It occurred to me that in just a handful of years, my oldest son will be a teenager. A teenager!! This doesn't seem possible, and yet I would be lying if I said it felt like only yesterday when there was a 10-pound butterball turkey in my belly (well, 9 lbs. 12 oz. once he peed all over the OR staff). It doesn't feel like yesterday at all. But certainly not double-digit years before yesterday. Already he eats more than me and has the same size feet. I'm a little bit scared about the amount of food he's going to require once he doubles his weight and towers over me like his dad—and his little brother isn't far behind. I'll be cooking morning, noon, and night!
Nevertheless, my oldest is a joy to cook for because he likes so many of the same things I like, doesn't mind a little spice, and will eat any kind of seafood you throw at him. He particularly loves the Rhode Island-style calamari at the Chateau in Waltham. "Rhode Island-style" means the crispy fried rings and tentacles are tossed with thin loops of pickled hot peppers. The combination is utterly addictive. I knew it couldn't be that hard to make at home, and I planned to wing it using a jar of pepperoncini and some cherry-red peppadew peppers I had in the fridge. Then I found a Jasper White recipe from The Summer Shack Cookbook that tossed the whole shebang with garlic butter, and I couldn't find a single thing wrong with that.
According to White, Rhode Island has the largest squid-fishing fleet on the East Coast. You'll start to see local squid from Rhode Island in the spring, throughout the summer, and into the fall. I request half bodies and half tentacles because I love the fried tentacles best (more surface area for the crispy batter!). Banana peppers are traditional, but use whatever pickled hot peppers you desire. This was a hit with the whole family. Sure, the little one picked out the hot peppers—more for us. At this rate, the kids won't be getting any smaller, but I guess that's the whole idea behind this parenting thing.
The real trick is not to cook them too long or they will turn out as rubbery as a bicycle tire. A minute or less is all I needed. Cook a few and test for tenderness before proceeding with the rest. The original recipe doubled the garlic butter (which you may feel free to revert to), but I think it's plenty flavorful with half.
1 lb. cleaned medium squid (bodies and tentacles)
3/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (or 1 tsp. paprika)
Canola or peanut oil for deep-frying (about 6 cups)
1 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup sliced pickled peppers (like banana peppers, pepperoncini, or peppadew), drained
Cut the squid bodies into rings. Leave the tentacles whole unless they look ridiculously large. In a medium shallow bowl, combine the cornstarch, flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, and cayenne/paprika. Pour buttermilk into another bowl. Line a rimmed sheet pan with paper towels.
Heat a heavy, medium, high-sided saucepan with 3 inches of oil until it reaches 375°F on a candy thermometer. Meanwhile, soak a few rings and tentacles in the buttermilk. With a slotted spoon, transfer to flour mixture and toss to coat. Scoop back up with the slotted spoon, shake off excess batter, and drop gently into hot oil. Cook 30 seconds to 1 minute until batter is golden but calamari is still tender. Transfer to paper towels to drain and sprinkle with salt while still hot. Repeat with remaining calamari in 4-5 batches. If the oil drops below 350°F, let it heat up again between batches. Transfer fried squid to serving platter.
In a small frying pan, melt the butter. Add the chopped garlic and sauté just until golden, 1-2 minutes. Add the sliced hot peppers and toss to coat. Drizzle calamari with garlic butter and peppers. Serve immediately with marinara sauce on the side if you like.
Source: Adapted from The Summer Shack Cookbook by Jasper White.