why it works
- Frying shrimp in their shells protects the meat from overcooking, enhances flavor, and produces an extra-crispy coating.
- A mixture of flour, cornstarch, and baking powder is used for a light, crispy dragee that doesn’t mask the seafood flavor and texture.
- Frying each type of seafood separately ensures that they all cook quickly and evenly.
Fritto misto di mare is a classic Italian dish from the coast, served in seaside restaurants all over the peninsula. It’s a dish that embodies the “don’t mess with a good thing” approach that Italian cuisine is famous for: locally caught seafood is lightly floured, fried and served with just a squeeze of lemon. This version, known as frittura di paranza in Campania and other parts of southern Italy, includes crispy prawns, tender squid, and small whole fish. Accompanied by a fresh Falanghina, it is a must for a dinner.
What seafood can you find in Frittura di Paranza?
Finding the right seafood is arguably the hardest part of this recipe. There are no set rules for what should be included, but the dish is meant to evoke the bounty carried by small Italian fishing boats known as paranze, which typically includes a mix of shellfish like prawns , cephalopods such as squid and cuttlefish, and small fins. fish like anchovies. Squid and shrimp are relatively easy to find in the United States, but the fresh Mediterranean sardines and anchovies that are caught off the Amalfi Coast are not. North American smelt, which is usually sold already cleaned, works well as a substitute, although it has a much milder flavor. Of course, you can also omit the fish altogether and just make a shrimp and calamari frittura.
Peeled shrimp are ideal for fritto misto. The shells protect the shrimp flesh from overcooking, while giving it flavor thanks to the glutamates and nucleotides present in the shells which are absorbed by the meat during frying. On top of that, the shells crisp up when fried, providing a crispy and completely edible coating without the need for a heavy dredge. Medium to large shrimp work best for this recipe because they fry quickly and their relatively thin shells provide just the right amount of crunch. We always recommend buying individually frozen shrimp rather than pre-thawed shrimp (most shrimp available for purchase are frozen as soon as they are harvested to preserve texture and flavor). This is especially important for prawns with the head on, as the heads contain enzymes that can make the prawn flesh mushy and freezing stops this process.
Dredging and frying seafood
The pick up for a frittura di paranza is simple. Traditionally, seafood is tossed in semolina rimacinata (finely ground semolina flour) or all-purpose flour until just coated, then fried. It is much lighter than the dredge used for Italian fried calamari, which must be able to withstand being soaked and soaked in tomato sauce. To keep the dusting coating, I skip the milk soaking step that Tim uses in his calamari recipe, but I kept the additions of cornstarch and baking powder, which help keep the seafood crispy. once they come out of the hot oil.
Frying seafood in batches at a relatively high temperature ensures quick and even cooking. In testing, I found that peeled shrimp retained their crispiness the longest after frying, followed by squid. The higher moisture content of the smelt causes them to lose their crispy exterior more quickly, so I fry them last while holding the fried shrimp and calamari in a hot oven. Once everything is fried, pile the seafood on a platter with lemon wedges and serve with wine on the side.