Updated: Apr 6, 2022
"I am the man that makes the bhaji go away."
Julius Nicholson (2009)
Now that squid are coming to both of my local farmers' markets I really am being spoilt with some of the best squid I can remember for years so have been very enthusiastic about sharing recipes and ideas for it. This recipe started life as a little idea working along the lines of a conjecture of crispy onion ring + crispy squid ring + onion bhajia = squid bhajia? In the final analysis this is crispy fried marinated squid - hardly ground-breaking, but the flavours in a 'Bhajia' (or variously 'Pakora' in other Indian regions) are very enticing and aromatic in such a way as to be a comfort for squid to participate in.
There were a few stages in the evolution of this recipe. To start with I just worked with the composition of the basic pakora batter given to me by Claudette of "No Worries Curries". I then separated the ingredients into a marinade and a crispy coating ready for a deep-fry. But then I had a suggestion over Instagram from the legendary chef Cyrus Todiwala who proposed replacing the full batter with just a flour coating and a simple shallow-fry. And having tried and tested both approaches I'm actually able to offer in this post two methods that I find hard to choose between. But then I don't really have to choose as I will certainly be making whichever takes my fancy at any given time from now on.
There is though something that must not go without saying being that for Cyrus Todiwala, having deservedly earnt his status in the culinary world, to be engaging with the 'little guy' on social media and offering his advice and experience out of nothing more than his passion for promoting good food among us all, is a testament to the great individual he always shows himself to be in public appearances and an affirmation of his worthy receipt of an OBE in 2009 for services to the food industry.
Chef Cyrus is also the recipient of an honorary Professorship of Thames Valley University and in true professor style does always convey an insistence on detail (which I may have gone through in some detail in my post for Whiting Pakoras with Coconut Chutney) the detail here being on what exactly we should understand to be the distinction between a bhajia, a bhajee (or bhaji) and a pakora.
Anyway, as with all crispy fried fish (and other) dishes a dipping sauce or two (or three) always goes down well and I've chosen a tamarind chutney from "The Cinnamon Club Cookbook" by Iqbal Wahhab & Vivek Singh, a simple mint and lime raita, and a shop-bought bottled chilli sauce. But quite frankly, the ubiquitous tomato ketchup would work absolutely fine.
This is not a meal in and of itself - but served with a chickpea curry, a "Kachumbar" type salad and some Indian breads it makes for a fabulous north Indian-inspired pescatarian meal whichever way you choose to cook the squid.
For this dish you only want the body and the tentacles of the squid as the wings tend to be a little too tough to be cooked this quickly - better for low-and-slow-cooked squid dishes (which I love!). With that in mind, you get approximately 55% of the starting weight of squid once it has been cleaned and prepared. Roughly speaking that means a single 400g squid or two 200g squid will give you the 225g prepared squid required for this recipe for two servings. Once the body and tentacles are separated, skinned and cleaned the body should be cut into 1cm thick rings and the tentacles cut into two pieces.
The use of chickpea flour is essential for this dish as it imparts a flavour very characteristic of a "bhajia". Thankfully, chickpea flour, also known as 'Besan' is these days really easy to find in supermarkets and online. It is also available in health food shops being a gluten-free product.
I've given two different ways to prepare this dish. The first simply coats the marinated squid in the flour and shallow fries it. The second (illustrated right) builds a batter to coat the squid and then deep fries it. I like both methods, the latter tends to more reliably result in a crispy coating. But for some reason I do find the former eats better with the tamarind chutney I've given in the notes. Don't be put off by the length of the ingredients list as the majority of the ingredients are for the marinade and just require a bit of measuring out. The quantities aren't even that critical and can be adjusted to taste, but do take care not to overdo the quantity of ajwain seeds as, although their flavour contribution is essential, in excess, they can be a bit bitter.
Ingredients (Serves 2)
225g prepared squid (see recipe intro)
½ tsp ground cumin
⅛ tsp (2 good pinches) salt
⅛ tsp (2 good pinches) turmeric
½ tsp finely crushed garlic (1 large clove)
2 tsp chopped fresh coriander
¼-½ tsp red chilli powder (cayenne pepper)
⅓ tsp ajwain (carom/lovage) seeds
¼ tsp ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lime
50g chickpea flour (besan)
150ml sunflower or vegetable oil
Coriander sprigs, to garnish
Red chilli powder, optional, to garnish
Lime wedges, to serve
Dipping sauces, to serve (see notes)
If making a batter, add:
50-75ml very cold sparkling water, from a new bottle (if making a batter)
Another 100ml sunflower or vegetable oil
Put the prepared squid in a bowl with the ground cumin, salt, turmeric, crushed garlic, chopped fresh coriander, red chilli powder, ajwain seeds, ground black pepper and lime juice. Stir well and leave to marinate for 30 mins to 1 hour.
Just before ready to cook, preheat the oven to 100°C (or better still 80°C with fan) and line a plate with kitchen paper. Now, if simply dusting the squid with flour and shallow-frying go to step 3. If making a batter go to step 4.
Shallow-frying floured squid: Heat the 150ml oil in a pan to approximately 190°C. Sieve the flour into a bowl, dredge a batch of the squid pieces (including marinade) in the flour, shake off the excess and shallow fry for approximately 1½ mins, turning once half-way through. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and allow to drain on the paper-lined plate in the cool oven while repeating the process with the remaining squid. Allow the oil to come back up to temperature before proceeding with the next batch. When all the squid is cooked go to step 5.
Deep-frying battered squid: Heat the 250ml oil in a pan to approximately 190°C. Sieve the flour over the marinated squid then add the water gradually, stirring it in until you achieve a batter with the consistency of custard (not all the water will necessarily be required, and a little extra may be). Pick pieces of squid from the batter allowing the real excess to drain off and fry in the oil in batches, removing the cooked squid with a slotted spoon and allowing to drain on the paper-lined plate in the cool oven while repeating the process with the next batch. Allow the oil to return to temperature between batches.
Transfer the squid to a serving dish, sprinkle with a little red chilli powder if liked, and garnish with the coriander sprigs and lime wedges. Serve straight away with your choice of dipping sauces.
Tamarind chutney: Put 75g tamarind puree, 1 black cardamom pod (or 1 green cardamom pod and 1 clove) and 1 small cassia leaf or a bay leaf in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add 20-25g brown sugar and, over a medium heat, cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring regularly until the mixture has thickened somewhat and become glossy. Stir in chilli powder, ginger and salt then pass the chutney through a sieve and chill until ready to use. If the chutney needs thinning a little, just whisk in a little water.
Mint and lime raita: To 8 tbsp full-fat Greek-style yoghurt add 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint, the finely grated zest of one lime and a couple of pinches of salt. Whisk together well then let down to your preferred consistency using lime juice, milk or just water.
"The Cinnamon Club Cookbook", Iqbal Wahhab & Vivek Singh (2003), pp. 161: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-cinnamon-club-cookbook-9781472933065/