Properly cooked fried calamari is a delight. Cook them a few seconds too long and they become unbearably chewy. Actually, it is the way the average restaurant served them… chewy.
I live in Nairobi, Kenya, and you can now buy bags of imported frozen calamari already cleaned, cut, breaded and ready to be fried.
Well, I do my calamari the same as when I first arrived in Africa. I buy them whole and fresh, clean and prepare them the way I want. Unless it is not available fresh it is a sin to buy them ready-made from a bag.
I do approve the creation of a law in France, I do not know if it was actually presented or passed, proposing to limit the term “restaurant” to places where the food is cooked on site from raw materials. Oops! So, you really enjoyed the je ne sais quoi in this authentic dish served in this more more authentic French restaurant in Paris. I believe that France should be among the four EU countries with the highest consumption of frozen products.
Going down memory lane, I used to buy massive amount of crayfish for the equivalent of less than 1 euro per 2 kilo almost 20 years ago from Lake Bunyonyi in the southern part of Uganda. On Sundays with the few expats living in the surrounding we had crayfish parties that would have made front headline for decadence in any New Orleans newspapers. Later on, passing through NY China town, I saw a few crayfish on a stall of a fish market. I looked at the price, I was dumbstruck, and realized the tag price made them a delicacy. No wonder that patrons in fancy-big-city restaurants take their time to chew them.
A French chef, friend of mine, buys foie gras directly from a manufacturer in Ethiopia. Oh, do you know that Abesha people have their own steak tartar and it is called Kifto. I admit, I am not keen on negative stereotype brought though the eyes of wars and poverty in some continents. However, it is true, the gap between rich and poor is getting wider.
Now, back to my calamari.
To clean, separate the head from the body. Peel the skin by pulling out the flaps and the skin will come off easily. Turn the body inside out, remove and wash out all what is seen inside. Slice the body in ½ centimeter ring. I do not like thick rings.
Discard anything forming the head. The wings or flaps, the tentacles can be cleaned and kept together with the ink sack for other use. You can use them for a black rice recipe, the Cuban black rice is wonderful.
I had been invited to a restaurant located in one of the luxurious hotel in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and requested for a sea food platter. The waiter brought to the table a basket with an array of different breads. I took a bite from a bun, which was extremely black and did not taste like pumpernickel. The bread was made with calamari ink and sprinkled with coarse sea salt, from that moment Abu Dhabi became more enchanting than Dubai.
I provide two ways of doing this recipe and any changes from that, except frying it too long, is acceptable. Cooking is not really about step by step recipes to be learned like the alphabet but about learning basic techniques or a foundation recipe providing a springboard for creativity.
- Calamari cut in slices and as much as you need and want to cook
- Oil for frying
- Cornmeal or bread crumbs
- Salt and white pepper to taste
- Marinate the calamari rings in milk. For a minimum of 3 hours or until the next day is fine
- Dry the calamari
- Mix same quantity of flour and corn meal or bread crumbs. The choice is yours. The cornmeal will provide a stronger crunch than bread crumbs. Add salt and pepper to taste. At this stage you can leave it as is or let creativity take over by adding paprika, garlic salt (very little), pepper flakes or curry powder.
- Dip the calamari rings in the flour mix of your choice and fry until it starts to acquire the slightest of color. The cooking process takes about 1 minute per batch.
Accompany with lime, lemon, mayonnaise, horseradish or wasabi mayonnaise. Again use your imagination. I use my thumb and finger index to eat them. It is OK, but less relax, to offer them with a fork.