A Golden Crunch to Carry You Into Spring
TO me, crunchy fried food is hearty fare, the kind of thing I crave by the bucket in the frigid cold. But spring is middle ground, when the call for golden crackly fried morsels still rings loud, but so does the siren song of salad.
With the mercury rising past 50 degrees one recent balmy evening, I found myself craving both. So I made a fried calamari salad, bulked out with baby arugula.
And since I didn’t want to wait for the oil to heat up in a deep-fry, I decided to shallow-fry. The rule of thumb with shallow frying is that the oil in the pan should cover a little more than half the morsel of food you lower into it. Once that morsel thoroughly browns on one side, you flip it so it browns nicely on the other side.
Naturally, smaller tidbits like squid are perfectly suited to this method, particularly the tentacles, which turn potato-chip crisp on the ends while the centers stay moist and springy.
To further cut the richness of the fried squid, I added some thin lemon wedges to the oil, allowing the peels to caramelize while the pulp crisped into thin, tart wafers that melted when you bit down.
Frying squid and lemons was the extent of my plan, but once the oil was hot, I found that I didn’t want to stop.
In the refrigerator were some maitake mushrooms I’d intended to roast, but I knew from past flights of frying that maitakes — with all their little nooks and crevices — turn into brittle, crunchy strands. I thought their earthiness would be a nice match with the tanginess of the arugula.
So I cut the them into squiggly slivers and shallow-fried them, too. Then I tossed them with the squid and the lemons, adding the arugula and some grated Parmesan for depth and fresh lemon juice for brightness.
Before the arugula had time to wilt, I gobbled everything up. It was a light meal with a golden crunch, just what the season ordered.
Crispy Calamari, Lemon and Maitake Salad Over Arugula
Time: 45 minutes
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt, more for seasoning
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, more for seasoning
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound squid, rinsed and patted dry
1 lemon, plus additional wedges for garnish
1/4 cup fine cornmeal
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Olive oil, for frying
1/4 pound maitake mushrooms, cut into bite-size pieces
8 cups baby arugula
1 ounce Parmesan, shaved.
1. To make the dressing, in a small bowl whisk together the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pinch of pepper until the salt dissolves. Whisk in the olive oil.
2. To prepare the squid and lemon, cut the squid tentacles in half and the bodies into 1/4-inch rings. Slice the lemon lengthwise into quarters and then thinly slice each quarter crosswise, discarding any seeds. In a wide shallow bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Dredge the squid and lemon slices in the cornmeal mixture.
3. Heat 1/2 inch oil to 350 degrees in a large, straight-sided skillet. Frying in batches to avoid crowding, cook the mushrooms until golden, about 1 minute per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to a paper-towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt. Repeat with the squid, followed by the lemon slices.
4. In a large bowl, toss the arugula, mushrooms, squid and lemon slices with the dressing. Add the Parmesan and toss gently once more. Serve with lemon wedges.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings.