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Secrets of SquidFrying Calamari at Fior d’Italia

Meet Executive Chef Gianni Audieri, partner and guiding spirit at American’s oldest Italian restaurant, the Fior d’ Italia in San Francisco. Gianni has joined the Beyond Wonderful panel of culinary experts as our esteemed guest chef. He’ll be sharing his extensive knowledge and classic Italian recipes adapted for home cooks in the months to come. 

Gianni began his culinary career in Milan, Italy at age 14 and studied French cooking in Switzerland. Over the decades, he polished his craft at hotels, private clubs and on cruise ships before settling at the Fior in the early 1980s.  

One of the thrills of working with Gianni is, of course, eating his fabulous food. I’ve enjoyed his rich soups, seasonal salads, plates of pasta, beautifully prepared meats and his famous tiramisu mousse dessert. With so many memorable dishes, it was hard to decide which recipe to share first at Beyond Wonderful—until I tasted the calamari. It’s the best I’ve ever had; tender, incredibly meaty and delicious. When I asked Gianni his secret, he laughed and said, “everyone wants to know my secret ingredient but there isn’t one. It’s fresh calamari dredged in flour.” Gianni pointed out that he uses Atlantic calamari, since it tends to be meatier than the Pacific variety. He also cuts the tubes—known as “mantles” —in strips, rather than the more common ring shape.  

As we talked, I realized that those passionate about calamari usually order it at restaurants but are hesitant to try making it at home. Fear no more! I’ve discovered that delicious fried calamari is simple and easy to make when you know what you’re doing. 

Gianni took me to his kitchen, gathered some fresh, pre-cleaned calamari mantles and tentacles, rinsed them under cold water and placed them in a strainer to remove the excess moisture. Working quickly, he cut the tips off the mantles, made a vertical slit down the side and opened it flat. “Now, I cut them in ½-inch strips and pat dry with a paper towel.” Within seconds all the mantles were prepped for the next step. 

We moved down the line where he produced a shallow pan of flour, dropped in the calamari and gave it a couple of quick tosses upward. As everything went airborne, he said, “be sure to shake it well to remove all the excess flour.” I was impressed. How did he get everything breaded and returned to the tray without dropping anything on the floor? This was definitely a skill that I wanted to master.  

We moved to the deep fryer that contained preheated vegetable oil. “Barbara, most cooks fry this at 350 degrees, but I do it at 375 because the temperature drops the minute you add the cold calamari. Cook it 2–3 minutes until it’s the palest golden color. Don’t overcook the calamari or it will get tough.” 

Instinctively, Gianni pulled the basked out of the fryer at the perfect moment and gave it couple of good shakes to remove the excess oil. He put it in a spacious bowl and salted it, then tossed the finished calamari into a lined wire basket. A sliced lemon and a couple of dipping sauces completed the dish, although Gianni pointed out that “the sauces are an American thing” —the true Italian presentation uses only lemon. 

I eagerly dove in and asked Gianni where the home cook could find Atlantic calamari outside of the East coast. After all, he has clout with his daily 100-pound orders for the restaurant, while the rest of us just need a small amount. “Talk to a good fish monger and see what he can get,” he advised. “You won’t find this at supermarkets—not even most high-end markets. If you can’t find it, the Pacific variety is okay.”  

Gianni and I will be cooking together in the coming months and I’ll have more of his wonderful Italian recipes adapted for your home kitchen. Each will have a printable recipe and illustrated, step-by-step How To for easy reference. 

Today, check out the Calamari recipe and How To Make Calamari.