Monday, November 17, 2008

The Squid and the Tale

Some women have a weakness for shoes
. An uncontrollable urge to buy the newest pair of boots, the season's strappiest sandal, or just one more pair of black heels. I have a similar problem, only it doesn't relate to footwear. I am incapable of walking past a tantalizing seasonal ingredient, holding a fresh piece of protein or even inhaling an intoxicating spice without feeling an immediate need to buy it. Granted, I don't react this way to just any ingredient, but there are a chosen few that seem to always make their way into my fridge. A good example is squid, or more specifically, cleaned and ready-to-use squid. It's so easy to order fried calamari at a restaurant and have it be over-cooked and gummy, but it just comes out perfect every time at home. Not to mention that it's quick cooking, easy, low fat and of course, delicious.

Just one look at my favorite seafood stand at the Union Square farmers market and I was sold on buying half a pound of fresh, cleaned, whole squid. As far as seafood goes it's really affordable since a little goes a long way, whether it's as an appetizer or as an ingredient in a rice or pasta dish (mine was about 5 bucks!). While I didn't immediately have a preparation in mind, the impulse to buy was just too strong and I caved, knowing that I could put it to good use somehow. Fortunately, that night I wasn't all that hungry and figured an appetizer-sized portion of easy fried calamari would be the perfect dinner. And it just so happens that my basic recipe is super easy, fast, and if done right, not even very messy for fried food.

I start by cutting the bodies into long, languid strands instead of rounds. This way, the final dish has a little spring to it (kind of like curly fries), stacks up really nicely on the plate, and cooks even faster. Then, after a quick rinse and dry in water (just in case they missed something at the fishmonger) I toss the whole thing in seasoned flour. You can really use any spices you want for the seasoning, and I often mix them up depending on what I'm going for. In the past I've done very spicy mixes, or very herbal ones, even super salty or strong curried ones. This time I wanted something with a little smoky kick so I combined the flour with lots of smoky paprika, a little cumin, salt and lots of cracked white pepper. It was exactly what I wanted--soft on the inside with a little crunch and spice on the outside. And best of all, the frying takes less than five minutes and the dredging can be done in a minute if you toss everything together in a large bowl. Here's what I came up with, but definitely experiment with using your favorite spices. The important thing to remember is that you should have about 1/3 the amount of spices as the amount of flour, regardless of what you're using.

Smoky Fried Calamari

1/2 lb fresh cleaned squid, cut lengthwise into long, 1/4 inch wide strands
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh cracked white pepper
vegetable oil for frying (or other light oil)

1. Combine flour, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Toss squid in seasoned flour, coating well and shaking off excess.

2. Heat oil in a heavy bottomed skillet or dutch oven (the higher the sides, the less messy splashing you'll get) until hot but not smoking. Add squid to oil in batches until all of it is cooked through (about 45 seconds to 1 minute a batch) and remove to a plate covered with paper towel.

3. Serve sprinkled with salt and a side of lemon wedges. Enjoy!


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