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The Great Fried Calamari Experiment

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It was a success! It was also our appetizer during Life Aquatic Fest ’07. We snacked on it while watching some Jacques Cousteau. I never really thought I liked calamari, then I had some a few years ago at the Monterey Bay Aquarium — at the restaurant, that is, I didn’t just grab some squid out of the tank or anything. Crunchy coating, tender inside — it was so good. Who knew? Well, lots of people, I suppose.

Now whenever I see calamari on the menu while we are out, I have to get some. The best so far: mbay, Pacific Way Cafe — cumin-dusted!, Jake’s and Iorio.

This is the first time I attempted it at home. Since it was an experiment, I just grabbed a bag of frozen rings at Trader Joe’s. Next time, since this attempt worked so well, I will go all out and find some with little tentacles. Regardless, these results using the defrosted, frozen rings were crunchy, tender and nicely seasoned.

Instead of the romanesco sauce WS paired these up with, I opted to try a curried tomato dipping sauce. Excellent.

This calamari recipe is one I came across on the Williams-Sonoma Web site and the dipping sauce is from Dan and Steve, who are awesome and who need a much better time slot.

Fried Calamari
1 lb. fresh or thawed frozen calamari, cut into 1/2-inch rings, tentacles left intact
1 cup milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Peanut or canola oil for deep-frying
1 cup rice flour or all-purpose flour
1/2 cup coarse yellow cornmeal or polenta
1 tbsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/4 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
Optional: Chopped, fresh parsley for garnish

In a bowl, combine the calamari, milk, and a pinch each of salt and black pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 4 hours.

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Place an ovenproof platter in an oven and preheat to 150°F. In a heavy, deep fry pan or wide saucepan, pour in your oil to a depth of 2 inches and heat to 375°F on a deep-frying thermometer. Drain the calamari. In a large bowl, combine the rice flour, cornmeal, paprika, cayenne, parsley, salt and black pepper.

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Add half of the calamari and toss to coat evenly, then transfer the coated calamari to a colander and shake gently to remove excess flour.

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Add the coated calamari to the hot oil and deep-fry, using a wire skimmer or slotted spoon to push it gently into the oil occasionally, until crisp and golden brown, about 1 minute. Using the skimmer or spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain briefly, then place on the platter in the oven. Coat the remaining calamari and fry in the same way.

Garnish the calamari with some fresh parsley if desired and place a small bowl or ramekin holding the sauce in the center of the platter. Serve immediately.

Curried Tomato Sauce
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Pinch ground cloves

Put the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, curry powder, salt, pepper and cloves into a saucepan and place over high heat.

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Bring to a boil, stir to dissolve the sugar and cook until the tomatoes have broken down and the mixture is slightly thick, about 10 minutes.

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Pour the mix into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Let cool to room temperature before refrigerating.

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