One of my main go-to Chinese food staples when ordering at a Chinese restaurant – is salt and pepper squid. This delectable goodness combines three of my favorite textures: salty, spicy, and deliciously fried. Before actually cooking this for myself at home – I would frequent (regularly) various Chinese restaurants within the Boston area. Some would be way too salty, some way to greasy, and some the batter seemed completely unappetizing overall. Every now and then – I would come across that magical balance of all three textures that would culminate into absolute heavenly goodness. After trying (read: fatty) so many different variations throughout Boston and even in New York City and San Francisco – I came to the realization that I could actually replicate exactly how I wanted it. Surprisingly enough, the recipe itself is extremely simple and easy.
While home for the holidays, I taught my family and cooked up these bad boys. Pre fry – the kitchen was a deserted area. Post fry – I had to beat them away from the kitchen area. It practically went from frying pan to mouth. So be forewarned, if you decide to prepare these goodies – plan to buy a little more than normal (squid and even shrimp) - as the "post fry left on the plate" time is little to nothing.
Here is what you will need.
1-2lbs Squid (a mix of body parts and tentacles)
Optional: 1-2lbs shrimp (deveined with shells/tails on)
Sea salt – coarsely ground
Ground black pepper
Take the squid (or shrimp) pieces and rinse thoroughly to remove any outstanding “fishy” smell. Then set aside and pat dry with a paper towel. Once dry, cut the squid body into small ¾ inch pieces. Then set aside.
Take a large bowl and eyeball enough cornstarch to coat your squid (or shrimp) pieces. Add sea salt and black pepper to the cornstarch. Ok, now listen carefully because this particular step will separate delicious tasting salt and pepper squid from mediocre flavored. While seasoning the cornstarch, I often dab a bit of the mixture on my finger and taste. I know, gross – right?! It sounds completely disgusting but its how I know if I’ve added enough salt. BUT if you opt out from my weirdo tasting method – then you can adjust the lack of salt post fry (see the end of the recipe).
Next, take squid (or shrimp) pieces and coat in the cornstarch. Heat up the oil and test a few pieces. Drain the fried pieces on a raised cooling rack – and allow the oil to drain onto a baking sheet. You can also drain the oil using a paper towel.
Here is where you can adjust -- taste the first few fried pieces and tweak with more salt or pepper. Finally, sprinkle chili flakes on top and squeeze a bit of lime as well. Serve and watch it all disappear. Bon appetite!