Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis

Fried Calamari
(and a short rant on the quality of fish in Greece)

A fresh fish, in Greece, is a fish that has only recently come out of the water, and that exhibits all the classic signs of a fresh fish: shiny eyes and skin, bright red gills, and a fresh ocean smell. I live on the coast of California, where I have access to a great fish store, and still, fish are not the same here as in Greece. They do come out of a different ocean, after all. And then there’s freshness: even though every once in a while we get very fresh anchovies or sardines, the bigger fish that are so popular in this country, the ones that have to be fished in big boats way off shore and then cut up into steaks or filets, just don’t make it to market as quickly as the smaller fish do in Greece. Because the fish there are so pristine, there isn’t a lot of dressing them up. They’re just gutted, then cleaned and cooked whole—heads, bones, and all—in a pan or on a grill and put on your plate, maybe with a little drizzle of oil or herb or salt or a piece of lemon, and they’re wonderful.

So I’m not going to bother here with recipes for fish filets with tomatoes and feta, etc., but I am going to talk about cooking squid, because it’s something I eat often, both in Greece and here in California, where a lot of it comes from my home town (San Pedro). It’s an inexpensive fish, widely available, it seems to freeze pretty well, for people who don’t live on the coast, and it’s easy to cook. Just don’t buy the kind already cut into rings. If you don’t know how to clean squid, look it up online or refer to Marcella Hazan’s book, Classic Italian Cooking, for instructions.

There are a lot of nice things to do with squid, but dredging it in flour and frying it is how it’s mainly served in Greece, and that’s what I usually do at home, so that’s what this recipe is for. People are always happy when I cook this.

One pound of squid feeds two as a main course or four as an appetizer, so you can multiply the recipe as needed.

  1. Drain the squid well and pat them dry.
  2. Mix together the flour and salt in a shallow container, or in a paper or plastic bag. Roll the squid through the flour, coating it, or throw it into the bag and shake it. Lift it out with your fingers, letting the excess flour fall away.
  3. Put a large, heavy pan over medium high heat and put about a quarter-inch high’s worth of oil in it. Wait until it’s hot so that it sizzles when a drop of water hits it, and cook the squid in batches, on both sides, not crowding it, leaving room between the pieces. If you’re comfortable, you can use two pans at the same time.
    Put more oil in when you start a new batch, or even when changing sides if you need to. I use tongs to turn the squid, cooking until both sides are crisp and a deep golden color. It’s best if this happens quickly, but if it doesn’t, then cook it until the depth of color comes.
    Drain it on paper towels, and if you’re waiting for the rest to cook, the first batch(es) can go into a 225-degree oven to hold.

Lemon wedges are the most typical and best accompaniment.


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