Thursday, January 19, 2017

Calamari Fritti with Ginger Chile Mayonnaise and Balsamic Cucumber Salad

     A Nice Snack or Light Lunch!
     Fried Calamari is a classic Italian antipasti.  I literally cooked tons of Calamari in Italian restaurants and Florida seafood restaurants long before fried squid became a mainstream item in America.  During the last two decades, Fried Calamari has been offered on menus everywhere from corner taverns to chain restaurants.  The reason why Fried Calamari has increased in popularity is easy to understand.  Fried Squid has a very mild flavor and it is nearly 100% protein with no fat, so this appetizer appeals to health conscious consumers.
     Classic Calamari Fritti is usually served plain or with a ramekin of tomato sauce on the side.  In modern times, serving squid with a fancy dipping sauce is en vogue, especially in trendy restaurants.  Emulsion sauces are the classic French choice of dipping sauce for fried food.  Ginger Chile Mayonnaise is a nice choice of emulsion sauce for fried squid!
     Serving a small portion of Fried Squid with a petite specialty salad also increases the appeal.  Health conscious guests will be more likely to order the Fried Squid if a little bit of salad is on the plate.  This is because the thought of only snacking on fried food with an emulsion sauce may seem like lipid intake overload.       
     When it comes to making Fried Calamari, the simpler, the better!  Only seasoned flour and cleaned sliced squid is needed to make a perfect batch of Fried Calamari.  Many chefs add all sorts of extra ingredients to the flour mixture.  The worst thing to add is cornmeal.  Adding cornmeal to the flour may yield a crunchier texture, but the cornmeal coating easily flakes off.  The flavor of fried cornmeal is not very appealing too.  Cornmeal is usually only added because it will make a customer feel fuller when the portion size is too small.
     Another unnecessary ingredient is buttermilk.  Seafood is usually only soaked in buttermilk if the seafood is starting to spoil.  Many chefs soak squid in buttermilk in an attempt to moisten the squid, so a flour and cornmeal coating will stick.  If cornmeal is not added to the flour, then properly prepared squid needs nothing extra to get the flour to stick. 

     Preparing Whole Small Squid:       
     Selecting high quality small squid and properly preparing the raw squid is the key to making great Fried Calamari.  Just like shrimp, small squid are packed in five pound boxes and frozen before it is sent to the market.  Grocers and seafood markets thaw the squid and sell it as is.  
     Some overly zealous seafood handlers rinse the squid to remove the squid juices and this causes the squid to look dry.  Flour will not stick to dry looking rinsed squid, so it should be avoided.  Squid that is thawed properly will have a thin coating of squid juices.  Flour will easily stick to moist looking squid, even after the squid is cleaned of cartilage and sliced. 
     Cleaning small squid does not involve giving the squid a bath, as in rinsing the squid with water.  Cleaning squid only refers to removing the cartilage blade from the head and removing the beak.  
     The easiest way to clean squid is to separate the tentacles from the head, then pop the beak bulb out of the tentacles.  Sticking a finger in the squid head is the easiest way to remove the cartilage blade.  The blade easily slides out when pulled.  
     When squid is very fresh when initially frozen, a translucent bulbous item may be inside the head.  This is the squids simple digestive tract and brain.  Usually this item disintegrates after freezing, but if it is intact, then slide it out of the squid head and discard it.    
     Sometimes the squid's last catch is inside the head too.  Usually it is a tiny crab or a little minnow.  This is nothing to worry about, because these little creatures are also as clean as the sea they were caught in.  Simply remove the squid's last meal and discard it.  Rinsing the squid is still unnecessary.
     Cutting the squid for frying is easy too.  Small tentacle bunches can be left intact, while large tentacle bunches should be cut in half.  The squid heads should be cut into 1/4" wide rings.  After the squid is cut, immediately place it in a sealed container and chill it till it is needed.    

     Ginger Chile Mayonnaise: 
     This recipe yields 1 cup.  (4 portions)
     Step 1:  Place 3/4 cup of mayonnaise in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1 tablespoon of ginger paste.
     Add 1 teaspoon of Sriracha.
     Add 2 teaspoons of Korean style Coarse Ground Red Serrano Chile Pepper Paste.  (sambal)
     Add 2 pinches of sea salt and white pepper.
     Step 2:  Stir the ingredients together.
     Place the Ginger Chile Mayonnaise in a container.
     Chill for 1 hour, so the flavors meld.                     
     Balsamic Cucumber Salad:
     This recipe yields 1 petite portion.
     Step 1:  Peel and seed 1/2 of an average size cucumber.
     Cut the cucumber into 1/4" thick slices.  (About 1 cup is needed.)
     Place the sliced cucumber in a mixing bowl.
     Step 2:  Add 1 tablespoon of thin sliced green onion.  
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of a minced garlic.
     Add 4 pitted black olives that are cut in half.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
     Step 3:  Toss the ingredients together.
     Place the cucumber salad in a container.
     Chill the cucumber salad till it is needed.  Stir before serving.
     *Serve this salad within 1 hour, so the cucumber slices remain crisp! 

     Calamari Fritti:
     This recipe yields 1 portion.
     If the squid does not have much of its own juices, then you can moisten the squid with 1 or 2 teaspoon of milk. 
     Frying with fresh oil gives the calamari a crispy white coating with light golden highlights.  Tan color Fried Calamari that is seen in restaurants usually is the result of old dirty frying oil.
     Overcooked squid is like eating tough chewy rubber.  Flash frying for just about one minute is all it takes and the squid will be tender.
     Step 1:  Follow the directions in the "Preparing Whole Small Squid" section above.  About 6 ounces of sliced squid and tentacles will be needed.  (3/4 cup)    
     Step 2:  Heat 6" of vegetable frying oil in a high sided pot to 360ºF.  
     Step 3:  Place 2 cups of All Purpose Flour in a mixing bowl.
     Lightly season with sea salt and black pepper.
     Mix the ingredients together.
     Step 4:  Dredge the moist sliced squid in seasoned flour.
     Place the floured squid in a fine mesh strainer and gently shake till the excess flour is removed.     
     Step 5:  Place the floured squid in the hot oil.
     Fry till the flour coating becomes crisp.
     *It only takes 30 seconds to 1 minute for the squid to be fully cooked and for the flour coating to become crisp!  Be sure to have a long handle frying net ready to remove the squid from the hot oil!  
     Step 5:  Use a fryer net to remove the Calamari Fritti from the hot frying oil.
     Place the Calamari Fritti on a wire screen roasting rack to drain off any excess oil.
     Serve as soon as possible, so the Calamari Fritti is still hot!
     Calamari Fritti with Ginger Chile Mayonnaise and Balsamic Cucumber Salad:
     This recipe yields 1 appetizer plate presentation.
     Mound the Calamari Fritti on the front half of a plate.
     Place a small ramekin of the Ginger Chile Mayonnaise next to the fried squid.
     Place the Balsamic Cucumber Salad on the back half of the plate.  (Drain off any excess marinade.)

     This is a nice Calamari Fritti antipasti platter for a wine bar or at home!

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