Hand-rolled pasta and focaccia light enough to defy gravity are only some of the things to ogle over at Emilia, Matt Gallaher's Italian restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee. But the chef's biggest magic trick of all is his fritto misto, which was as shatteringly crisp at the end of a two-hour dinner as it was when the basket of fried seafood and vegetables first hit our table.
Gallaher was generous enough to share the recipe with us, revealing how the dish's airy, crackly quality is due to rice flour and white wine in the batter. A side of zingy Calabrian chile aioli will keep you reaching back for seconds.
Whatever you choose to fry is completely up to you: Rings of calamari are the classic option, while florets of broccolini become almost kettle-chip crunchy in the fryer. Plus, because this fritto stays crisp for so long, you can get away with making it before dinner party guests show up—a rare quality in the realm of fried food.
Fritto Misto with Calabrian Chile Aioli
Recipe adapted from Matt Gallaher, Emilia, Knoxville, TN
Yield: Serves 6 to 8
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
For the Calabrian Chile Aioli:
2 egg yolks
2½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Calabrian chile paste, divided
1½ teaspoons sherry vinegar
2½ teaspoons distilled white vinegar
¾ teaspoons salt
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¾ cup canola oil
For the Fritto Misto:
Peanut or canola oil for frying
2½ cups rice flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
1¼ cups dry white wine
1¼ cups water
½ pound calamari, cleaned and cut into rings
½ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 bunch broccolini, separated into florets
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 small delicata squash, seeded and thinly sliced
1 Meyer lemon, thinly sliced, plus additional wedges for serving
1. Make the aioli: In a food processor, blend together the egg yolks, Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of the Calabrian chile paste, vinegars and salt. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the oils until a thick mayonnaise forms. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the reserved Calabrian chile paste.
2. Make the fritto misto: Pour enough oil into a 6-quart pan to reach a depth of at least 2 inches. Heat the oil to 375°.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the rice flour, baking powder and salt. Add the white wine and water, and stir until a smooth batter forms. Add more rice flour or water if necessary until you achieve a thin pancake batter-like consistency.
4. One at a time, dip the seafood and vegetables into the batter and tap off any excess against the side of the bowl, so only a thin layer remains. Fry in batches for 2 to 4 minutes until crisp and lightly golden. Drain on a towel-lined plate and season with salt. Serve with the Calabrian chile aioli.
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