Today’s recipe is brought to you by Sophie and I, as she is insisting on sitting on my lap while I type. Awesome.
A little over six years ago Bo and I had the best meal of our lives. It was on our honeymoon, when we got back to Florida from the Bahamas, and we ate at The Capital Grille. Man oh man, was that ever a great meal. The best steak I’d ever eaten, incredible lobster macaroni and cheese, fries with truffle shavings. Just insane. Hands down the best part was the calamari we had to start. The most tender fried calamari that had been tossed in some wonder concoction of spicy peppers. Hot enough to notice, but not so hot that we couldn’t devour the entire plate.
We went back again a few years later, as we had a babysitter for Oliver, but since Anna came it just hasn’t been doable. It’s just not the place to take three kids, you know, and the chain isn’t in Canada, so we can only hit it when we’re in Florida on vacation.
Since that time I’ve been trying, fairly unsuccessfully, to replicate that recipe. This has turned out to be a really aggravating task, as recipes to jump off of seem impossible to find, and even harder than that is getting some decent squid to use. While I wouldn’t say this is a perfect match (and it’s hard now trying to remember exactly what it tasted like and what was in it four years ago), this is by far the closest I’ve gotten, and Bo and I are both pretty happy with the results.
I’ve made this twice now. The first time was actually for our anniversary this past March and it was fucking awesome. Seriously. The amount that Bo and I ate between the two of us was something no other human should ever witness. We ate enough of this as an appetizer that I didn’t even cook the steaks after. That’s not an exaggeration. We ate this, and we went to bed.
That glowing review aside, the batch you’re going to see below actually wasn’t that good, but it was the squids fault, not the recipe. So, here’s a lesson in buying squid.
How to Buy Fresh Squid
1. Buy it fresh. Do what ever you have to do to get fresh squid, the frozen stuff just isn’t the same. The kicker to this, is that at our local seafood store fresh is only $1 per pound more than frozen. We have a store in town and I live in a town of 24,000 people, so hopefully it won’t be too hard for you to find.
2. Do not buy the big stuff. The squid I used last time was between 3” and 5”, nice and little. That’s what you want. This time around they were 10” and way too big and chewy for this type of dish.
3. When you buy it fresh, have the fish monger clean it for you. This is free to have done, and dealing with all the innards isn’t something you want to do. Also, their skeleton (not sure what to call it), is clear. Not the easiest thing to get rid of if you don’t know where to look for it. I suggest not having them slice the rings though. Mine did them for me and they were wider than I would have liked.
4. If you can’t find fresh, give the frozen stuff a shot. In our house, previously frozen is still better than none at all.
The first thing you have to do is prep and dry your squid. Like I said, I think these rings are much too thick. I suggest slicing them around ¼”. This way, even if your squid is a little on the tough side, the thinner slices will make it less noticeable. Lay the slices on a couple of sheets of paper towel, and cover with a couple more. I put the try into the fridge for a couple of hours like that to dry.
Get your breading mixture made up, and your buttermilk into a second bowl.
Get everything going for your sauce. Melt the butter, then add the garlic and cook over medium / low heat for about 5 minutes. You don’t want the garlic to brown, just to soften and really flavour the butter. Then just toss in the hot pepper slices, cook on medium high for about 2 minutes, then reduce to low just to keep warm while you fry the calamari.
I’d completely forgotten about the jalapeños. Bo likes to have some of these fried up with the calamari as well. So, slice them up, and add in with the squid if you want.
Put all of the squid rings, and the jalapeños if you’re using them, into the buttermilk. In batches only big enough to fry without much crowding, use a large slotted spoon (these Asian cooking skimmers are perfect for this) to transfer the rings to the breading mix. I use my hands to toss the rings in the flour mix. It’s the only way I can make sure to get everything coated without clumping. Shake off the excess flour, and carefully add to the fryer. DO NOT crowd the fryer. It’ll make your oil temperature drop too much, and that will lead to breading being too soft or falling off.
When the calamari comes out of the oil, place it onto a cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet while you cook the remaining squid. When it’s all cooked, crank the heat up on the butter and pepper mixture, add the fried calamari, and give it two quick tosses. You don’t want to do more than that because it’ll make the breading too wet and it’ll fall off. You can also make the breading come off by trying to use a wooden spoon to flip the calamari instead of just tossing the pan. This is what I did this time. I choose a skillet that was too heavy for me to hold and flip. I was really not impressed with myself at this point. Dump everything out onto a plate and you’re good to go!
Here’s your printable:
- 2 lb fresh small to medium sized squid (up to 5"), cleaned
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 jalapenos sliced thinly (optional)
- ¾ cup cornstarch
- ¾ cup flour
- ½ cup cornmeal
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 4 tbsp butter
- 4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced (do to your taste, we love garlic)
- 1 cup sliced hot peppers in vinegar, drained
- oil for frying
- Slice your squid into ¼" rings. Place onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with paper towel and cover with additional paper towel. Place in fridge for 1 hour to dry.
- Preheat your oil to 365ºF
- In a large bowl, mix together the ingredients for the breading (cornstarch, flour, cornmeal, salt, and pepper) and set aside. Pour the buttermilk into a medium bowl.
- Place the butter into a large frying pan and melt over medium heat. Add the garlic, and simmer over medium/low heat for about five minutes. Don't let the garlic brown, you just want it to soften and flavor the butter. Add the pepper slices and cook for two minutes over medium/high. Turn down to low to keep warm.
- Add the dried squid rings and the jalapenos (if using) to the buttermilk. Make sure all the pieces are well coated.
- Working in batches (this amount should take two), use a large slotted spoon or strainer to transfer half of the squid to the flour mixture, making sure to drain off as much buttermilk as possible first. Use your hands to gently toss the squid in the flour, ensuring every piece is covered and none are sticking together.
- Gently shake off the excess flour and carefully place into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, usually around 50 seconds. Your best bet is to fry one or two pieces first, until you get the timing right. These cook very quickly, and if overcooked become extremely rubbery. Transfer the cooked calamari to a paper towel lined cooling rack set over a rimmed baking sheet. Let the oil come back up to temperature, then repeat with remaining batch(s).
- When all the calamari has been fried turn the butter and pepper mixture back up to high. Add the calamari and give it two quick tosses to lightly coat (no more than that), then pour the mixture onto a plate to serve immediately.