These little beauties are Hawkesbury River squid. Caught locally. Purchased at the Sydney Fish Markets early this morning. Sourced from a small, well managed estuary fishery. Ready to be transformed into Calamari Fritti for dinner tonight. Another firm family favourite. My hungry, not so little, seagulls eagerly squeeze lemon wedges over these piping hot, golden rings as they come out of the pot. Eating quickly for fear that they’ll get less than their fair share.
Lately, I have been on a sustainable seafood drive. Many of our seafood species that I loved to eat as I grew up seem to have entirely disappeared from the counters at the fishmongers and markets. Or have become so expensive that I need to think twice before purchasing them. They are falling prey to global warming and overfishing. So much of our dwindling stock is bound for lucrative export markets.
I want my family to grow up enjoying a wide variety of fresh, local seafood. So now before I buy I ask a barrage of questions. I need to know where the fish comes from and how its species is faring. I only buy from reputable suppliers. On the way I’ve had some very interesting conversations. The state of our oceans and destiny of our fish has certainly changed over the last thirty years.
When I was a child we spent our summer holidays on the South Coast at the small seaside township of Burrill Lake. There were oyster beds on the rocks. We spent the summer fishing for flathead and bream. Occasionally we tried our luck catching lobsters with lobster pots. With very mixed results. The nets came out for prawns at night. But only under a new moon. The lake seemed to be illuminated with fairy lights as families brandished their nets and lanterns wading for prawns on the sand flats or the channel. A couple of times a week we would drive to the fish co-operative at Ulladulla and wait for the trawlers to come in. We’d buy the catch straight from the boat. So much wonderful seafood. Plentiful and fresh. Our favourite? Always the calamari. My mother used to say to us. You want to eat it? You have to help clean it.
I’m still a little squeamish cleaning squid. My children will help me. But only after I have decapitated the heads and taken care of the ink sacs and any other unsavoury bits. Hopefully one day they will graduate to completing the whole process unaided. It really isn’t that difficult.
You can buy pre cleaned squid tubes for your calamari fritti but the freshness and flavour isn’t quite the same. For the sweetest and most tender calamari fritti choose the smallest squid you can find.
Calamari Fritti with Lemon and Rocket
Classic Italian summer entertaining. Serve with drinks or as a casual meal with a garden salad. And a crisp riesling or pinot grigio.
Serves 4 – 6
375 ml oil for frying (or as needed depending on size of pan)
1 kg cleaned squid (tubes and tentacles)
1/2 cup plain flour
1/2 cup semolina
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
Lemon wedges, extra virgin olive oil, rocket and sea salt flakes for serving.
RINSE the squid under cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Cut the body of the squid into 1 cm rings. Trim and separate the tentacles as necessary.
COMBINE the flour, semolina, cayenne pepper and salt in a shallow bowl.
DREDGE the calamari rings and tentacles in the flour, shaking off any excess.
HEAT the oil in a medium sized saucepan.
WHEN the oil is hot enough (it should sizzle when you test it with a small tentacle) fry the squid in batches until golden. A couple of minutes per batch is all you should need.
TRANSFER to a plate lined with absorbent kitchen paper.
SERVE at once on a bed of rocket dressed with olive oil. Garnish with lemon wedges and a good sprinkling of sea salt.