Fried Calamari Salad with Caperberris and Lemon Aioli
Looking back on my life, I recognize the most effective heart-felt lessons have been extremely painful to learn.
Often we hope and pray for smooth sailing;–for health, wealth, and loving relationships. We claim to be teachable in the good times, but it’s the harrowing moments that force us to stare our character in the face, and make adjustments.
Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn. ~C.S. Lewis
My husband and I would agree, that it’s the lean times that have taught us to be wise with our money. It’s the moments when it seems the fire is gone, that have taught us to prioritize our marriage. It’s the behavioral issues that have taught us to be patient, but firm with our children.
The good times are fun and easy… but that’s it. I’m not wishing for doom and gloom to come upon my life so that I can continue learning. I’m just pointing out, the rough times are worthwhile. Tests will either break you, or draw out your creativity, resolve and resourcefulness.
Have you ever noticed that people who have floated through life have NO problem solving skills what-so-ever? Then when the rains come, they are completely washed away by their troubles. On the other hand, those who have been through a lot in life, are poised to attack the problem and gain understanding for the next battle. If you think about it, most millionaires, noble prize winners, and historic world-changers could tell you story after story of their failures, but they pressed on… Just something to ponder today.
The same rules apply in the kitchen. Of course, we don’t want our steak to burn or souffle to collapse, but when they do, we assess, correct and come away a stronger cook. This is no time to throw up our hands and choose to avoid the kitchen. Cooking can be a battle, but it’s worth the fight.
I have two goals in presenting this fried calamari recipe today. First, to offer you a lovely meal that is perfect for a main course or first-course. Second, I want to address some common cooking issues that I’ve had to learn through trail and error over the years.
What do I do if my aioli is runny? I’ve had this happen on several occasions. Watery aioli is caused by one of two things: Either your egg yolks were cold, or you added the oil too fast for the aioli to emulsify. This is easy to fix. First, nip the issue in the bud by starting your ailoi with room-temperature egg yolks. Then puree/beat/whisk them into a frenzy before ever adding the oil. I usually puree the egg yolks in the food processor for 1-2 minutes, before moving on. If you tried this and you still have runny aioli, pour the aioli into a bowl. Add one more egg yolk to the processor and whip the fire out of it! Then SLOWLY pour your original aioli back into the food processor. Your aioli should firm up quickly.
How can I keep my greens and herbs from getting bruised edges when I cut them? This is a common problem; you cut your basil into lovely green julienne strips, and the next thing you know, all the edges are black! This can’t be completely avoided for some preparations, but the general rule is that your greens will bruise less and hold up longer if you hand-tear them. When you tear them, you aren’t applying any pressure on the line of division, so there’s less damage. When you must slice your greens, you could add a little lemon juice to guard against bruising, if it doesn’t contradict the flavors in the dish.
Why aren’t my fried foods crispy? Nothing is worse than soggy fried calamari. Now, I’m not an expert on this, because I generally avoid frying. But I can tell you, oil temperature and cornstarch make a huge difference. If your oil isn’t heated to the proper temperature, your either burn the breading before the interior or cook through, or overcook the calamari, both result in textural issues. A good standard temperature for frying is 375 degrees F. It worth buying a thermometer to make sure you’ve got the temperature right. Also make sure that you bring the temperature back up between batches.
Cornstarch. All I can say is that cornstarch and frying were Meant To Be. Batter or breading with cornstarch in it, tends to have a superior crunch factor, over those with just flour or cornmeal. Give it a try.
Why is my Calamari rubbery? This is always due to overcooking. Always. Calamari cooks in a flash, so don’t be afraid to pull them out in a hurry.
I hope my errors bring you some success!
This Fried Calamari Salad with Caperberries and Lemon Aioli is vibrant, crisp, and slightly indulgent. The crunchy coating on the calamari works well with the silky texture of the aioli–and both provide a sumptuous quality to an otherwise light dish. The caperberries offer a sharp bite that complements the rich ailoi. If you can’t find them substitute capers or your favorite olives.
Heat a large pot with 1-2 quarts of oil to 375 degrees F.
Slice the calamari tubes into ½ inch rings, and trim the tentacles if needed.
Mix the cornstarch, flour, cornmeal, garlic powder, cayenne, salt and pepper in a pan. Pat the calamari rings dry, then dredge them in the flour mixture.Shake off the excess flour, then working in batches gently place the calamari down in the oil, Stir so the calamari with separate. Cook for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, until the breading in light golden brown. Remove with a skimmer and place on a paper towel lined plate. Repeat with the rest. Keep warm in a 200 degree F oven if not eating immediately.
(Sorry, the frying happens so quickly I couldn’t get a good photo.)
Place the garlic, egg yolks and cayenne in the food processor. Puree until lighter in color and texture—1-2 minutes.
Then slowly add in the oil until the aioli thickens. Blend in the lemon zest, and half the juice. Taste, then season with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice if needed. Set aside.
Tear the watercress off the stems and the basil leaves into large pieces. Arrange on plates. Top with halved cherry tomatoes, red onions and caperberries. Place a portion of calamari on the top and serve with aioli!