Recipe of Fritto Misto di Mare (mixed fried seafood)

Why it works

  • Frying the shrimp in their shell protects the meat from overcooking, enhances flavor and produces an extra crunchy coating.
  • A mixture of flour, cornstarch, and baking powder is used for a light, crisp pickle that doesn’t mask the flavor and texture of seafood.
  • Frying each type of seafood separately ensures that they all cook quickly and evenly.

Fritto misto di mare is a classic coastal Italian dish, served in seaside restaurants across the peninsula. It’s a dish that epitomizes 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, consists of crispy shrimp, tender squid, and whole small fish. Accompanied by a chilled Falanghina, it is a must for dinner.

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 the small Italian fishing boats called paranze, which usually includes a mixture of crustaceans like prawns, cephalopods like squid and cuttlefish; and small finned fish like anchovies. In the United States, squid and shrimp are relatively easy to find, but fresh Mediterranean sardines and anchovies, which are famously caught off the Amalfi Coast, are not. North American smelt, which is usually sold pre-cleaned, works well as a substitute, although it has a much milder flavor. Of course, you can also skip the fish entirely and just make a shrimp and squid frittura.

Vicky Wasik

The peeled shrimp are ideal for the fritto misto. The shells protect the shrimp flesh from overcooking, while imparting flavor thanks to the glutamates and nucleotides contained in the shells which are absorbed by the meat during frying. On top of that, the shells crisp when fried, providing a crisp, completely edible coating without the need for a heavy drag. Medium to large shrimp work best in this recipe because they are fried quickly and their relatively thin shells provide just the right amount of crunch. We always recommend buying frozen shrimp individually rather than already 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 shrimp with heads, as the heads contain enzymes that can make the flesh of the shrimp mushy, and freezing stops this process.

The dredge for a frittura di paranza is simple. Traditionally, seafood is mixed with semola rimacinata (finely ground semolina flour) or all-purpose flour until it is just coated, then fried. It’s much lighter than the dredge used for Italian-American style fried calamari, which must be able to withstand immersion and soaking in tomato sauce. To keep the powder coating, I skip the milk steeping step that Tim uses in his squid recipe, but kept the additions of cornstarch and baking powder, which help keep the seafood crisp. once they come out hot oil.

Frying seafood in batches at a relatively high temperature ensures that it cooks quickly and evenly. During testing, I found that shelled shrimp retained their crisp the longest after frying, followed by squid. The higher moisture content of the smelt causes them to lose their crispy exterior the fastest, so I fry them last while keeping the fried shrimp and squid in a hot oven. Once everything is fried, stack the seafood on a platter with lemon wedges and serve with wine on the side.

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