It’s the week of Christmas and of all the things to look forward to – family, gifts, cookies and Christmas trees – I’ve got my eye on a different prize: seafood. Crazy, right? This is one of the few times of the year my family whips up a massive batch of Fritto Misto di Mare (Mixed Fried Seafood). Christmas Eve is all about fish and while I’ve heard of it called the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” by Italian-Americans recently that’s not how I’ve known it. I do know that as part of religious observance, Fridays, particularly holy Fridays, and Christmas Eve, called La Vigilia di Natale (The Vigil of Christmas, literally, or the Eve before Christmas), we avoid meat products.
I can’t say that we’ve ever had exactly seven dishes on Christmas Eve, but one we always have is Fritto Misto di Mare (and baccala (salted cod fish) but that’s a recipe for another day). Fritto Misto is by far a crowd favourite, there isn’t anyone who passes on this dish no matter how full you are from the antipasto or pasta. Pipping hot, crispy and tangy from a squeeze of lemon, it wouldn’t be Christmas without fried seafood. Below is how my family gets it to the table. I’ve done shrimp and squid here, but we would typically also have scallops. They can be prepared and cooked the same way as the shrimp. But to be honest, I strongly dislike scallops – it’s a texture thing – but don’t avoid having them at your table! If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where all this seafood can be bought fresh that should be your preferred purchase and you can just ignore my instructions on defrosting, a necessary evil for those of us who are landlocked (save for a large, great lake). Merry Christmas everyone! May your Christmas eve be full of Fritti Misti and fun!
Fritto Misto di Mare
500g shrimp (size 31-40 or the larger, the better!)
400g cleaned, frozen squid
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
5 tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon salt plus additional for seasoning after frying
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 cup cornmeal
canola oil for frying
lemon slices for dressing
Prepping the seafood is the most time-consuming part of this process, but with a few hands on deck it goes quickly. This recipe feeds about six to eight people, but you can always reduce the amount. Defrost your shrimp overnight or quickly in luke-warm tap water. One defrosted, peel and devein the shrimp, if they aren’t already cleaned. If you are including scallops in your Fritto Misto, remove any side muscle that may still be attached.
The shrimps and scallops are breaded, much like how we would bread veal or chicken cutlets. Set out three pie pans or bowls on your work surface. In the first bowl, pour in the flour. In the second bowl scramble the eggs with the cool water to create an egg wash. In the third bowl combine breadcrumbs, cheese, salt, garlic powder and dried oregano. Dredge each shrimp first in flour. Then dip the shrimp into the egg wash, allowing the extra to drip off, before placing it in the bread crumb mixture to coat it. Place the breaded seafood on a parchment lined tray. If you are not frying right away – you can prep these up to a few hours in advance – refrigerate the seafood until you are ready to cook. You will have extra breadcrumb mixture left over, but it is important to have plenty to work with to ensure each piece of seafood is coated adequately.
Defrost the squid in the same manner. Most cleaned, prepared squid will come with the tentacles separate from the body. For the tentacles, using kitchen shears snip off any longer tentacles and remove any hard bits at the top. For the bodies, make sure there isn’t any remaining cartilage inside (if you feel a hard a piece inside, just reach in and remove it). Snip off the wings from the tips and slice the calamari into rings. Place in a colander to drain until you are ready to fry.
Just before frying, toss the prepared cut calamari in the cornmeal. Shake of any excess and place on a tray.
In a medium pot, pour in canola oil until it is about three to four inches deep. Heat on medium-high, or using a deep fryer, heat the oil to 180 degrees. Whether in the pot or deep fryer, use a basket to lower the seafood into the oil when you are ready to fry. You’ll want to do this just before eating: the fresher the better with Fritto Misto.
Cook the shrimp first for just two minutes each batch. Remove to a paper-towel lined tray or plate to drain. Next, fry up the calamari, which take just one minute to cook and crisp up. Also drain on paper towels and immediately sprinkle with salt. Serve while hot with lemon slices.