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Fried Calamari (Squid)

Through the years, I’ve gotten away from my childhood tradition of eating fried fish for Christmas eve, opting instead for dishes that are prepared in the oven or sauteéd on the stove top, like pasta with mixed shellfish, or swordfish involtini.  My kids threaten to mutiny if I omit those dishes, or the baccala mantecato or the stuffed squid (which my son now prepares) from the menu, but I have managed to wean everyone from the fried smelts, and all the other fried seafood, including squid. Aside from the difficulty of navigating several pans of sizzling, deep oil amid the chaos and confusion of choreographing seven to nine different dishes to be ready at the same time, frying fish just leaves a huge clean up job and a penetrating smell in the house that doesn’t go away for a couple of days.
But a couple of nights after Christmas eve, when I was home alone and rummaging through the refrigerator, I found a container with a few squid that hadn’t been used for our family dinner. I couldn’t resist the urge to fry up some squid “rings.”
And let me just say, due to unforseen circumstances – which involved another leftover – namely a third of a bottle of Prosecco – these were the best fried squid rings I’d ever made – or eaten. The batter had the perfect lightness and crunch without being greasy and the squid were tender too. I’ve made fried squid using a simple dusting of flour, and I’ve made it with a batter of flour, eggs and beer. My favorite way has been to use just flour and San Pellegrino water, but I figured since I had the Prosecco, why not use the bubbly to give the batter a little “lift.” With New Year’s eve just a day away, you’ll most likely have some Prosecco or Champagne in the house, so why not treat yourself to some fried calamari too?
Just mix some flour (I used about a cup) and pour in some Prosecco (start with 1/4 cup or so) until you get a consistency of a thin pudding. Add a little salt and a couple of dashes of cayenne pepper to give it some “zing.”
Slice the cleaned squid bodies into “rings.” They’re limp when you slice into them, but will take shape as soon as they hit the hot oil. Make sure the oil is good and hot. Test it first with a small piece before filling the whole pan with the squid.  Turn them over once, drain them on some paper towels and sprinkle with salt while they’re hot.
Serve them immediately with lemon slices (or some tomato sauce) and hopefully, you’ll have enough Prosecco leftover to pour a glass for yourself.
But don’t let my kids know I whipped up this batch of fried squid, or I’ll be back on fry duty again next Christmas eve.
Buon Anno Amici!
 May 2015 be filled with as much joy as you have given me,
dear, faithful readers. – Ciao Chow Linda



Batter for Fried Calamari (can be used for other fish, or frying vegetables too)
printable recipe here

1 cup flour (approximately)
1/4 cup Prosecco (approximately)
dash of salt
dash of cayenne pepper

Add all the ingredients together, using a whisk to blend. Add more Prosecco (or seltzer water if you don’t have enough Prosecco) until the batter is the consistency of a thin pudding.
Dip the sliced squid rings into the batter, lift with a fork to wipe off excess, then drop into hot oil. Turn once when golden on the first side and remove when golden on the second side. Drain on paper towels and season with salt immediately.

Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes

Just in case you’re planning a multi-fish extravaganza for Christmas eve and are still trying to decide what to make, here are some ideas to whet your appetite. I’ve made all of these in years past, and most of them will be on my table again this year, including this spaghetti ai frutti di mare. It was a favorite last Christmas eve, so it makes the cut again for this year. I’ll serve it following the hors d’oeuvres that will be mostly fished-based, except for a couple of dishes for the vegetarians present.  It’s always a juggling act trying to balance the numerous  pots on the burners and dishes in the oven, so that none of them is overcooked (or undercooked.)
So I make sure I have a few things that can be made ahead of time, including this favorite of
baccalà mantecato with grilled polenta that we’ll eat before dinner while sipping prosecco.
My dad arrives with these codfish cakes. They reheat very well in the oven, maintaining their crunchy exterior. We’ll munch on these before dinner too.
If you think you don’t like octopus, you haven’t tried my Octopus and potato salad. It’s almost like eating lobster, especially if you peel the octopus and trim away the “suction cups” after cooking. Get the largest octopus you can find in order to get nice chunky pieces.
If I weren’t making the spaghetti ai frutti di mari, I might be making this dish with squid:
Some years, I’ve skipped the pasta and made this dish instead:
Seafood Risotto
But if there’s one dish that absolutely must be on our Christmas eve table, it’s this one. My son has taken over the preparation of this and has become quite adept at it:
Too many dishes with tomato sauce can make for a lopsided menu, but if stuffed squid’s not your thing, make it easy on yourself and try this swordfish in tomato and caper sauce.
Last year, I added this dish to the menu and everyone loved it. It can be made ahead of time and baked right before serving – swordfish involtini
And if you manage to have a taste of all these dishes, by the end of the evening, you might want to have this handy:
Buon Natale a tutti.

Sauteed Squid

I’ve mentioned before that “Le Mani In Pasta” was our favorite local restaurant when my husband and I lived in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood. It has remained so on all my visits back in the last six years.  I’ve never had a disappointing dish there – from the fish to the meats to the pastas and desserts. Their mussels and clams in a winey broth is hard to beat and I always order it as a first course, not just because it tastes so great, but because it also takes me back to an idyllic time in my life.
 On this last visit, I went with a couple of friends, and one of them – Kathryn  – ordered the sauteed squid. Of course I had to have a taste, and that was all I needed to know that it was perfect – not tough, not undercooked, just simply and expertly cooked. I love battered and fried squid rings as much as the next gal, but it’s nice to eat squid a different way too. One of my favorite methods (a Christmas eve requirement) is stuffed squid baked in a tomato sauce. You can find that recipe here.  At Le Mani In Pasta, the squid was neither deep fried nor baked in tomato sauce – just prepared with a light coating of fine bread crumbs and a quick saute in olive oil. A squirt of lemon juice at the end imparts the perfect acidic touch. I tried to duplicate the dish at home, and while it wasn’t exactly the same, it was close, and it did bring back a little bit of la bella Roma for a brief moment.
Start with the squid. It’s easy enough to find already cleaned at the fish market. I cut it into small pieces, but you can choose to leave the bodies whole if you like.
Place the pieces on a plate smeared with olive oil and some salt. Flip the squid pieces to coat with the olive oil, then sprinkle some fine bread crumbs all over.
Heat a heavy skillet, place a few tablespoons of olive oil into the pan, then add the squid pieces, cooking briefly for a few minutes on each side. Don’t worry if the pieces curl as you’re cooking. It’s hard to avoid that so just press it down with a fork or spatula.
Serve with a squirt of lemon juice and a sprinkling of minced parsley.