Friday, October 5, 2012
Sifting Through Life: Fried Calamari
Sometimes I add a recipe to this segment and sometimes I don't.
Today is your lucky day because here it is: Fried Calamari.
My first experience with calamari was with my dad, many many years ago. I don't remember the exact location, the year or the occasion. I just know it was squid and my dad had an intrigued kid about to try something new. He had my full attention.
I remember being with my dad for the first time in a very long time. My parents were divorced and we rarely saw him because we lived in two different states. For a long time my parents despised each other with good reason. Infidelity in a marriage is never easy to digest. Towards the end of his life they rekindled their friendship and he left this earth while on good terms with my Mom.
I must have been around 8 years old, the oldest of three girls for this first encounter with calamari, squid or the little squiggly sea creature with long tentacles. This is how my Dad described it to me on my first try so long ago.
Dad loved seafood and I believe this is where I inherited the taste for fish as well. I cannot recall a time that I did not enjoy the flavor of the sea. This all occurred long before the days of Google or smart phones. Today I would have looked it up on the spot. I like to know what I am eating.
As the dish arrived I could tell that it had been fried. Fried is always a good place to start with kids and fish. The oil and crispy texture hides a bit of the fishiness that comes with the territory of dealing with seafood.
I recall the sauce that was served, it was light yellow with a hint of lemon. Lemon was good. I liked sour things and so the twang from the lemon added another layer to mask what I was about to partake of. I like the taste of seafood but sometimes the aroma is a bit intense. To an 8 year old nose, scents can make or break the deal.
The rings were easy. What little girl did not love rings? Rings of white with a lightly crisp exterior. It was the other part that took some convincing, tentacles.
Those were all of my responses…LOL It wasn't until I became an adult that I would venture into the area of eating the tentacles. It actually took the bravery of my daughter to do this for me. I say bravery because some times certain foods just don't look good or appetizing. They are creepy. Our minds are powerful and we over think things.
Imagine swallowing a tentacle and having it suctioned to the inside of your throat…hey, it could happen.
In all honesty I doubt it could, but these are the things that I think of. That I thought of for many years after my first try with calamari.
My daughter is always level headed and she gave me the look. You may be familiar with it, the "really Mom…don't be so dramatic."
I don't remember when my kids did not like fish. They were raised on it. So eating calamari was not a big deal for them including the tentacles. I closed my eyes and went for it.
There was no suctioning to the inside of my mouth, throat or tongue. Although, that would have been hilarious to have been able to stick my tongue out and have this little thing hanging from it. LOL I can only imagine the look of horror and shock on my daughters face.
Today, in my 40's, I love the whole squid…body and tentacle.
Our issue seems to be finding calamari that is perfectly made to how we enjoy this dish. We know how we enjoy this dish and how we do not. We do not like calamari that is over battered, over cooked or is too chewy.
Why over batter something that is so good when lightly encrusted is ideal?
It is no secret that we live by the water and have an abundance of seafood within our everyday reach. I love going to the fish market and seeing the variety that is on display. Whole fish, filets, scallops, oysters, mussels…you name it, we have it in Annapolis.
I can purchase calamari fresh or frozen. I only buy it fresh if I am going to prepare it that day otherwise I will buy a frozen package and save it for the upcoming menu.
This is a quick dish. If you purchase the calamari frozen, thaw and rinse. Using a sharp knife cut the body into ringlets. I like mine to be as wide as my index finger, just under a 1/2 inch. The tentacles don't really need much other than I trim them so they are all the same length. Every once in a while you get a tentacle that is really long.
I use a combination of brown rice flour and spices to dredge each piece in. Again, I am not a fan of an overly thick batter but I know lots of people who enjoy it this way. You can also use corn meal, almond meal and all purpose flour to achieve the same style of calamari. I season the flour with garlic, onion powder, salt and pepper. This is a personal preference and you can literally add anything you want to based on what your palette prefers. We like to keep it simple.
The KISS method. Keep It Simple Sexy. I don't like the word stupid.
It takes just a few minutes of frying in hot vegetable oil. The rings and tentacles are tossed in. The bubbling of the oil starts. The white squid body rings start to open up and float on the oil like little rafts lost at sea, tossing in the oil.
I use a wire strainer to flip the rings over in the oil. I like them to each be golden brown. I remove everything to a paper towel and proceed to cook the rest.
These are usually gone before I can get them to the table. The kids can smell the scent in their rooms and they slowly make their way down the halls. They see the paper towel with the golden rings of yumminess and start "sampling".
Each person issues the same comment, " a quality check is needed".
Calamari, in my opinion, is best on its own. My family likes it served with a sauce.
The variations are endless. Here are a few suggestions:
Lemony Mayonnaise: lemon juice, mayonnaise, salt.
Wicked Awesome Sauce: Sriarcha sauce, mayonnaise.
Cocktail Sauce: ketchup, horseradish sauce
Tartar Sauce: diced onion, dill relish, mayonnaise
I don't have a lot of childhood memories of time spent with my Dad. It was not until I turned 18 that I developed a relationship with him. He passed away when I was 23 in an airplane crash. I will always be grateful that I took it upon myself to reach out to him and became friends. I am also so happy that he was able to meet and approve of my husband. I am sad that he never met his grandkids, of which, he would have been so happy and proud of.
My thoughts of my Dad this week were sparked by the relationship that I see my own kids having with their Dad. I missed out on so much and yet I see what an influence he has on their every day life.
I can honestly say that Cory is the best Dad. He is Isabella's best friend, Drakes mentor and Rye's life coach. He provides things for the kids that I don't. I love seeing them in action together as they solve problems, laugh, learn and live.
Dad's have the ability to hold the hearts of their children in the palms of their hands. I know that so many fall short of this obligation and this is why I am grateful everyday for the man I chose to be the father of our children.
I am thankful for the few memories I do have and I hold them dear to my heart. Growing up I did not know all of the details of why my family was not whole. I judged my parents harshly. I was broken and broken hearted because of the divorce.
Today, I see things and life events through the eyes of an adult. I see how hard it is. I know the sacrifice, devotion and endurance that a good marriage takes. I have forgiven my parents. I believe they did the best they could given the circumstances of the times they were living in.
Would I have done something different? I don't know. I like to live for today and not in the past.
Playing the "what if" game is something I stopped doing long ago. I know that in the final days of my Dad's life he had regrets about choices he made that affected all of us. I am glad that my parents were friends before he passed.
Every time I eat seafood I think of my Dad and this experience with the Calamari. Do you have memories from your childhood that are attached to food? In my world, food is attached to many memories and good times.
Calamari is a dish that many may not enjoy, but for those of us who do, it is a real treat.
My hope is that you will take the chance to try it and to even make it at home.
Something so delicious and simple is a real gourmet treat for family and friends.