Last weekend I went to New York for my birthday and we went out to dinner at a very cute little vegan restaurant that I had really been looking forward to trying. Specifically, I was super excited to try their ‘mushroom calamari’, because it sounded like such a perfect idea! Now, I try hard to be generous with my reviews of vegan restaurants because I want them to get business and succeed. However, I cannot tell you how much of a fail this dish was. It was just awful. It’s like they took trumpet mushrooms, sliced them into uniform discs, then used a small cookie cutter to cut out uniform holes to make them look like rings, then ever-so-lightly breaded them in sand from the beach, and then baked them until they were burnt. They were so gritty it hurt my teeth. The rest of our food was decent (not spectacular) and the service and ambiance was lovely, so I’ll just give you a hint, their name (ironically) rhymes with Awesome. I wouldn’t have minded so much but this place was really pricey.
If you haven’t noticed yet, one of my favorite hobbies is to research restaurants that look interesting or cool and learn about their menu, philosophy, and public perception. Then I go and taste as much as I can. Usually there is something so amazing that I just have to try to copy it at home, like an homage. If I were a musician, these would be my ‘cover song’ recipes. But every once in a while, I try something that just makes me want to yell, ‘you’re doing it wrong!’ And then I can’t sleep or work until I get in that kitchen and make whatever it is, the way I think it should be. So this is one of those situations. Haha.
So a few notes about why my mushroom calamari brings all the boys to the yard: first of all, I used shitake mushrooms, which have a very similar ‘rubbery’ texture to real calamari. Instead of a cookie cutter, I used the tip of a sharp knife to cut out rings, this led to a more irregular and realistic looking squid ring. I also used enoki mushrooms, because you have to have tentacles right?! I experimented with a few different breadings, from bread crumbs, to panko, to egg replacer and flour. All were pretty good, but the best result turned out to be good old fashioned beer batter. I’ve got to admit this recipe is my pride and joy! Alright, enough gloating, here’s the recipe:
Shitake and Enoki Calamari
Serves two as an appetizer
3 cups peanut oil
1.5 cup flour
1-2 cans pale colored beer (I used Bud Light, don’t judge me)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
12 shitake mushrooms, the pointier the better, as opposed to flat cap
1 bunch of enoki mushrooms
Salt to taste
1/2 cup good quality marinara or cocktail sauce
In a deep frying pan or dutch oven (or deep fryer) get the peanut oil heated up to about 350 degrees, or over med-high heat.
First combine the 1.5 cup of flour and 1 can of beer in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. You are going for a pancake batter consistency, so add more beer if necessary. Add the garlic powder and paprika and stir it up. Then let it rest on the counter while you prepare the mushrooms. For the shitake, sometimes I was able to slice off the pointy top two thirds of the cap, and the stem would fall away, leaving me with a perfect ring. But mostly, I held them stem-up on the cutting board, and used the point of a knife to saw a little circle around the stem. Try to keep the rings as thin as possible without breaking them, because the batter adds a lot of bulk!
For the enokis, I just broke them apart in little bunches of 8 (they stay attached at the base), and be careful because these little guys are delicate.
One by one, coat the mushrooms in the batter and drop them into the hot oil. After dipping them into the batter, really shake them off, because the batter puffs up so much, you only need a thin coat. For the enokis, try to separate the stems from each other, so they fry with little splayed ‘tentacles’.
Turn them a couple times as you fry, they are ready when they turn light golden. Take them out of the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel. Serve immediately with a light sprinkle of salt, lemon wedges, and a small dish of marinara for dipping. Remember that the tedious cutting away of the stems to make rings is purely an aesthetic exercise, so if you don’t care if these look like sliced squid, just skip that step and get to the good stuff. Yum!
P.S. I had quite a bit of batter left over, because I wanted to work with a nice deep bowl while dipping the mushrooms. Feel free to do what I did and go on a mad hunt around your kitchen looking for anything and everything that could possibly be battered and deep fried, onion rings anyone?