Christmas is coming and for many people of the Greek Orthodox faith the hustle and bustle of shopping, tree trimming and holiday baking is accompanied by a period of lent. Nisteia, or fasting, is meant to be a spiritual preparation for an experience of deeper connection with God and it occurs several times during the year. The Christmas fast begins on November 15 and lasts until December 24. During this time, the consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs on most days, as well as oil and wine on specific days, is prohibited. Shellfish however, such as shrimp, lobster, crab, oysters, and squid (calamari), are permissible most of the time. Cue the fried calamari.
This is a recipe which garners much ooh-ing and aah-ing when it is served. Funny, because it is actually a very simple and quick meal to prepare, particularly if you find calamari which is already cleaned. So, whether you are Greek Orthodox or not, whether you are fasting or not, go ahead and try this fancy, not fancy, meal.
Calamari is squid. Not a special kind of squid. Just squid. However, when squid is prepared for eating, it is usually called calamari. It is called this in English, in Greek, and we think in Italian. The reason is probably quite simple. Calamari sounds elegant and appetizing. Squid sounds a bit gross.
You may be able to find fresh calamari, but the frozen variety is likely more accessible. You can purchase frozen calamari already cut into rings, but unless this is the only way you can find it, we suggest you buy it whole. Where we live, we can find frozen calamari body tubes which have already been cleaned, meaning that the head and tentacles, and accompanying innards, are removed. This makes preparation very easy. However, if the only way you can find calamari is whole (either fresh or frozen) don’t panic. Follow these super clear instructions on how to clean and prepare whole squid and you will be on your way. For instructions, click here. You may also find calamari in cans. There are uses for this type of squid, but frying them is not one of them.
When you buy the calamari whole you can slice the rings into the thickness that you like. Our parents make them about ½ inch wide, which we find to be perfect.
Calamari cooks quickly. Once your flour coating has turned a lovely golden brown, they are done. Cook them too long and your calamari will become tough and rubbery.
If you are going to be serving your calamari with a side of homemade French fries (what a great idea), cook your potatoes first. You can then use the same oil to fry the calamari. Once the calamari is fried, the oil is pretty useless and should be discarded. And speaking of serving….calamari are one of those things that are best eaten soon after they are cooked. They are much less wonderful as they get cold and the flour coating can get a bit soggy.
You will notice in the recipe that follows that the measurements are vague. No, this isn’t a mistake. We just figured that the quantity you make, and subsequently the amount of ingredients you will use, will depend very much on how you wish to serve the calamari. Will they be a meze, a meal, or a midnight snack (don’t judge)? Keep in mind that one medium calamari will yield about 5 calamari rings, each 1/2 inch wide. As a guide, we think that most people would be satisfied with about 10 to 15 rings, which would equal 2 medium to large squid per person.
Mia Kouppa: Fried calamari
- Calamari, cut into 1/2 inch rings (for 4 – 6 servings you should have about 8 – 12 medium to large sized squid)
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Lemon wedges
- Prepare your calamari. If it is frozen, thaw and then rinse and allow to drain in a colander. Slice the body tubes into ½ inch thick rounds. Rinse once more and allow to once again drain in colander. You can also place the rings on a plate lined with paper towels, however, do not pat dry. Salt your calamari with a generous sprinkling of salt, using about ¼ teaspoon of salt for every whole calamari you sliced. Toss to distribute the salt evenly.
- In a shallow bowl add all purpose flour and sprinkle with pepper. Use about ¼ teaspoon pepper for every cup of flour you use. Toss your salted calamari with the flour so that there is an even, light coating of flour on each ring. Coating the calamari thoroughly is key to avoid the oil from splattering.
- Pour enough vegetable oil into a deep frying pan so that it is 1 inch high. Heat oil over high heat. This is key. If the oil is not hot enough your flour will fall off your calamari rings and you will end up with naked calamari. The perfect temperature to cook the calamari is 170 degrees Celsius, or 330 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cook in batches until the calamari is a nice golden brown on all sides. You will have to flip them over at least once. Each batch should not take more than a few minutes to cook. Careful not to overcrowd the pan, to ensure crispier calamari. Remove the cooked calamari from the oil using a slotted spoon and allow to drain on a paper towel lined colander or plate.
- Serve with a wedge of lemon and enjoy.