On my first trip to Tokyo, I had this great fried calamari over seaweed with a spicy mayonnaise-based sauce. Later that year, I was sitting in a café in Rome, drinking limoncello, a liquor that tastes like really, really good lemonade with a kick. (We keep a bottle of it in our freezer all summer long.) Suddenly—eureka!–I got this great idea: calamari salad, based on the one I had in Tokyo, but with a lemonade-flavored sauce! Tokyo calamari with greens plus Roman streetside limoncello in one dish? That, my friends, is truly Urban Italian.
This salad’s got everything: it’s leafy, crunchy, sweet, and sour all in the same bite. The acid of the lemon sauce is great with the fried calamari–like lemon juice on steroids, it breaks down the fried flavor and brightens everything up.
- 4 medium-sized lemons
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or Tabasco
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup corn oil
- 6 cups corn oil or grape seed oil
- 1½ pounds calamari (cleaned by your fishmonger)
- 10 ounces club soda
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons salt, plus a pinch for sprinkling at the end
- ½ teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper or paprika
- 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 1 head arugula, washed and with stems removed
- 10 fresh, ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup Peppadew peppers (or peperoncini), quartered, plus 2 tablespoons juice
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of ½ lemon
- Salt and coarse-ground black pepper to taste
To prepare the lemon sauce:
1. Put a small pot of water on to boil.
2. Peel the lemons with a vegetable peeler. If there’s any excess white stuff inside the peel, scrape it off with a paring knife and discard it. Reserve the outer peel.
3. Juice the lemons; you should have about 1/3 cup of lemon juice. Reserve the juice.
4. When the water has boiled, add the lemon peel and cook until the pieces of peel are soft: about 7 minutes. Drain the peels and rinse them under cold water to cool.
5. Combine the lemon peel, sugar, cayenne or Tabasco, egg yolk, salt, and 2 tablespoons of water in the blender. Purée to combine the ingredients thoroughly, then add the olive and corn oils slowly, one at a time, as you continue to blend. When it’s done, the sauce should be yellow-white and frothy, and it should taste like really good lemonade with a tiny kick.
To prepare the calamari:
1. Heat the corn oil or grape seed oil over high heat in a large pot on the stove.
2. Rinse the calamari well under cold water in a colander. Separate the heads (the purple parts with the arms) and the bodies (the white bits). Keep the heads whole. Slice the calamari bodies into ½-inch wide rounds. Place the calamari pieces in a bowl and pour the club soda over them.
4. Combine the flour, salt, pepper, and paprika or cayenne in a large metal bowl. Drain the calamari in a fine sieve and dump them into the flour mixture. Mix well to coat every piece.
4. When the oil reaches about 375° (that is, when you put a piece of calamari in and it crackles), put the calamari in to fry in 3 or 4 batches, so they’re not crowded. Fry each batch for about 2 minutes, until the pieces are really crispy (but don’t fry’em till they’re brown like they do it at your favorite beer bar—the pieces should retain their color). Remove the calamari with a spider, place them on a paper-towel-lined plate, and immediately sprinkle them with salt, so the salt adheres to the oil on the calamari.
To prepare the salad and finish the dish:
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the fennel, arugula, cherry tomatoes, and Peppadew peppers with their juice. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
2. Divide the salad mixture onto 6 plates. Top with calamari and drizzle with the lemon sauce. Serve immediately.