Working in a restaurant is hard. The hours are long and life is short. Most cooks start when they’re young. I was fourteen the first time I stepped into the kitchen of a restaurant, at Bijou in Toronto. The afternoon started with hours of prep work, then a spot sweating on the line at the salad/dessert station and running up and down the stairs every time the chef ran out of an ingredient, and after the dinner service was over, and my feet ached and my pits tank, it was assumed I would go and pitch a few extra hours in the dish pit. The only respite was that back in the day, there was an ashtray in the dish pit, so you could smoke while you worked as long as you were agile enough to balance a cigarette on your lip and keep it dry in the splash and spray of the mess.
Every shift started the same, with gallons of squid in ice cold water. If I tried to wear gloves, or warm my hands, the chef would mercilessly taunt me. I remember the shocking feeling of plunging my hand in and feeling the surge of cold in my veins and the gelatinous, writing mass of the sea creatures’ bodies. First, you slip out their ‘spines’, a clear malleable, plastic-like shard, then you pop out the ink ball, which most restaurants worth their salt reserve for a squid ink pasta or to use darkening and thickening a sauce.
Once you’ve cleaned the squid, the next step is to cut off and set aside the tentacles.
Tentacle aside: Easily, my favourite part to eat, the texture and multiple crunches gets me every time, and with the multiplicity of surface areas, they’re a better vessel for dip than a ring. Let your sucker friends think you’re taking one for the team, save them till the end and eat all the tentacles yourself.
Then, carefully so your knife doesn’t slip, slide a very sharp blade across the body in one smooth motion until you’re left with slices the size of a thick rubber band. Make sure not to overcook the calamari, or it will feel like you’re chewing rubber bands.
2 Secrets to Perfect Crispy Homemade Calamari:
- Marinate the squid slices in buttermilk overnight in the fridge, or for at least 2-3 hours before dredging and cooking. This tenderizes the meat with the subtle lactic acid, adds depth of flavour, and helps the dredge adhere to the slippery surface of the squid.
- Don’t skimp on your oil. Peanut, Canola, and Sunflower oil, in that order, have the highest smoke points, and thus get the hottest and cook the fastest (i.e. crunchiest exterior without overcooked meat). And be patient, wait to add the squid until the oil is hot. Use a thermometer to make sure it is above 450F/230C.
Perfect Crunchy Fried Calamari
- 8.5 C/ 2 L high-smoke point oil
- 6 whole squid, cleaned and sliced
- 2 C/500 ml of Buttermilk, for overnight marinating
- 1 C/250 ml Flour
- 1 C/250 ml corn meal
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Cover a plate or baking sheet in paper towel or newspaper.
- Preheat your oil in a deep pot on the stove, or a deep fryer.
- Remove squid from the fridge and strain all excess liquid through a colander. Be patient, this may take a few minutes.
- Dredge one large handful of squid at a time, tossing to coat in the combined flour and corn meal, then lightly shaking off excess dredge before you drop the squid into the fryer.
- Fry squid rings and tentacles for 2-3 minutes in small batches, so the oil keeps its high temperature and the rings don’t congeal and cook into a clump. Clean out any crumbs or burnt bits as you go to prevent the oil from taking on an acrid, carbon taste.
- Set aside batch after batch to drain on the paper towel, making sure to season calamari to your liking, before serving.
Lime Chipotle Aioli
- .5C/ 125ml of Mayonnaise (make it at home if you’re fancy and have the time)
- 2 chipotle peppers in a adobo sauce (I prefer the La Costena cans)
- 2 tbsp/ 30ml lime juice
- 1 tsp/ 5ml lime zest
Directions: Put everything in a blender and whip it up real good.
Note: This recipe is total crack, and it works just as well for kids drinking soda, for a bunch of sports fans downing cans of pilsner during the game, or for your classy friends relazing on the patio in the summer, downing glasses of Moscato rose.
Also, if you’re using store bought mayonnaise, the lime chipotle aioli has a super long shelf life in the fridge and can be made and kept in big batches to eat with basically everything that can be used as a vessel for dip.
As always, get in touch with me if you have any questions, or want to buy a print.