Buttermilk-battered onion rings and calamari

Source: Fine Cooking #121 (also at FineCooking.com)

I love making restaurant food at home, especially when it turns out better and cheaper than the restaurant version.

While you can get inexpensive onion rings at any fast food place, they’re nothing exciting. If you order them in a nice pub or grill, they’re delicious but expensive. Same thing with fried calamari… absolutely delicious when done right, but always a bit more than I want to pay.

So I decided to make these at home.

For the calamari, I purchased frozen squid from the grocery store (for much cheaper than at the fish market). Before you panic, keep in mind that most squid, shrimp and exotic fish sold at fish markets are flash-frozen on the boat… they simply wouldn’t make it here otherwise. Fish markets will generally be selling higher quality product than packaged frozen seafood in grocery stores, but don’t immediately discount frozen seafood.

I used this Fine Cooking recipe for onion rings for both the onion rings and the fried calamari (if it’s good enough for onions, I figured it would be good for squid too). Thick-cut onion rings (along with the calamari) are first soaked in buttermilk. Thick buttermilk will help the batter stick, while providing additional flavour. The batter is a simple mixture of 2-parts flour to 1-part fine cornmeal, along with salt to taste.

Next comes the deep frying. I like to deep fry in a 6-quart cast iron dutch oven (the heavy cast iron helps keep the heat constant) with a full gallon of vegetable oil. I always use a thermometer to monitor the temperature of the oil. You want to keep the oil around 375°F. Anything lower, and the fool will absorb oil and be soggy… anything much hotter, and the outside will burn before cooking through. (Although for this meal, we’re not cooking anything too thick like fried chicken, so it’s less of a concern.) Adjust the heat as necessary and give the oil enough time between batches to come back to temperature. Between batches, transfer the fried onion rings and calamari to a baking sheet lined with a drying rack in a 200°F oven. (Using a drying rack ensures the fried food stays crispy on all sides.) As the chef, you get to test one piece from every batch.

Serve with whatever dipping sauce you like… in my case, I made a spicy aioli by mixing mayo with mustard and hot sauce.

And there you have it… not a light meal, but a delicious treat every now and then. And at a fraction of the cost compared to a restaurant.

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