Seafood deep fried in batter is delicious and has been around for a long time. The famous tempura is in fact something the Japanese picked up from Portuguese explorers. Although deep-fried squid is known in the USA by the Italian “calamari”, to me this is foremost a Spanish dish as it was Spain where I first encountered it as a child.
As with many types of food, there is a vast difference between freshly made calamari and the deep frozen pre-battered stuff. That can easily give calamari a bad name, as there is usually too much batter and the calamari will taste like a rubber band in a greasy crust. Good calamari should have light crispy batter outside and tender squid inside.
I’ve used a few tricks to improve the traditional recipe. First of all, I use vodka instead of water in the batter to make the calamari more crispy. The alcohol in the vodka will evaporate more quickly than water, so there are more bubbles and thus more crispiness. The other trick is to use a mixture of rice flour and regular flour to have a batter with less gluten and thus less tough. I used Italian “Farina migliorata per friggere” (flour improved for frying), which is a mixture of wheat flour and rice flour, but you could also make your own mixture. It also contains baking soda for more bubbles.
An alternative simpler preparation is to dust the calamari only with flour and then fry them rather than using a batter. With the batter they will be more crispy.
Although fresh squid is best, it is acceptable to use frozen squid as long as you dip them in homemade batter. Like octopus, the texture of octopus even improves from freezing.
Deep-fried calamari can be served as a snack with afternoon drinks (i.e. as tapas) or as an appetizer.
4 1/2 Tbsp farina migliorata per friggere, or 3 Tbsp flour, 1 1/2 Tbsp rice flour and 1 tsp baking powder, mixed together
250 ml (1 cup) vodka (cheap vodka is fine)
flour for dusting
vegetable oil for deep frying
lemon wedges and/or homemade aioli to serve
Cut the squid into rings of about 1 cm (1/3 to 1/2 inch).
Whisk to incorporate the vodka. Keep adding more vodka and keep whisking until you have obtain a batter that is about as thick as buttermilk. Adding the vodka slowly will help to avoid lumps. Use the batter straight away for best results.
Carefully lower the battered squid into the hot oil. Make sure the oil is at the right temperature (180ºC/350ºF) before you add the squid, and wait until the oil has heated back up before you add more. By using the correct oil temperature, the calamari will absorb less oil.
Although Italian cuisine still is and probably will always stay my favorite, I’ve become more and more fond of oriental food. This turbot cooked sous-vide with ginger, chili, green onion and soy sauce is something I prepared two years ago after having had a steamed version at a Chinese restaurant.