9 June 2015

Fritto misto di mare

After a week of gales and rain, the weather finally came good last weekend, and we got our first real dose of summer. One of the great joys of living by the seaside is that when the weather turns good, it feels like you are on holiday, without having had the hassle of catching a plane or train, or endless hours of driving. I decided to go with the holiday vibe, and cook an Italian classic, fritto misto di mare (literally ‘mixed fried seafood’ – like many food descriptions, it sounds sexier in Italian).
One of the other great joys of living at the seaside is access to really good fresh seafood. I grew up in Rye, about an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Brighton along the Sussex coast. My dad has always been a huge fan of seafood, and when I was younger we’d go together to the fishmongers at Rye and buy fish together. The fishmongers sits right on the fishing quay, and you would know that the fish had come straight off the boat and into the shop. Living in Hove I buy my fish from Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales down on the wharf, and I get the same sense of excitement when I go to their shop, which sits on the edge of the quayside, with the fishing vessels moored behind.

There are no rules on what should or should not go into a fritto misto di mare, but the main thing is to include a good variety of seafood. The one thing I always put in is squid, as in my view squid is one of the best things deep-fried ever, in the whole history of deep-frying. I often throw in a fresh prawn or two per person, and some fillets of white fish. If you can get them, fresh anchovies are good and very authentic (either whole or filleted depending on their size). If you are feeling flash, scallops work well too. In terms of white fish, I used a black bream this time, but gurnard is also very good (and cheap), as is grey or red mullet, or even some plaice fillets. I always serve fritto misto di mare with aioli - the garlicky mayonnaise making a great foil to the fried seafood. Fritto misto di mare is often eaten as an antipasto, but if you add a green salad and some bread makes a decent supper in its own right.


(These are a suggestion only – and should feed 2-3 people as a main course. Swap the fish around and bulk up the amounts as necessary)

1 medium squid
4 raw prawns (2 per person)
1 bream (or other white fish)
2 eggs, beaten
Approximately 200g of semolina flour
Sunflower oil for frying

For the aioli:

2 egg yolks
1 large garlic clove
Approx 100ml extra virgin olive oil and 100ml sunflower oil
Salt and pepper to taste
A squeeze of lemon juice

Start by making the aioli. This is best done by hand. I usually use just one large garlic clove, but if you like your aioli pretty punchy use two. Peel the garlic clove, cut it in half lengthways and remove the germ (the sprout at the middle of the clove). This can have a particularly strong taste, and is best removed if you are using garlic raw.

Pound the garlic into a paste in a pestle and mortar with a small pinch of salt. Once the garlic is a smooth paste, add the egg yolks and whisk into the garlic until the whole thing has the texture of double cream.

Olive oil can taste quite strong in mayonnaise products. I use a mix of 50:50 extra virgin olive oil and sunflower oil. That way you get some of the grassy bite of the olive oil but without this being overpowering. Mix the two oils into a jug, and pour very slowly into the egg yolks, beating all the time with a balloon whisk. The oil should emulsify into the egg yolks, magically forming a stiff mayonnaise. Once you have whisked in all the oil, add a little lemon juice to taste, and more salt and pepper if you think it is needed.

Put the aioli to one side while you prepare and fry the fish.

You can ask your fishmonger to clean the squid and fillet the fish. I like to do this myself, partly because I am a bit over-enthusiastic like that, and partly because fish deteriorates slightly faster once it has been filleted, and I like to eat my fish in the best possible condition.
To clean the squid, grab the tentacles above the eyes and pull away from the sheath-like body. Most of the innards should come away. Reach inside the squid and pull out any remaining innards and the spear-shaped bone that runs up the centre of the squid and discard. Cut the tentacles away from the eyes. Cut out the beak from the centre of the tentacles and discard, along with any innards that are still attached, keeping the tentacles.

Wash out the inside of the squid. Remove the two wings from the body. Cut the body of the squid into rings. I like to cut the rings as wide as the squid flesh is deep, so that if you cut through the ring you would get a square cross-section. Apparently this is the authentic Italian way of doing it.

Remove the heads and legs from the prawns, and some of the shell so that there is just a small bit of shell at the tail end still attached to the flesh of the prawn. 

I’m going to take the bold step of assuming that my readers either know how to fillet a fish or have got their fishmonger to do it for them. Cut the fillets into a few pieces.

Take two shallow bowls. Add the eggs (beaten) to one, and the semolina flour to the other. I use semolina flour here, because it produces a particularly crisp coating, but you could use plain flour instead.

Meanwhile put a large saucepan on the hob and half fill it with oil. I use sunflower oil for deep frying, which will heat to a high temperature and has a neutral taste. I stick an old jam thermometer in the oil to measure the temperature. Heat the oil to 180C before you start frying.

As the oil reaches temperature, dip some of the fish into the egg, and then the semolina. Shake off any excess flour, then fry in small batches. Remove from the oil once the semolina goes a light golden colour.

After you have fried a batch, check that the oil temperature comes back to 180C before before adding the next batch. Frying food at too low a temperature causes it to become greasy.

Arrange the fried seafood on a platter, and serve with some chunks of lemon, a scattering of sea salt and the aioli.

No comments:

Post a Comment