Friday, January 15, 2010

January 15th - Calamari Fritti with Creamy Ponzu Dipping Sauce

I'm Not a Cake Decorator

This morning, I ran into someone I haven't seen in years.  (Five to be exact).  So we chatted the usual small talk. "Where you living?  What are you doing?  How's everyone?"  I told her that I went to culinary school, graduated, and became a pastry chef.  Her response: "So do you do those cakes like on food network?"  I gritted my teeth and told her NO.  It's funny because I don't like telling people I'm a pastry chef for that very reason.

I just want to take this opportunity to state that a pastry chef and cake decorator are two different things.  Pastry chefs make desserts like pie, tarts, puff pastry, cookies, creme brulee, and sometimes cake.  Cake decorators make wedding cakes and usually that's all they do.  Yes, every once in a while a pastry chef will make a wedding cake, but they have many more responsibilites than just that.

Now don't get me wrong.  This isn't a snobbery thing.  This isn't a cake decorators vs. pastry chefs things.  I think cake decoratoring is a highly skilled art that takes a creative eye, patience, and a lot of training.  I just want to stress the difference between the two titles.  Personally, I don't like making cakes.  I think its a bit boring (and tedious).   That's just me.  I'd rather make some other kind of dessert like a tart or charlotte.  

And getting back to the food network cake competitions...have you watched them recently?  People, they aren't even cake anymore! They're using Rice Krispie treats and covering them with fondant.  Hell it could be Play-Doh for all we know.  Yes, they're pretty, but they are not edible.   (I'm sure you've been to a wedding where they had a awesome looking cake, but it's tasted like poop...or a restaurant that had a beautiful presentation on their dessert, but it tasted like burnt tootsie rolls?)  I wish we (the culinary community) could focus more on flavor and not asthetics.  (Yeah, you eat with your eyes..yada yada yada.)  Lately, it's been hard to find a good tasting (different) dessert.

Okay.   I'm done ranting. 


I took a drive to my local Asian grocery store to look for Ponzu.  Really, if you don't have Ponzu, you could do a substitution of low sodium soy sauce with a little lemon juice in it.  (It's close and works in a pinch, but isn't really the same).  I suggest going and buying the Ponzu.  And, don't worry about it sitting in your fridge for the next five years.  You can use it in place of soy sauce in a lot of recipes.   Ponzu is becoming more popular now and you may even be able to find it in the Asian section of your bigger grocery stores. 


Mayo (Had)
Ponzu $3.29
Cilantro $0.60
Ginger $0.32
Lime juice (Had)
Cayenne Pepper (Had)
Calamari $3.99
Flour (Had)

Total: $8.20

I really like calamari.  It's one of my favorite seafood choices.  However, it's really easy to screw up... so here are some tips I've learned over the years working in the industry.

1.  Soak the calamari in milk with a little salt and white pepper.  The milk not only helps to take the "fishiness" out of the calamari, but it helps tenderize it as well (because of the lactic acid).  The salt and white pepper helps to season the squid.

2.  Instead of coating the calamari in just all purpose flour, mix in a little corn flour as well.  (Corn flour and corn meal are not the same thing).   Not only does the corn flour add a different flavor, but it gives it more color as well.

3.  After you are done frying your calamari, immediately sprinkle some grated parmesan cheese over it and toss.  The parmesan will melt because of the retained hot oil in the squid and add more flavor and dimension to your calamari.


Fast:  The dipping sauce took me 5 minutes (the chopping of the cilantro and grating of the ginger was most of that time).  The calamari prep and frying took about 10 minutes total.  It could take you longer if you have to do a lot of small batches.   So you're looking at 15 -25 minutes total.

Easy:  Somewhat.  I don't like frying food in the house (I hate that smell it gives off) and clean up is a pain.  Otherwise, the dip part is a matter of just mixing ingredients in a bowl.

Fresh:  Yes.  This dipping sauce is a different spin on the classicfried calamari.  The ponzu and cilantro add the fresh element to the recipe.

Overall:  This recipe is so-so.  I would let the dipping sauce sit in the fridge for a little while to let the flavors meld a little more.  Definitely toss the just fried calamari in the parmesan cheese (and some finely chopped cilantro).  I didn't and regret it.   If you're in the mood to stink up your house with the smell of frying oil, definitely give this recipe a try.  It's actually not that bad.

Tommorrow is dessert day!  I may have a bonus for you??  NO, it's not a wedding cake!


Angie said...

I agree with you on the cake competitions. I enjoy watching the cake decorators and admire their artistry, but I prefer a simple cake with buttercream icing or other dessert.

I am getting married soon and one of the first things I said was NO FONDANT anywhere near my wedding. We are having cupcakes, cookies, and homemade candies. All prepared by the bride and her daughter.

Nikki said...

Nice tips in this one. I've never fried anything! And after our foray into Wisconsin state fairs last summer, you know I love it. Are there frying tips... do you have to use a particular type of pot? oil? thermometer?...

SuperStar Chef Mark said...

Angie, congratulations on the wedding. Please take/post pictures! I'd love to see the cupcakes!

SuperStar Chef Mark said...

For frying, I just use a large pot. I don't use a thermometer. I just kind of guage it by eye. Make sure you use a vegetable oil or peanut oil. NEVER try to deep fry with olive oil. Oils all have different "smoke points" which means some can be brought to high temperature and some can not.