The darling of New Bistro chefs, this tangly fritto. I would be the first to admit this concoction is more gracefully produced in a restaurant, where the chef, I’m sure, doesn’t have the sensation of flying blind over a veritable Atlantic of boiling oil. But if you like squid don’t give up.
Squid I certainly didn’t know about in my non-Italian childhood. I think my awakening must have been at Il Cenacolo, a delightful Italo-American lunch club that still meets every Thursday in North Beach. I was a member for several years a long time ago, until my consumption of too much good Louis Martini wine at lunch incapacitated me for metaphors in the afternoon. Also, my damaged leg from a monumental accident was mending, and filled with a seeming barrel-full of Louis’ Barbera I walked two miles back to the office one day in a fit of joy and cracked a bone or some such thing unapproved by Dr. Niebauer.
A lawyer named Fleishell, I believe, was a regular at the Fior d’Italia and he had inspired the chef to cook up an addictive dish in which fried calamari was entwined with sautéed onions. It used to be called Calamari Fleishell, now it’s Calamari 1886, that being the date Fior opened, at a slightly different location.
Mr. Fleishell and I collaborated not only on a love of good squid but a “quality of life” issue on the streets of San Francisco. My native town forever contrives to be the most sophisticated and the most inept city on earth, and at that time, when my fellow squid-lover was heading a “beautification” program out of City Hall, I alerted him to the fact that the corner containers for garbage in our mecca were merely old oil drums, produced from heaven knows where. He leapt into action, and the improvement is still visible all about the town.
First off, sift 3/8 cup of cornstarch and 1/4 cup of flour into 1/4 cup of cold water and whisk until a thin paste is formed.
Then pat one pound of cleaned squid very dry with paper towels, slice it, coat it with the paste and fry it, in batches, for a minute or so in an inch of very hot olive oil, stirring vigorously — try to stand a mile away from the splatter! Serve over lightly vinaigretted greens with our saffron mayonnaise.