had it with a garlic and saffron loaded aioli, amazing. In both Spain and Italy I’ve had it simply with a squeeze of fresh lemon and maybe some sea salt. In ItalianAmerica where Americans LOVE dipping sauces the fried calamari is served with a tomato sauce often loaded with garlic, olive oil and a hefty dose of dried or ground chile peppers. The sauces can be “sweet” (mild), “Medium” (with a kick), or “Hot” (with lots of heat of varying degrees of mouth burn). How do I like my fried calamari? Love the Aioli….love the lemon, but really love a tasty hot tomato sauce with it. Tentacles are separated from the bodies and the cleaned body “tubes” are sliced into rings. Here’s where we may disagree. Often they are cut too wide for me. I like1/8 inch cuts. They cook quicker, there’s more crunch, but again ,that’s just my personal opinion. You cut into the sizes you like. You’re eating it. The coating? Let me start out with what I don’t think it should be, these are not cutlets or chicken fingers. Breadcrumbs are off the table. Beer batter or heavy floury batters also, no thanks. Instead a simple dredge thru a fine milled flour of sorts seems to work the best. You can use sifted All Purpose flour, Tipo 00 Italian flour(superfine), fine ground cornmeal, rice flour, fine semolina flour, even corn starch but that’s a tricky one to work with and I’d advise against it. The oil…MUST BE HOT….and you can use a deep fryer or a heavy high sided pan, like a cast iron pan or a dutch oven. Into it you add Peanut Oil, Corn Oil, Vegetable Oil, you can add a bit of olive for some flavor into any of them. Personally I do not like Canola oil because I get an aftertaste from it but if you don’t have that issue then Canola works too. Lard is a wonderful frying oil but the hardcore porky flavor will completely overtake the gentle nuance of the calamari taste. I vote no on that idea. Sentimentally this is a reminder of my mom’s kitchen on Christmas Eve, that magical night when you waited for Santa AND you ate what seemed like the entire ocean full of Italian seafood. Here’s to you Mom and the meals you made and the tricks you taught me. She’ll always be with me guiding me thru the process and onto the table where my hungry family awaits for one of their most favorite foods. CALAMARI FRITTI!!!
CALAMARI FRITTI TAKES ABOUT 3/4 HOUR SERVES 6
PEANUT, CORN, VEGETABLE , CANOLA OIL
1 1/2 LBS CLEANED SQUID (CALAMARI) WITH TENTACLES SEPARATED, AND THE TUBES CUT INTO RINGS A MIN. OF 1/3 INCH, TO A MAX OF 1/2 INCH
2 CUPS TIPO 00 FLOUR, OR SIFTED ALL PURPOSE, OR 3 PARTS FLOUR TO 1 PART FINE CORNMEAL OR RICE FLOUR…OR ALL FINE CORNMEAL OR RICE FLOUR. THAT’S UP TO YOU. I USE THE TIPO 00 FLOUR.
SEASON THE FLOUR IF YOU LIKE WITH SALT, PEPPER, GRANULATED GARLIC, PAPRIKA OR NOTHING, AGAIN UP TO YOU. I LIKE THE SALT, PEPPER AND PAPRIKA SEASONING IN THE FLOUR
2 CUPS WHOLE MILK
SLICED LEMONS, CHOPPED FRESH ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY FOR GARNISH/FINISHING
SERVE WITH A SIMPLE MARINARA YOU HAVE ON HAND OR MAKE ONE USING LOTS OF PEPERONCINO AND GARLIC.
Place the milk into a large stainless steel mixing bowl. Pat the calamari dry with paper towels and discard the towels. Add the calamari to the milk and blend well. Let this sit for 20 minutes. Pour at least 3 inch of oil into your frying pot/pan and heat over medium heat until you get to 350 degrees F. Have baking trays laid out covered in brown paper bags or layers of paper towels. Remove the calamari in batches from the milk…shake off excess, and dredge in the flour…place into a spider or a strainer with a long handle and then shake off the excess, then into the hot oil . The calamari should dance around the oil quickly…and with move the calamari around the oil, then let it finish frying…takes about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes to get golden and crisp. Remove to the draining sheets immediately. Sprinkle with a little salt. Continue to do this in batches until you are complete. Add more oil as necessary giving time inbetween additions to come back to 350degrees F. The first batch might be darker than the remaining batches. Stick to that time limit. serve in a pile with lemon wedges and chopped parsley leaves. Serve a hot bowl of chile and garlic spiced marinara next to it and enjoy. You’ll be eating them as they are draining. Serve immediately. Enjoy.