We love calamares as much as our pre-teen cousins or beer-bellied titos. What’s not to like? Deep-fried squid rings encased in a crunchy breading. Sure, it’s a knock-off of Mediterranean (or is the fried version American?) calamari. But the culture around—and the method behind—it is purely Filipino, which explains why we’ll never find a local restaurant without it on the menu. (Though we’re not looking for any.)
Though as straightforward to make as it is to eat, calamares aren’t always the crispy, golden squid rings we expect them to be. We’ve encountered versions that take a day and a half to chew, or ones that are too oily or badly battered that there’s no satisfying crunch. To make sure that no one—or at least anyone who reads our recipes—has unsatisfying calamares ever again, we developed our own recipe that promises squid rings that are tender and coated in a crust that’s both crisp and crunchy.
One of the best parts about this recipe is that you don’t need to go through the trouble of prepping fresh squid. Of course, if you’re willing, you can clean and make rings out of fresh squid. That’ll bring a different depth of freshness and flavor.
But feel free to use frozen squid rings, too. These work great because they’re already cleaned and prepped. Plus, they’re uniform in size, making it easier to cook evenly. You can find bags of them in the freezer section of most supermarkets.
The way the batter or breading of calamares is done can make or break the dish. Most recipes follow the three-step dredge—flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs—which isn’t so bad. But it gets a bit tricky since the eggs can be temperamental; plus, the breadcrumbs don’t always adhere as well onto the squid.
As a test, we tried this recipe with our basic tempura batter. And while that gave us a light and crispy coating, it didn’t feel substantial enough. So we tried doing a combo of the tempura batter and Panko breadcrumbs, resulting in calamares that were both crispy (batter) and crunchy (breadcrumbs). The tempura batter also helped the breadcrumbs adhere to the squid, making for a heavier coating.
How to Make Pepper’s Best Calamares
If you’re using fresh squid for this recipe, go and take a peek into our guide on how to clean squid before starting to ensure that your seafood is prepped and ready to go. Make sure that your rings are large so they hold into the batter better, getting those breadcrumbs to adhere all over. Larger rings also help ensure that the coating stays crispy longer.
First, prepare the tempura batter by whisking together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly whisk in the soda water until a wet batter forms.
Add your squid to the batter, making sure that every piece is evenly coated.
Piece by piece, transfer the battered squid to the breadcrumbs and coat well. Place the breaded squid onto a tray and repeat until done. While breading, preheat some frying oil to 350F.
When ready to fry, drop the calamares into the oil and fry until golden brown. Squid doesn’t take long to cook, so as soon as the batter is nicely colored, then the squid is already ready.
Remove the calamares from the heat and transfer them onto a cooling rack or a paper towel-lined tray to drain excess oil. Make sure to season with salt while hot!
Serve the calamares with your dip of choice. Just finishing it with lemon juice works, allowing the squid and the coating to shine. But you can also pair it with tartar sauce, mayonnaise, aioli, or even a 50/50 mix of ketchup (we recommend banana ketchup!) and mayo.
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