Squid for a Favorite Calamari Dish

Squid ready for cleaning.

Squid ready for cleaning.

Three young fellows caught about forty squid last evening. My friend, Tres, and his friends Zan and Jacob took bright lights, a couple of squid jigs, and hauled a bunch of nature’s oddest looking creatures out of the waters around Moseley’s Dock. Then they came home and cleaned them. It is very squidy around here: plenty of evidence of burst ink sacs, and the compost full of the odd cartilaginous backbones, called a quill, that squid have. And lots of cleaned ones ready to cook.

Zan and Jacob’s family often just cuts squid into big strips to sauté in butter. Another friend of mine cooks squid lightly in olive oil, and makes a cold, curried-squid salad.
When I see fried calamari on a menu, I am very likely to order it. I love the stuff; I don’t usually love it enough to cook it for myself at home. I hate greasy smoke in the house, and all the dripping mess it makes. But here I am with all this squid; so I looked up a basic procedure for making a straight-forward, fried calamari dish. Oh, what a treat it was.

The recipe I chose called for soaking the calamari in club soda, which one chef claims tenderizes it, though another recipe I saw recommends soaking them in buttermilk. In either instance, the cook needs to drain the squid and pat it dry before putting it in the flour mixture to coat it for frying. I remembered watching a short order cook at a clam shack dumping coated clams in a sieve to knock the excess flour or meal off of them before putting them in oil, so I decided I would do that, too, merely shaking them over a bowl and reusing the flour.

Dry calamari rings, right, and floured and ready for frying on the left.

Dry calamari rings, right, and floured and ready for frying on the left.

I used a heavy saucepan with oil in it and a thermometer to track the temperature. One exasperating thing about this method is that the oil temperature fluctuates as one puts calamari in the oil, so tweaking the heat a bit, and learning what a perfectly fried golden ring of squid looks like takes a few tries. Definitely avoiding overcooking is key. No one needs deep-fried rubber bands.

Goodness knows there are dozens of dipping sauces you can concoct for calamari. I tried one calling for chili and garlic sauce, honey, and sesame oil. Maybe you would like it, but I fell back on my favorite ketchup and horseradish mixture, a simple version of seafood cocktail sauce with a bit more emphasis on the horseradish than is usual with the bottled types.

Fried Calamari
4 tubes of calamari with tentacles
Club soda or buttermilk
½ to 1 cup flour
Cayenne, garlic powder, or onion powder
Vegetable oil for frying
Slice the calamari into quarter-inch rings. Cut the tentacles in half. Put them into a bowl and cover with the club soda or buttermilk and let stand for about ten minutes. In a separate bowl, toss the flour and preferred seasonings together. Drain the calamari, and pat dry with a paper towel. Put two to three inches of oil in a heavy pan, and bring it up to 375 degrees. Working with only a quarter or third of the calamari at one time, dredge it thoroughly in the flour mixture, and put it into a sieve to knock out excess flour. Put it into the oil for about a minute and a half. They will bubble up and float as they approach sufficient cooking time. Scoop them out and drain on paper towels or newspaper. Keep it warm while you fry another batch.
Makes about three appetizer-sized portions, or two entrée portions.

Seafood Cocktail Sauce for Calamari or Shrimp or….
A hefty squirt of ketchup
A hearty dollop of prepared horseradish
Mix, taste, then add more of whichever you feel is lacking.

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.