To Fry For
Several months ago, I had brunch with two friends at Jane where we decided to split an order of “crispy calamari and zucchini” (we made the mistake of also ordering individual dishes, leaving a ton of leftovers). The calamari was the star of brunch for me (and had a surprise ingredient!) and ever since I had it I’ve wanted to try to recreate it for Max, who’d unfortunately been working that morning.
Now, I am a big believer in healthy eating–but as someone obsessed with food, that usually translates into two things: 1) using fresh, organic ingredients (and meat from animals pasture raised without antibiotics) and 2) portion control. Of course it would be nice if the only things we ever craved to eat were steamed vegetables, whole grains and tofu, but that’s not going to happen 100% of the time. Every once and awhile, you lapse… hey, as Mae West said, “I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.”
And that’s exactly how I felt when I recently came across a recipe for tempura squid. I was intrigued by the use of seltzer instead of water, and by the promise that the batter would be light and delicate, like the Japanese tempura dish. I used it for zucchini and squid, like in the Jane recipe, and I used the “secret” ingredient, too! When I make this again (next time I can’t resist temptation) I might use the batter to make a vegetarian dish with more vegetables, like broccoli and string beans.
Fried Calamari and Zucchini (for 4 as an appetizer)
1/3 lb cleaned squid (preferably the mantle, or white part of the squid’s body, and not the tentacles)
1 egg yolk
1 cup ice-cold seltzer (put the bottle in the freezer for an hour before cooking)
1/8 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup corn starch
3/4 cup all purpose flour
canola oil for frying (probably at least 4-5 cups)
Note- if you have a deep fryer, use that. I don’t, so we used a heavy bottomed pot and kept a (non-glass) lid handy in the event of a grease fire. If a grease fire does break out, cover the pot immediately, turn off the heat, and do not put water on it or try to move the pot, which could splash and spread the fire. Call 911 right away–if you manage to put the fire out on your own, they are happy to go back to the station.
1) Slice the squid into rings about 1/2 an inch wide. If they are particularly rubbery, you may have to use kitchen shears.
2) Slice the zucchini into equally sized pieces, making sure they are as thin as you can get them (or they won’t cook through).
3) Chop an onion roughly. I tried to mimic the shape of the zucchini with my onion, so I cut it through the poles (hairy root to top) rather than along the equator, to avoid the thin, ring shape.
4) Slice the lemon in half along the equator. Reserve one half. Cut the remaining half into thin circular slices.
5) Start heating the oil (which should be about 3 inches deep) in your pot or deep fryer. You want the oil to be around 360-370º F.
6) Mix all the dry ingredients together well.
7) Get a serving platter or large plate and several paper towels ready.
8) Separate an egg and throw away the white (or reserve it for an egg white omelet or meringue or something else later).
9) Take the seltzer out of the freezer and quickly mix it, and the egg yolk, into the dry mixture quickly. Don’t worry too much if there are some clumps, because over mixing might make the batter a little chewy and we don’t want that!
10) Dip the slices of zucchini, onion, squid and LEMON (yes, lemon was the secret ingredient!) into the batter and put them in the hot oil. The squid pieces should cook no more than 2 minutes (or they will be rubbery) and that works for the onion too, but the zucchini and lemon need 3-4 minutes. Do this in small batches so that the oil doesn’t cool down too much. Transfer the cooked pieces onto a paper towel covered plate with a slotted spoon or fry basket, if you have one.
Tempura doesn’t need to get that deep golden-brown, unlike most batters, in order to be perfect. You want it to be just a pale yellow or light gold color.
11) After you’ve cooked everything (and absorbed the excess oil with paper towels) cut the remaining half-lemon into wedges and squeeze over the dish.
This was the main course for my dinner with Max, and we had plenty! We also made a side of a salad (because we like contradictions) but opted not to make the aioli dipping sauce served at Jane… in America, of course, calamari always comes with some dipping sauce, usually tartar or marinara (because you need MORE calories, obviously) but we decided to do without and the spritz lemon was all that I needed to make this a real treat.
This was surprisingly easy to make, once everything was put together. It was also easy to put together! And Max was very shocked when instead of putting a piece of zucchini into his mouth, he got a piece of fried lemon. It’s got a really surprising taste–while it’s obviously lemon, it’s not as sour as you’d expect and the peel isn’t bitter. While I wouldn’t eat a plate of fried lemon (and one of the friends I went to Jane with despises lemons and did not enjoy them fried, either), it was definitely a unique taste that surprised me into making it for Max, just so he could experience it, too.