For whatever reason, calamari had seemed, for most of my life, like a food you could only eat at restaurants. Like Cobb salad. Or jalapeño poppers, if you want to call that food.
Until the day my father forced me to take a 1.5-pound brick of frozen squid with me after a visit home—my parents have a deep freezer and a deeper belief that I live on nuts, berries, and coffee grinds in Buffalo. I came home, threw the brick in the freezer, and forgot about it—until the night I had a bunch of reporters coming over for dinner, and I desperately needed something for them to eat while I finished my late-as-always entrees. Since then, I’ve refined my calamari technique into a cheap, low-stress appetizer, and I still get a little thrill whenever dinner guests say, “You’re making calamari?”
Prepping the squid is easier than you’d think. If you don’t have time to let the brick thaw completely, put it in a big bowl with warm tap-water water and move it around a bit, then massage any ice stuck in the tubes out with your fingers. Get a sharp knife, cut the tubes into rings a little less than an inch thick (or to your preference) and trim the longest tentacle off of each bunch.
I use a breading mixture that, according to more than one food geek friend, is the “classic Gramercy Tavern method,” but I’d have no way of knowing. According to a fellow Central New York food blogger, however, it likely belongs to Gramercy’s sister restaurant, Union Square Cafe. Whoever owns it, it’s basically equal parts flour and crumbled graham crackers, with a teaspoon each of salt and pepper for good measure. Feel free to get all Creole, five-spice Asian, Italian or whatever other kind of crazy with your seasonings. Coat the pieces with the mixed breading, using the “one hand dry, one hand wet” method to save yourself a lot of hand-rinsing.
I was lucky to get a small Euro-Pro counter-top fryer for a wedding gift, but a wok or straight-sided deep skillet with enough vegetable oil to cover the rings works just as well. If you’re going to make more than a few batches, however, be prepared to switch out the oil.
Next time you’re feeling trapped between crudités and toast points, turn to the fruit of the sea. It might be as close as you can get to that fish-sticks-as-a-kid feeling as you can get, and it’s a whole lot tastier.