Tempura Fried Calamari

Do you like fried calamari? If so, just imagine the lightest, crispiest, melt-in-your-mouth-iest coating over the most tender squid, and this would be it. The tempura version.

I love fried calamari, but you know what? After this tempura, I’m not going back. This is just too good. Eat the whole batch good.

And oddly enough, it’s light, or at least a lot lighter than the heavy cornmeal coating you usually find on its Italian cousin.

Tempura is a Japanese preparation of batter-dipped, deep fried foods, usually vegetables and seafood. Apparently the method was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese in the 1500s.

When I lived in Japan we ate it frequently, and tempura can usually be found on practically every menu in typical Japanese restaurants here in the states.

The batter is quite light, and fries up to a gossamer-like crispy crust. The tricks are 1) keeping the oil at the right temperature – too hot and the food will burn, too cool and the result will be greasy, and 2) working quickly while keeping the batter cold.

Another nifty trick for keeping the batter light, taught to me by Hank, is to use bubbly soda water instead of flat water.

Squid is a perfect food for making tempura because it cooks up so fast. Squid you either have to cook very quickly, or slow and low. Anything in between and it’s chewy and rubbery.

So the quick frying in tempura batter is ideal for squid. Of course if you would rather use other seafood, you can use this batter with shrimp, pieces of lobster, oysters, clams, small fish, or pieces of larger fish.

Or you can skip the seafood altogether and just tempura fry some vegetables, like strips of carrot or broccoli florets.

The squid rings cut from the body are easier to fry than the tentacles, which tend to clump. If you have both, fry the rings first, then the tentacles.

Do not double the recipe. The batter needs to be kept cold and used immediately after making. So it’s better to work with small batches.

If you want to make more, mix a second batch together after you’ve gone through the first batch.

  • 1 pound cleaned squid
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup ice cold sparkling water (the colder the better)
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 3/4 cup rice or regular flour
  • Canola oil or peanut oil for frying (high smoke point vegetable oil)
  • A deep fryer

1 Slice the squid tubes into rings: Slice the squid tubes into rings about 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch wide. Leave the tentacles whole.

2 Heat oil in a deep fryer or large heavy pot: This recipe was designed for a deep-fryer, but you can also fill a large, heavy-bottomed pot (keep a lid nearby, for safety reasons) halfway with oil, about 3 inches deep. Heat the oil to 360-370°F.

3 Mix dry ingredients: While the oil is heating, mix all the dry ingredients together well.

4 Mix sparkling water with egg yolk, then mix with dry ingredients: Once the oil has reached 360°F, take the sparkling water out of the refrigerator and mix it with the egg yolk. Immediately mix it in with the dry ingredients.

Mix quickly. Do not worry if there are clumps or lumps. Over-mixing may cause the batter to become chewy when cooked.

5 Dip squid pieces in batter and fry in hot oil: Working in small batches at a time (about 8 pieces), dip the squid pieces in the batter. Pick them up one by one and gently put them in the hot oil. (Note if your fingers are coated with the batter, it will help protect them from splatter.)

When the squid pieces are in the oil, use a chopstick or the handle of a wooden spoon to dislodge any squid pieces that may have become stuck from the bottom of the pot or fryer. Fry for 45 seconds to 1 minute, and remove to paper towels to drain.

Note that when done, they will NOT be golden brown, but more of a pale yellow or tan.

Repeat with the rest of the squid. Working in batches will help keep the oil temperature from falling too far while you are frying the squid.

6 Serve immediately: Serve immediately with lime or lemon wedges, soy sauce, ponzu sauce, Tabasco or another hot sauce.

Once the cooking oil has completely cooled (after about 2 hours), strain it through a paper towel-lined sieve, and save it to reuse the next time you want to deep fry seafood.

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