I've never known a single person to dislike the TASTE of fried calamari. Issues with the texture, sure - the idea of eating a Cracken, absolutely - but the taste? Never. Best lightly breaded using water, not oil or eggwash, the subtle flavor of squid is easily enhanced using bold, but not overpowering, touches like vinegar or hot peppers, or using summerlike,, lighter condiments like lemon or tiny drizzles of light balsamic.
Fried calamari is a dish you can cook perfectly one day, and completely botch the next - it's all about the timing. A quick 2-3 minutes in the hot oil is enough to brown and cook the tentacled creatures to perfection, but the difference between 2 minutes 45 seconds and 3 minutes 25 seconds can be the difference between a melt-in-your-mouth experience and feeling like you're chewing on a banjo string.
As it is with scallops, it is with squid - cooking the perfect calamari comes with absolute bragging rights - you manage to find that perfect point between soft and subtle and rubber band, and you're a hero amongst your peers. For me, though - it is as it often is with cooking - it's about finding those dishes I loved growing up - like when I used to sit on the docks of Maine and devour entire plates of fried seafood, getting that texture and presentation just right, then spicing it up with adults flavors. It's so rewarding when you finally get it right - especially a a dish as delicate as this.
So go make this, don't be afraid to overcook a few your first time - and when you get it right, be proud!
Lemon Pepper Calamari Ingredients
3/4 lb Calamari Rings
1 cup Corn Starch
1/2 cup Bread Crumbs
2 tsp Lemon Zest
2 Lemon Wedges, juiced
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 tbs Hot Banana Peppers
4-6 stalks of scallions
Spring Mix Salad
Vegatable Oil - about 1/2" thick in the skillet
Sriracha Aioli Ingredients
1/8 cup Sriracha
1/8 cup Mayonaise
2 Lemon Wedges, juiced
1 tsp White Vinegar
2. Rinse the calamari so it's just slightly wet, then toss it in the bag, seal, shake, and let set for about 10 minutes
3. While that sets, pour the veggie oil in the skillet and set between 3/4 and high heat - depending on how easy to control your stove is. It wasn't easy trying to find the right temp...should've used my new cast iron skillets!
4. At this point, mix all the aioli ingredients and stick it in the fridge to set
4. Using tongs, carefully ass the squid to the pan WITHOUT overcrowding. Make sure there's at least 1/2" between each piece, and cook them in batches. Leave the calamari in until it starts feeling crispy - about 3 minutes per batch. Remember - you want the coating to crisp, but over cook a piece of calamari and it'll feel like you're eating a rubber band.
5. When browned, place each batch of calamari on a plate with a paper towel to drain, and - this is the important part - AS SOON as you place the hot calamari on the place, add a generous portion of salt, pepper and lemon zest. They will actually STICK to the hot calamari, but it needs to be done AS SOON as it comes out of the pan.
5. You can chop up the scallions between each batch of calamari, and arrange the spring mix to set it on, as seen below. The greenery really does do a great job breaking up the heavily-fried feel of the calamari, but it's delicious with the banana peppers and lemon juice.
7. Place the calamari on the spring mix and add scallions, banana peppers and lemon juice, then toss without mixing the greens into the calamari on top.
8. Remove the sriracha aioli from the fridge. Serve calamari with the aioli on the side and a wedge of lemon juice.