Mixed fried seafood – or fritto misto di mare – can be found all over Italy; however, the most iconic and evocative incarnation hails from Campania. Indeed, it’s easy to imagine sitting in a Neapolitan trattoria eating crispy, scorching pieces of fried seafood while gazing out over the Bay of Naples.
Red mullet, squid or cuttlefish and shrimp are common choices you might find in classic versions. Seafood is lightly dusted with flour before frying and should be eaten straight from the pan to be crisp.
In a home kitchen, we knew we would need to fry our seafood in batches to keep the temperature of the oil from dropping too much. Adding cornstarch to the mix kept our first batch crisp while we fry the second. (Unlike flour, cornstarch is a pure starch whose molecules lock together during the frying process to form a dry, brittle coating.)
For fish, the easy-to-find, mild-tasting sole or plaice fillets were thin enough to cook for the time it took for the coating to brown well. The shrimp are fried and eaten in the shell and everything, because the shell is crisp. We found that by cutting through the shells we could achieve even more delicate results as moisture could escape quickly.
To keep the shells crispy, avoid using oversized or jumbo shrimp. Here we prefer shrimp 31 to 40, but 26 to 30 can be substituted. Use a Dutch oven that holds 6 or more quarts. Cut the squid tentacles larger than 3 inches.
Makes 6 servings
From “Tasting Italy” by America’s Test Kitchen.
12 ounces of medium to large shrimp (31 to 40 per pound)
3 liters of vegetable oil
Â½ cup all-purpose flour
Â¼ cup cornstarch
12 ounces of squid, bodies sliced ââcrosswise into rings Â½ inch thick, tentacles left whole
12 ounces skinless sole or flounder fillets, Â¼ to Â½ inch thick, halved lengthwise and cut diagonally into 1 inch strips
Set the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 225 degrees. Using kitchen scissors or a sharp paring knife, cut the shrimp shell and deveine, but do not remove the shell. Wipe the shrimp with paper towels. Place the wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet and line with a triple layer of paper towel. Add the oil to a large Dutch oven until it is about 2 inches deep and heat over medium-high heat to 400 degrees. Whisk flour and cornstarch in large bowl until blended; put aside.
Carefully add the shrimp to the oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Adjust the burner as needed to keep the oil temperature between 350 degrees and 375 degrees. Using a skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to the prepared grill. Season with salt and transfer to the oven.
Return the oil to 400 degrees. Wipe off the squid with paper towels. Dip the squid in the cornstarch mixture, shaking off excess, and carefully add to the oil. Cook, stirring as needed to prevent the squid from sticking, until the squid is crisp and light golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack with the shrimp. Season with salt and transfer to the oven.
Return the oil to 400 degrees. Dry the sole with paper towels. Dip the sole in the cornstarch mixture, shaking off excess, and gently add to the oil. Cook, stirring as needed to prevent sticking, until sole is crisp and pale golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack with the shrimp and squid. Salt and let drain briefly. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.
PER SERVING: 345 calories, 24g protein, 15g carbohydrate, 0 fiber, 0 sugar, 21g fat (2g saturated), 225 mg cholesterol, 569 mg sodium