Crisp, lightly battered squid coated with chilli, turmeric and kaffir lime leaf, served with a sweet and sour tamarind dipping sauce
It’s funny how certain food memories stick in your mind….maybe it’s because they relate to a significant event, or perhaps for sentimental reasons. But what about those which randomly pop into your head for no reason months after the fact?
This recipe grew out of one of those mystery memories from a couple of years ago when I had been over to Malaysia to visit family (which is code for eating my body weight over a dozen meals a day). One night while we were out for dinner we ordered a salad of squid, but in this case the squid seemed to be dried rather than fresh, and it was fried till crispy and topped with tomato, cucumber, spring onions, chillies, herbs, and a tangy sweet and sour dressing. Definitely very moreish.
Unfortunately I have not been able to track down a recipe for it, or at least something similar. It has become one of those one-off food items that I might never taste again but
obsess over still think about occasionally from time to time.
So what’s the next best thing? Make up your own version…
Turmeric and Kaffir Lime Squid is partly inspired by that original squid salad (now confined to the stuff of legend), but it also combines elements from other dishes. Using the ever-popular salt and pepper squid as a base, it is further influenced by a Vietnamese dish of Turmeric Fish with Dill but in this case replacing the dill with kaffir lime leaf. The turmeric adds an earthy flavour and lovely colour to the squid, while the lime leaf adds an unmistakable fragrance.
The first time I made this I attempted to stay true to the salad origins of the dish – pieces of squid floured and fried, then tossed with the dressing and the veggies. Bad choice – the squid immediately went limp and soggy, so that was a lesson learned.
Instead, what I do now is cut the squid into rings which fry up more easily, and I have refined the dressing to work as a dipping sauce, with the option to serve the salad ingredients on the side, almost as a garnish.
While I was doing a bit of investigating into salt and pepper squid, I came across one of the Guardian’s/ Felicity Cloake’s How To Make The Perfect…series on salt and pepper squid, which inspired me to do a bit of testing of my own.
The key question for me was what coating was best? Different recipes seem to advocate for either a flour or a starch, while others use egg or egg white as part of the dredge to create a light batter. So I trialed a few different ones to see which I preferred.
(Clockwise from the top)
Plain Flour: Reasonable colour, a bit heavier than the starches, but provided a good crispness
Cornflour (/starch): Provided quite a light and crisp coating, but not as much browning
Tapioca Starch: pretty much the same as the cornflour above
Potato Starch: Interestingly, the potato starch puffed up more in the oil with more of a lacy texture, but almost seemed to be a bit grainy on the tongue
Rice Flour: Lighter and paler than the wheat flour, and not as crisp – it also seemed the driest of all the coatings I tested
Overall, I was intrigued by the potato starch, but wasn’t a fan of the brittleness of the coating on its own. In the end, I settled on a 50/50 combination of plain flour and potato starch for that balance of crispness, density and browning.
The next step was to test whether it was better with the addition of egg before the flour (which you can see on the right).
As you can see, if a crispy coating is what you’re after, then egg-and-flour is the way to go. A plain flour/starch coating will allow the squid to really shine, but that’s not what we’re after, so batter it is.
You can serve the squid simply on it’s own with the tamarind dipping sauce, or with a bit of a salad or garnish of tomato, cucumber, shallot (or spring onion) and coriander, though I’ve left out the shallot below…