Experts: Francis Garcia and Sal Basille
Cred: Owners, Artichoke Basille’s Pizza; stars, Pizza Masters on The Cooking Channel
Cousins Sal and Francis don’t make calamari on their show or in their pizzerias, but they’re fourth generation restaurant guys who formerly ran their family’s well-known Italian joint on Staten Island, and they do still fry up squid on the holidays for the most demanding customers around -- that same family. Needless to say, they’ve got some strong thoughts on where many kitchens go wrong:
- They’re not using clean oil. Since calamari’s flavor is so delicate, it’ll take on the flavor of whatever was frying previously.
- They’re not using a neutral oil (e.g., soybean oil, vs. the more flavorful peanut oil). This could cause the calamari to take on the flavor of the oil itself.
- The coating’s too heavy. Breadcrumbs weigh down the rings. All that’s needed is to drag the squid through some milk, toss it in a little wheat flour, and shake off the excess.
- They cook it too long. Five minutes in the deep fryer is all it needs to get that little snap. Longer than that, the rings get rubbery. As for the tentacles, they’re supposed to get dropped in at the very end -- they cook very quickly and if they’re left in the oil too long, they’ll just disintegrate.
- They overcrowd the fryer, causing everything to stick together or be unevenly cooked.
- They don’t say calamari right. It’s pronounced Gah-la-maahd.
What to ask your server: “Do you buy your calamari breaded and frozen?”
It’s not enough to just ask, “Does it come frozen?” because some of the best spots will buy it frozen, but raw, which doesn’t diminish quality. But if it arrives breaded & frozen it’ll be weighed down by crumb coating, and will sink to the bottom of your stomach.
You could try asking if they fry in separate oil, but they’ll probably lie to you, so here’s another tip: The best time to order fried calamari is before 6pm, when a kitchen is getting ready for the dinner rush and the oil will be at its freshest. Sometimes it’s good to be an old person who eats early.