While there are several different recipes dictating unique calamari dishes, there are a few tips and tricks that are generally constant. Before frying calamari, it is important to make sure the squid is cleaned and prepared properly, and that all the necessary equipment is available. Handling hot oil incorrectly can not only ruin attempts at frying calamari, but it can also be dangerous, so setting up a safe and effective fry station is also key to success.
Beginning with properly cleaned and prepared squid is an important tip to remember when frying calamari. Squid can often be purchased from the market or seafood store already cleaned and washed, usually with the tentacles removed. If the squid is still whole, the fishmonger might be willing to clean one on site at the customer’s request. Purchasing squid that is ready for cooking is wise because it eliminates an extra step and can make frying calamari less intimidating, especially for beginners.
Cleaned squid usually comes in the form of whole bodies and tentacle bunches. For frying calamari, the bodies should be sliced into thin rings of approximately a finger’s width, and the tentacle bunches can be left whole. The exact width of the rings can be left to personal discretion, but it is important that the rings are cut evenly so they are all close to the same size to ensure uniform cooking time. Some recipes for frying calamari simply dredge the rings and tentacles in flour and spices, while others call for liquid or a batter. Either way, it is important to pat the squid dry before dredging or dipping the pieces because excess moisture can both prevent the crust from sticking and cause the cooking oil to spatter.
Light oils such as peanut oil or vegetable oil are ideal for frying calamari because they will not impart overbearing flavor and they will heat to high temperatures without smoking. It is essential that the oil reaches the recipe’s specified temperature because oil that is not hot enough will absorb into the calamari, making it soggy and greasy instead of brown and crunchy. Regardless of whether the fry station is set up for deep frying or shallow frying, a thermometer designed for submersion in oil will help make sure the desired temperature is reached. A heavy-bottomed pot or pan such as a dutch oven or cast iron frying pan will be able to withstand the high heat of the oil and is therefore ideal for frying calamari.
Calamari can only be cooked for a very short period of time, usually about a minute, or else it becomes tough and rubbery. Frying the calamari until it reaches a deep golden brown will usually mean the squid is overcooked. Instead, the color of the calamari should only reach a pale golden color before being removed from the oil. After removing the squid rings and tentacles from the cooking oil it is generally a good idea to drain them over a mesh cooling rack or atop paper towels to remove any excess oil. Immediately after removal from the oil while the squid is still piping hot is also the best time to add any last minute seasonings such as salt or pepper.