Cornmeal Is The Simple Pantry Staple That Makes Calamari Extra Crispy

You might be familiar with calamari as a popular appetizer at a number of different restaurants across the United States, but have you ever tried to make it at home? While sourcing out tiny squid rings might not be on your to-do list, it is by far the only difficult ingredient to find for this dish. The real key to a good, crispy calamari is actually to be found in a simple pantry staple you may be overlooking: cornmeal.

Cornmeal is nothing more than dried yellow corn that has been ground into consistencies ranging from coarse to fine. It is a key ingredient in cornbread but is versatile across a wide range of different recipes and cooking methods. It provides a wonderfully crispy crust for mozzarella sticks, fried chicken, and, of course, calamari. A perfect piece of fried calamari is tender, not rubbery, meat cloaked in a crispy shell. The cornmeal shell offers that extra bit of textural complexity and makes for a truly enjoyable eating experience.

The reason cornmeal works so well for coating calamari is that cornmeal grain fries up nice and crispy. Depending on the grind, cornmeal can either be thick like beach sand, or loose like riverbed pebbles. However thick the grind, the little corn granules will pop and become incredibly crisp when placed in frying oil. There really is nothing better than a batch of calamari.

How to make crispy calamari

We're going to assume that you found the squid rings you need to make a nice batch of crispy calamari. First things first, you will need to soak the squid for a period of time in some kind of thick, relatively acidic liquid. Buttermilk works extremely well for this. It helps tenderize the squid, while also being viscous enough to allow your cornmeal breading to stick to the rings. Marinate the squid for anywhere from two to 24 hours in the refrigerator.

Next, you will need to prepare your breading. Now, cornmeal, even at its finest grind, is a little too coarse to coat the calamari completely. Instead, make up a breading mix of all-purpose flour, corn flour, cornmeal, and whatever seasonings you'd like to have flavoring your finished product. Old Bay seasoning, black pepper, salt, chili powder, and turmeric are all fantastic seasonings for calamari.

Once the squid is finished marinating, dredge the individual rings in the breading mixture and fry them in batches in hot frying oil, with a temp of around 375 degrees Fahrenheit. The calamari will only need a little under a minute to achieve a wonderful golden hue and be beautifully crispy when out of the oil. Allow the calamari to rest briefly on a paper towel to shed any excess grease, give them a nice dusting of chopped fresh parsley, and serve with marinara sauce.