Building a Better Fried Calamari (Reader Question)

In keeping with my pledge to answer all of your questions stemming from the Ask Me Anything I posted several days ago, I’ve decided to take a crack at this one:

You posted a really delicious looking picture of fried calamari on the email page for this Ask Me Anything you’re doing. I searched your blog and the recipe isn’t on there. Why do you torment us with such delicious pictures only to withhold the recipe? Gimme!

Here is the picture this particular reader was referring to (it went up with the Ask Me Anything post as clickbait):

IMG_2855

Two others asked some variation on this question. To be sure, it was as absurdly delicious as it looks.

As it turns out, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking through how to make better Japanese fried chicken, called karaage. I don’t have any immediate plans to publish the very, very complicated recipe that I developed. Honestly, I don’t think a single one of my readers would ever make it. But moving through the scientific process of making the best damned karaage I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating (better, in fact, than any I’ve had in Japan during my extensive travels there), I decided to quickly apply what I had learned to calamari, which happened to be available on the cheap one day from my fish monger.

The basic process is to start from delineating everything I hated about how others make the dish, in this case, fried calamari. Here is my personal hate list:

  1. The batter is always too thick;
  2. It’s also too greasy;
  3. It’s also, all too often, under-seasoned;
  4. Why does everyone serve greasy fried calamari with a fat-rich sauce like aioli or fucking half-ass marinara?
  5. How do you take something so light and delicate as calamari and make it into something that feels so heavy and gross?
  6. Why can’t I taste the calamari?!

Ahem. So, after this exercise, I came up with a couple of requirements for my fried calamari to make it more to my liking. I needed a light, flavorful, well-seasoned “batter” that also didn’t absorb too much oil. I also needed to taste the calamari. Finally, I needed the overall experience to feel light.

To my luck, the solutions for better fried calamari are quite easy. Use potato starch for your dredge, but lace it with a ton of dried powdered garlic and cayenne pepper, along with a bit of salt. Also, to get the dredge to stick to the calamari, use the calamari’s own juices instead of residual water, marinade or buttermilk. Using a little sea salt to get those juices to the surface not only seasons the calamari, but also concentrates the flavor (less water in the calamari means more calamari flavor). Finally, to minimize the absorption of oil, prevent overcooking and quickly brown, I decided to fry in hotter than average oil.

Following cooking, I topped it off with thinly sliced Italian parsley and a squeeze of lemon. After all my hard work on karaage, the result was a fried calamari that I actually loved (and, thankfully, on the first try). I hope you love it too, Dear Reader.

Better Fried Calamari

Ingredients – Serves Four

1000 g (about 2.25 lbs) calamari, cleaned with body sliced into 1 cm wide pieces, tentacles cut into 4 cm long pieces
3 g (about 0.5 tsp) fine sea salt

200 g (about 1.25 cups) fine potato starch, sifted through a fine mesh strainer
90 g (about 0.5 cups) garlic powder, sifted through a fine mesh strainer (not to be confused with the more coarse granulated garlic)
10 g (about 1.5 tbsp) cayenne pepper, finely ground into powder and sifted through a fine mesh strainer
3 g (about 0.5 tsp) fine sea salt

One large sprig of cilantro or parsley, leaves and tender stems, finely sliced
Quarter of one medium lemon

1 liter (about 1 qt, or more, as required) of neutral cooking oil such as soybean oil

Optional

Although I do not recommend pairing with marinara, I would be remiss not to mention my marinara recipe.

Preparation

  1. Pour all of the oil into a deep fryer and set to 185 °C (365 °F). There should be enough oil to fully submerge the calamari. Add additional oil as required. Alternatively, you can use a medium sized heavy pot such as a dutch oven, preheated in the oven to 200 °C (392 °F). When the pot is preheated, carefully place on stove and fill with oil. Over medium heat, ensure oil remains at a steady 185 °C.
  2. While oil is heating, sprinkle 3 grams of sea salt evenly across all of the calamari. In a bowl, mix the potato starch, garlic powder, cayenne and 6 grams of sea salt together thoroughly and pour onto a quarter baking sheet and evenly spread. After a couple minutes, the calamari will begin to “sweat” or excrete liquid. At this point, run through the dredge and evenly coat the calamari pieces on all sides. On a separate baking sheet, allow to rest for five minutes or until the starch has soaked through. Run through the dredge again and, again, allow to rest.
  3. In batches small enough so that calamari pieces fill the fryer but do not have a chance of touching (perhaps four or five batches), fry the calamari until golden, about one minute each. Between batches, ensure that the oil remains at 185 °C. Do not fry longer than 90 seconds. Allow to rest on paper towels to absorb oils until done with the remaining batches.
  4. Top with parsley and then the juice from the quartered lemon. Serve immediately.

 

 

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