I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I was the kind of kid who hid her lima beans behind the couch so she didn’t have to eat them.
Hid, as in, concealed them. As in, tucked them behind and under our hulking, scratchy sofa when my mom walked out of the room. Not so that I could savor them later. So I would never (ever, ever) have to see them again.
Nowadays, I eat almost everything. Liver. Oysters. Even lima beans.
But when I was a kid, I hated all of the usual suspects—including any and all kinds of seafood. Squid was near the top of my list of Grossest Foods Ever. It may have even been numero uno.
I mean, squid? Are you kidding me?
I remember my grandfather eating squid when I was a kid. It was chewy. It smelled funny. It was Old Man Food.
And besides, between 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Clash of the Titans, that Kraken made quite an impression on me at a young age. I was a smart kid: Things with tentacles were bad news.
(Wait for the scene, it’s near the end of the trailer.)
To me, a squid was a gigantic, slimy thing that attacked ships, terrorized mermaids and damsels in distress, and tried to drag you to a deep, watery grave.
Why you would eat one was beyond me. They were icky. Hell, they were downright dangerous.
Fast forward ten years.
You see where this is going.
I’m about twenty. I live in Boston, in a studio apartment only slightly larger than a walk-in closet. I’m making peanuts working at a little newspaper, and I’m out after work at some swanky bar I had no business being at, drinking wine I couldn’t afford.
I blame the wine, but before I knew what I was doing, someone passed me the calamari and (drum roll), I grabbed a little ring and popped it into my mouth. (At this point in my life, I was 99% convinced that it wouldn’t attack me.)
…I swear, it changed my life.
Being a little dramatic, aren’t you, Mouse?
Oh, absolutely. But it’s really kinda true.
The coating was airy and crisp. The meat was tender, slightly briny, and utterly delicious. I was in love.
There’s really only one thing to know about cooking squid
Well, two or three, maybe. But this is the most important: You have to cook it quickly. And by quickly, I mean FAST.
If you overcook it, you might just as well have rubber bands for dinner.
In case you’d like a little cheese with your calamari
We’re awash with Halloween spirit all this month up here in Salem, Mass. If spooky appetizers are on your menu this season, only fry the tentacles and serve a basket of creepy Cthulhian Calamari. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Someone will appreciate that.)
The secret to a good crust on fried calamari
Let the calamari rest for about 15 minutes after you coat it. This lets the buttermilk and flour melt together into a thick coating that will stick when it hits the hot oil.
How to buy and clean fresh squid
Look for squid that are on the smaller side and have a clean fragrance. If you buy whole squid, be sure that the eyes are clear, not clouded (a sign that they’re not super fresh).
Here’s a great video on how to clean it from the folks at Harbor Fish Market in Portland, Maine.
If you don’t want to go to the trouble of cleaning it yourself, you can usually find squid already cleaned. I like to buy an assortment of bodies and tentacles.
Serve these with lemon wedges or a side of spicy marinara dipping sauce.
Spicy Buttermilk Fried Calamari
1 lb. fresh squid, cleaned
2 cups buttermilk
4 cups flour
2 Tbls. garlic powder
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. kosher salt + more for garnish
canola oil for frying
Serves about 4
Cut the squid into rings
Slice the bodies into rings, like this:
Set the rings aside for a minute while you get the stuff for the coating together.
Assemble your dredging station
Put the flour, garlic powder, cayenne, and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt in a large bowl. This mixture is spicy, but not knock-your-socks-off hot. Adjust the cayenne up or down if you like.
Stir with a whisk or fork until the mixture is uniform. Set it aside for a minute.
Put the buttermilk in a large bowl.
Put the squid (tentacles and rings) into the buttermilk.
Give them a good toss to get them good and soaked.
Line a sheet pan with wax paper and set it aside on the counter with the buttermilk and flour. You want the bowls and pan really close, because this can get messy.
Batter the squid
Here’s a tip for minimizing the mess when you bread the squid.
I like to keep one wet hand (for handling the squid in buttermilk) and one dry hand (for handling it once it’s gone into the flour). That way, both my hands don’t wind up breaded immediately. Resign yourself, though: You’ll probably be wearing soggy mittens before you’re done.
Fish out a few pieces of squid from the buttermilk. Don’t squeeze off the buttermilk.
Drop the squid into the flour mixture.
Toss to coat with flour.
Set them aside on your lined sheet pan.
Repeat with the rest of the squid until it’s all breaded. Pop the pan into the fridge for about 15 minutes to let the coating cure a little.
Fry the calamari in hot oil
Pour about 3 inches of oil into a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Set it on the stove over high heat.
While the oil is heating, line a sheet pan with paper towels or brown paper bags. Set it aside.
The oil is ready when you dip a piece of calamari (carefully!) into the oil and bubbles form around it immediately.
Fry the calamari in batches. Don’t overcrowd the pot.
Stir them around with a slotted spoon as they fry, turning them over so they cook on both sides. They’ll take about 3 to 5 minutes to fry, depending on size, thickness, etc.
When they’re wearing nice, golden brown jackets, fish them out of the oil. Drain them well over the pot.
Then transfer them to your paper-lined pan.
Sprinkle with a little kosher salt when they’re hot out of the oil (this helps it stick).
Serve. Inhale. Enjoy!
What to do with leftover calamari
Let the fried calamari cool completely, seal them in a zip-top bag, and toss them into the freezer.
To reheat, spread them out on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. They can go right from freezer to oven.
Pop them into a 400-degree oven until hot and crispy, about 10 minutes (keep a good eye on ’em).