Five-fragrance powder is also known as Chinese five-spice, five perfumes, or five heavenly spices. It is indeed heavenly: sweet, sour, bitter and pungent, all in one blend. This recipe calls for adding the spice to both the flour coating and the dipping sauce to double the flavor. Use rice bran or grapeseed oil here; both have a high smoke point, so they’re ideal for deep-frying.
Crispy Five-Fragrance Calamari & Dipping Sauce
For the dipping sauce:
2 Tbs. Asian sesame oil
2 Tbs. honey
2 Tbs. chopped peanuts
1 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbs. rice vinegar
1 Tbs. fish sauce
1 Tbs. fresh lime juice
2 tsp. soy sauce
1 small shallot, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp. five-fragrance powder (see note below)
1 lb. (500 g.) cleaned squid (tentacles and bodies), thawed if frozen
1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml.) buttermilk
1/4 cup (1 1/2 oz./45 g.) white rice flour
1 Tbs. five-fragrance powder (below)
Rice bran or grapeseed oil for deep-frying
Lime or lemon halves for serving
NOTE: It’s easy to make your own five-fragrance powder. In a bowl, combine 4 teaspoons each ground cinnamon and freshly ground pepper, 2 teaspoons ground fennel, and 1 teaspoon each ground cloves and ginger. Stir them together, then store in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Makes 1/4 cup (1 oz./30 g.).
To make the dipping sauce, in a blender or food processor, combine the sesame oil, honey, peanuts, cilantro, vinegar, fish sauce, lime juice, soy sauce, shallot and five-fragrance powder and process until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Pour into a small serving bowl or individual bowls and set aside.
Rinse the squid and pat dry. Cut the bodies crosswise into rings about 1/3 inch (9 mm.) wide. Leave the tentacles whole. In a large bowl, combine the squid and buttermilk and toss to coat well. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the rice flour, five-fragrance powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Have ready a colander or medium-mesh sieve set atop another large bowl.
Pour the oil to a depth of 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm.) into a deep fryer or large, heavy pot, preferably cast iron, and heat to 370 degrees F (188 degrees C) on a deep-frying thermometer.
Working in batches, and using a slotted spoon, transfer the squid to the seasoned flour and toss to coat evenly, and then to the colander and shake off any excess flour. Still using the spoon, carefully lower the squid, a few pieces at a time, into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown and crisp, 1-2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain and sprinkle with salt. Repeat with the remaining squid.
Serve at once, with the citrus wedges and dipping sauce. Serves 4-6.