Photo: A.E. Dwyer

It’s a classic tale. Girl meets sandwich. Girl has to share sandwich with two oafs at her table that takes way too big of bites. Sandwich is gone in an instant. Girl thinks of sandwich often. When girl tries to return again to get sandwich, the restaurant has closed forever. Tragic.

This happened to me. I met the bocadillo de calamares at a Spanish cava bar in Chicago. Among the fancy jamons and manchegos, we found a snacky-but-satisfying fried squid sandwich, slicked with homemade aioli. All three of us at the table that evening were astounded that something so simple could be so good. And yet, in an instant, it was gone from us forever. The restaurant closed after a mere seven months.

If you Google bocadillo de calamares, the resulting images are plain: a white bread roll piled with pale rings of squid. Yet it is a certifiable thing in Madrid, with several bars/cafes specializing in just that snack. It’s often consumed with a caña—or little beer. Why did I not know that when I was in Madrid years ago? I ate piles of ham and mountains of patatas bravas awash in pitchers of sangria, but nary a bocadillo de calamares.

It was time to fill the squid sandwich-shaped hole in my life. I would make the bocadillo. I would pile it high and deep with crispy fried sea creatures. I would prepare squid for the first time. Me and bocadillo would be together again.

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Thankfully, the squid was accommodating, despite my initial trepidation. They came cleaned, though the hard cartilage in the head had to be cut out. (Dare I say it was the beak?) Sliced into slim rings the squid were ready to dredge and fry in just a few minutes.

I opted to mix small shrimp with my calamari for sheer greediness reasons. It was a good instinct—I like the resulting contrast in textures and shapes.

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I tried three different dredges to coat the seafood, all seasoned the same way with a sprinkle of seasoning salt. I used straight flour, straight cornstarch, and then a half flour-half cornstarch mixture. Guess what? The difference was so negligible between the three, it doesn’t matter which dredge you pick. They all produced clean, light-tasting crust on the seafood. This was important to me: I wanted to taste the sweet shrimp and slightly more saline squid flavor.

Make sure you make the lemon aioli. With so few ingredients in this bocadillo, it’s a key feature. Pop open a bottle of cava, and toast to yourself: You’re about to eat one damn good sandwich.

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Photo: A.E. Dwyer

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Bocadillos de Calamares (Fried Squid Sandwiches)

Makes two sandwiches

  • 1/2 lb. uncooked small cleaned squid
  • 1/2 lb. uncooked small cleaned and deveined shrimp
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, cornstarch or a mix of both, mixed with 1/2 tsp seasoned salt, or just salt and pepper
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Soft but sturdy rolls, split (no hot dog buns please—they will disintegrate)
  • Butter for brushing on roll
  • Homemade mayonnaise, mixed with 1 tsp. lemon juice, zest of one lemon, 1 clove minced garlic

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Remove the hard cartilage from tentacle area of squid, if present. Slice squid bodies cross-wise into narrow rings. Remove and discard any super long tentacles. The small groups of tentacles can be fried with the rings.

Pour vegetable oil into a deep heavy bottomed pan to a depth of 4-5 inches. You want to be able to maneuver your spider or skimmer in the pan to remove the seafood easily. I used a deep medium-sized pan so I probably used about two cups of oil. Using a deep-fry thermometer, heat the oil to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Toss the shrimp and squid thoroughly with the flour or cornstarch. Shake to remove excess. Drop half the squid and shrimp into the hot oil carefully, and gently stir with your skimmer to make sure they don’t clump together. Adjust the heat to try to maintain the temperature at 350 degrees. Fry for 2-3 minutes, until lightly golden. Drain shrimp and squid on a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with second batch. Sprinkle hot squid and shrimp with a pinch of salt.

Meanwhile, butter and toast the split rolls on a pan or flat top griddle, or in your oven at 375 degrees until golden. You want the rolls done as you finish the second batch of squid and shrimp.

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Spread lemon aioli on both halves of your rolls and pile them high with the hot squid and shrimp. Serve with delight.