Moist and tender Old Bay Fried Calamari is a perfect appetizer or main. Prepared with pantry ingredients, serve with tartar sauce and lemon wedges for maximum flavour!
I’ve always been a lover of calamari. Well, that is ever since I first tasted them in my late teens. There was an abundance of fresh squid available in Newfoundland where I grew up, but back in the day, they were never battered.
Calamari in my youth was referred to as squid rings. My mom would fry the rings in a cast iron skillet with butter, onion, salt, and pepper. That’s pretty much it! They were absolutely delicious just plain and simple like that.
Now, I prefer them to be deep fried with a light and crispy batter on them, like this Old Bay Fried Calamari. It’s so easy to over cook squid and if you do, you’re left with a rubbery, chewy mess. Whatever you do, do not over cook it! Let me walk you through it.
IF YOU WANT THE FRESHEST, YOU’LL HAVE TO WORK FOR IT!
Now, if you’re able to do so, just buy the squid already cleaned and cut into rings. It’s certainly easier and less messy to do it that way. However, if you want the freshest squid you can get, you might have to learn how to clean it yourself.
I’ve cleaned many squid when I was younger. And, I’ve cleaned a few in my adult years. I’ll walk you through it. It’s not a pleasant task and if you’re squeamish at all, skip on over to the next paragraph now.
HOW TO PREPARE SQUID
First, position your thumb and finger down into the neck of the squid. On either side, you’ll feel a little connective tissue. Get your thumb and finger right up against it and forcefully twist. This will break the tissue. You’re then able to pull the head off and should pull most of the innards with it.
You can discard this entirely, or you can cut off the tentacles and fry them with the rings when ready. I’m not a fan of the tentacles, so I always discard them. The next thing to do is to remove the tail. Firmly grasp the tail from the widest end and break through the connective tissue with your thumb and finger. Pull it off and discard.
Next, turn the body of the squid inside out. The easiest way is to push the narrow end up into the cavity and out the top, open end. Remove any small, clear bones. Using a knife, gently scrape the interior of the squid to remove any leftover tissue. Turn the squid out so that the reddish brown skin is on the outside again.
YOU’RE ALMOST DONE! HERE’S THE HARDEST PART!
This next step is the hardest part. I always hate removing the skin! Here’s how I do it. Cut about a half inch off the narrow end. Insert the sharp end of your knife under the skin where you must made the cut. Cut in an upward motion, away from the flesh. You should now be able to peel the skin off. It’s tedious and takes practice.
Once the body of the squid is free of skin, lay the tubular squid flat and slice off the top 1/4 inch where to completely get rid of any skin. Now, you’re ready to slice the squid into 1/2 inch slices. You’ve just prepared calamari!! Congratulations. How many more of these do you want to do? Now, you understand why I prefer to buy them already cleaned.
IT’S ALL IN THE BATTER ANYWAY!
This is the easiest and lightest batter possible. It has to be that way in order for the squid to still have any presence or flavour. The batter does three things. First, it adds that little bit of crunch that we all crave with calamari. It’s not a big crunch, but it’s there and just subtle enough to not overtake the entire dish.
Secondly, it’s the vessel for all of that great flavour. There wouldn’t be any nooks and crannies for any of the seasoning to hold on to if there wasn’t any batter. This particular calamari is loaded with Old Bay Seasoning. The last thing we would want to happen is to lose all of that flavour.
The third thing is it locks in the moisture. As I mentioned previously, it’s so easy to turn tender calamari into inedible rubber. The batter crisps up almost immediately when it hits the hot oil and locks that moisture and freshness into the squid where it belongs.
OLD BAY SEASONING
Here’s a bit of trivia for you. Did you know that Old Bay Seasoning was developed by a German immigrant to Maryland, US, in 1939? Fresh crab was so popular to the area that local bars used to cook them up and give them to their patrons for free – kinda like some bars nowadays with bowls of peanuts. Well, to encourage patrons to buy more drinks at the bar, the seasoning blend was invented by Gustav Brunn with excess amounts of salt; the more seasoned crab patrons ate, the thirstier they became!
The seasoning mix includes mustard, paprika, celery salt, bay leaf, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, mace, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger. The seasoning is mostly used to season crab and shrimp, but it can also be used in chowders and stews.
Lastly, don’t forget the tartar sauce! get my Classic Homemade Tartar Sauce recipe for the best Old Bay Fried Calamari flavour!! Now, who’s ready to eat?
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Old Bay Fried Calamari
- 2 pounds squid rings
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
- oil for frying
- lemon wedges
- Add enough oil to a skillet so that there is at least once inch of oil. Heat the oil to 350 degrees F.
- In the meantime, add the squid rings and egg to a bowl and toss to coat well.
- In another bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, salt, half of the Old Bay Seasoning, and the cayenne pepper, if using.
- When the oil is ready, transfer 10-12 rings at a time to the flour mixture and toss to coat. Carefully place the rings into the oil and fry 2-3 minutes on each side.
- Remove the calamari from the oil and place on a wire cooling rack with a baking sheet under it. Sprinkle with a little Old Bay Seasoning.
- Continue until all squid rings are fried.
- To keep warm between frying, place baking sheet in oven set to 175 degrees F.
- Serve with lemon wedges and Classic Homemade Tartar Sauce.
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