For some reason I have had a fried calamari craving for a very long time. Every time I order it in a restaurant I end up disappointed because it’s usually too soggy, greasy, or both. So while shopping the other day I made a bit of an impulse purchase and bought a 3 pound box of frozen squid for just 5 dollars – how could I pass that up? The only drawback was that they were not cleaned. Usually that would be no problem, as I’ve cleaned many a squid in my life, but this time they were the absolute smallest squid I have ever seen. Seriously, some were no bigger than my thumb. I spent close to an hour over the sink peeling off the skin, squeezing out the beak, cutting off the eyes – not too appetizing, is it?
I originally thought I’d make some kind of Mediterranean squid stew, but we had a marathon session with the sprinkler on the sidewalk and got home after 5:00. I had no choice but to fry it and try to satisfy my craving in the process. My experience with fried calamari goes all the way back to my days at Zoë, a popular restaurant in Soho that I worked at for many years. Sure, I worked in pastry, but the fry station was practically next to me, so I watched them fry batch after batch every single night. I even jumped in when they got really busy. And during a slow night all the cooks would keep in shape by doing the “calamari dance”, which emulates the vigorous shaking of the bowl as the ingredients are mixed prior to frying (yes, these are the things that keep restaurant cooks entertained). Anyway, their calamari is always super crispy as well as super tasty thanks to their special marinade and sauce. This recipe is based loosely on theirs. And yes, my craving is gone – for now.
Crispy Calamari (serves 4)
1-1/2 lbs. cleaned calamari (3 pounds uncleaned)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup milk
1 cup flour
1 cup cornstarch
Oil for deep-frying
Clean the calamari, if necessary. Slice the bodies into 1/2-inch rings, and mix along with the tentacles in a large bowl. Mix in the garlic, soy sauce, salt, pepper, and milk. In a seperate bowl mix the flour and cornstarch. Set aside until you are ready to fry.
Heat plenty of oil (4 inches deep) in a heavy pot, or a deep-fryer if you have one. It should be very hot before you begin frying. When the oil is ready add the flour mixture to the marinated squid and mix well with your hand. Each piece should be coated with flour. Make sure that no pieces are stuck together with any kind of gluey mixture – just break it up and coat with flour again. Shake off any excess flour and add some squid to the fryer. Fry, stirring occasionally to keep the pieces separate, for a few minutes until it is golden and crispy. Remove from the fryer and place immediately on paper towels, then sprinkle with additional salt. Fry the rest of the squid in batches, taking care not to cook too much at once or the temperature of the oil will drop too much and it will end up very greasy. Serve immediately with your favorite dipping sauce.
I also made a quick minty salad using some of the leftover squid that night (the 3 pound box made a lot of calamari). Good thing my family loves squid.