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8 & $20: Sesame Calamari With Red Cabbage and Grapefruit Salad

Capture the flavors of summer with this bright, nutty seafood dish and a crisp white
Photo by: Greg Hudson
With its citrusy flavors, this dish worked well alongside a variety of refreshing white wines, from Sauvignon Blanc to Spanish Verdejo to a Hungarian Furmint.

Nicole Ruiz Hudson
Posted: May 31, 2016

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

Something about fried calamari just magically puts you in the middle of a beach vacation. Its crispy saltiness seems to conjure up sea breezes around you.

It’s remarkably easy to bring that vacation feel home, taking just a couple quick steps to fry up golden, crunchy calamari. The addition of sesame seeds brings a hint of nuttiness to the dish, adding another layer of flavor. I used black sesame for the color contrast, but any kind will do.

To balance the toasty notes of the fried calamari, I kept the rest of the flavors in the salad bright and fresh with a simple mix of red cabbage, grapefruit and cucumbers, topped with a very light grapefruit juice–based dressing. If you want to make the dressing a little richer, adding a touch of toasted sesame oil would accomplish that.

I worried that the cabbage might make finding a good wine match difficult, but it proved adaptable to a variety of crisp whites. I tried three alongside the salad and all were successful, each improving upon the previous one.

We started with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with lots of citrus-kissed tropical fruits. It held its character alongside the food and made a solid match. Next we had a Verdejo, from Spain's Rueda region, with lively, high-toned green apple and lime notes, underscored by a pleasant minerality. Refreshing on its own, the wine made a seamless match, with an added umami note emerging with the food.

Our final wine was a dry Furmint from the Tokaj region of Hungary. Furmint is one of the principal grapes used in Tokaji, and the bright acidity and rich mouthfeel that make those famed sweet wines so delicious were likewise present in this dry bottling. Like our other selections, this wine spoke to the freshness of the salad, but it also enhanced the nutty richness of the fried calamari and recaptured the salty sea breeze elements of the seafood.

Sesame Calamari With Red Cabbage–Grapefruit Salad


Pair with a white wine with bright acidity, such as Patricius Furmint Tokaji Dry 2014 (88 points, $15).

Alternates: Hijos de Alberto Gutiérrez Verdejo Rueda Monasterio de Palazuelos 2013 (89, $10) or Mt. Beautiful Sauvignon Blanc North Canterbury 2014 (89, $16)


Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Approximate food costs: $23

  • 1/2 red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup cucumber, sliced into small, thin spears
  • 3 grapefruits, 2 segmented into supremes, 1 juiced (or about 1/2 cup of grapefruit juice)
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup peanut oil (or other neutral oil), plus more for cooking
  • 1 1/2 cup panko crumbs
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 pound calamari, cut into bite-sized rings and tentacles, cleaned and dried
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Combine the shredded cabbage, cucumber spears and the majority of the grapefruit supremes in a large bowl. Reserve a few of the supremes for garnish.

2. Mix together the grapefruit juice and 1/2 cup of peanut oil, along with a pinch of salt and pepper, whisking well to emulsify. Taste and adjust the seasoning and acid-oil balance. (Note: The traditional ratio for a vinaigrette is 1 part acid to 3 parts oil. This grapefruit juice was milder than typical vinegar or even lemon juice, so I used just slightly more oil than juice. I recommend starting with a 1:1 ratio and adjusting to your taste.) Gradually add the dressing to the cabbage mixture and lightly toss to combine. Set aside and reserve extra dressing to serve on the side.

3. Combine the panko crumbs, flour, sesame seeds and a pinch of salt and pepper in a large bowl or in a large resealable plastic bag. In a separate bowl, whisk the 3 eggs. Working in small batches, dip the calamari pieces in the egg, then toss them in the panko mixture to coat well.

4. Heat about 1 1/2 to 2 inches of oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot on high until the oil is shimmering. (Alternatively, you can use a deep fryer set to 375° F if available.) Working in small batches, add the calamari and cook until golden. Transfer the fried calamari to a platter lined with paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Repeat until all the calamari pieces have been cooked.

5. To serve, divide the cabbage salad among the plates. Arrange the reserved grapefruit supremes on each salad, topped off with a small mound of calamari. Serve with the extra dressing on the side. Serves 4 to 6.

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