Fried Calamari

One of the most ubiquitous of appetizers, fried calamari can be found on most of America’s restaurant menus and, as one would expect, recipes abound for creating the dish. Some of these recipes marinate the squid first, while others only flour them before frying. Still others rely on a batter to coat the squid, and those batters may use any one of a number of liquids, from water to milk to beer. Absent a family recipe, what’s a blogger to do?

Well, this blogger ran some tests. Armed with frozen squid, vegetable oil, and a dream, I set out to learn which recipe resulted in the best fried calamari. I took 2 calamari and did nothing but flour them before frying. Six other calamari were given a buttermilk soak for over an hour. Of those, 2 were floured and fried, 2 were dipped in a beer batter before frying, and the last 2 were coated with a water-based batter before frying. My objective was to determine which frying method was the best, so, I only used salt & pepper for seasoning. I didn’t want the results clouded by too many variables.

So, then, how did they do? Well, all 4 preparations fried easily and the results were crisp, although some more so than others. Perhaps my least favorite was the beer batter-fried (lower – left). Although I’d like to try that batter again with chicken, shrimp, or onion rings, it was just too thick for the calamari. These tentacles were the worst of the bunch, a sorry mass of fried batter. Next would have to be the calamari that were fried after only being dipped in flour (l – r). Although they were crispy and the tentacles were the best of all four, they were the least flavorful. As is the case with chicken, soaking the squid in buttermilk made a difference. Next were the calamari that were dipped in a water-based batter (top – left). They were good but not good enough to overtake my favorite, the calamari that were soaked in buttermilk before being floured and fried (t-r). They benefited from the buttermilk and got extra points for ease of preparation and of frying — there was no messy batter to deal with. This, then, is the recipe I’ll be sharing today.

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The Winner!

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Fried Calamari Recipe

yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. squid (about 16 medium-sized), cleaned & cut into 1/2 inch rings (Frozen, raw rings may be substituted. Thaw before using.)
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp coarse kosher or sea salt
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper – more or less to taste
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • Oil for frying — NOT olive oil

Directions

  1. Place buttermilk, calamari rings, and tentacles into a bowl and set aside for one hour. If longer, refrigerate until you’re ready.
  2. Heat oil in a large sauce pan or dutch oven over med-high heat.
  3. Place dry ingredients into a bowl and whisk to combine.
  4. Line a sheet pan with paper towels and pre-heat oven to 200*.
  5. When oil reaches 380*, remove some pieces of calamari from the buttermilk and allow excess liquid to run off before dredging them in the flour mixture. Place pieces, one at a time, into the hot oil. Work in batches. Do not overcrowd.
  6. Remove calamari when golden brown, about 90 seconds to 2 minutes, and place on paper-lined sheet pan. Sprinkle with salt and place in warmed oven.
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until all calamari are fried.
  8. Serve immediately with lemon wedges and your favorite dipping sauce.

Variations

The ingredient amounts listed-above are not set in stone. They are what I use and, as you can see, they bring a little heat to the dish. You can just as easily use more of one spice and less of another or, for that matter, skip one altogether in favor of some other. The point is no matter what spices you use, be sure to soak the calamari in buttermilk for optimum flavor. Do that and you won’t be disappointed.

What if, after all of this, you decide you’d rather not fry your calamari? You can always try my Mom’s Calamari Salad recipe. Follow her directions and  you’ll be rewarded with calamari rings that are tender but never rubbery and a salad that looks as fresh as it tastes.

Note

When I ran these tests, I put some thought into the testing but completely forgot about serving the calamari. I was mid-way through the frying when I realized I didn’t have any sauce for an accompaniment. I made a quick dipping sauce using 2 parts mayo, 1 part sour cream, the juice of a half-lemon, 1 grated garlic clove, and a little salt & pepper. It worked just fine although, if you have a low tolerance for garlic, you may wish to use 1/2 clove or none at all.

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83 thoughts on “Fried Calamari

    • You’ll be surprised at how easy this dish is to prepare and how tasty the results are. My family, also, has a recipe for stuffed calamari that are baked on a baking sheet and I’m currently toying with a recipe for stuffed calamari that are braised in a tomato sauce. Zia has mentioned yet another recipe for a tomato sauce with calamari that’s served over pasta. It looks like there will be more than a few calamari dinners in our future as we try to perfect these recipes before posting here.

      • My very good friend stuffs her calamari bodies with a bread mixture, closes with a tooth pick, then slow cooks in a tomato sauce base for a few hours. The trick, only use a baby spoon of stuffing of they will EXPLODE! Experience speaks.

        • Yes, we serve stuffed calamari 2 ways, 1 with sauce and another without. And you’re right. You do not want to overstuff them! Thank you for dropping by and commenting.

  1. I love fried calamari but have never made it at home. For all the reasons why I guess you tested so many recipes!! It’s my first choice for ordering an appetizer and I even rank my favorites by restaurant!! This is a terrific post having all your testing results in one!

    • You surprise me, Linda. As accomplished as you are in the kitchen, I would have thought you’d be frying up calamari like most people pop popcorn. Well, regardless, once you try it and discover how easy it is you’ll be making ‘em regularly — and, like me, wondering why you waited so long to try.

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  3. I love fried calamari but only eat it on special occasions. I too have never tried making it at home, glad Linda mentioned you on her post. Now, I’ll have to make this for Christmas eve and surprise my dad! Thanks for sharing!

    • You are going to be surprised at how quick and easy it is to do. It certainly was an eye-opener for me and, to be honest, I’ve not ordered it since at a restaurant. I’m sure your Dad will love it! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Good luck!

  4. thank you for the test results and the great recipe, yep I will be trying it this CHRISTmas Eve…can you make this in a electric deep fryer or do you suggest a pan…

    • I’ve fried it in both , an electric “kettle” as well as a pot on the stove. Just don’t fill either more than half-way or you’ll risk the oil bubbling over. I think you’ll find that this is super easy to do and, if you’re like me, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start making it sooner. Thanks for stopping by and taking time to comment.

      • John I made you recipe and I had both a deep fryer and a electric fry pan going…the calamari in the deep fryer came out better because it browned so fast it did not have a chance to get tough, the ones in the fry pan seemed tougher, but the buttermilk did make a difference, it was really good! I served it with the sliced banana peppers like I have had it in fancy restaurants…
        Merry Christmas to you and yours….

        • Thank you so much for coming back to tell me of your discovery. There’s nothing like a side-by-side comparison to discover the best way to prepare something and you’ve proved that a deep fryer is the way to go. Glad you liked the buttermilk soak. I, too, like what it brings to the dish. And it sounds like your presentation was great, too! I hope you and yours have a wonderful Christmas!

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  6. I saw some phenomenal looking squid at the store in Queens yesterday. Now I really wish I had bought them! Shame on me.

    Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas John! Eat, drink, and do it all over again.

  7. Sounds delicious to the tenth power. *And* what a beautiful linen it’s displayed upon! That shot just plain is perfect wall art! Though I’d probably have to resist hanging such a gorgeous thing up, because it would require my making calamari like this at least every other day, and I doubt I have the stamina. :)

    • Thanks, Kathryn. I was surprised how quick and easy it was to make fried calamari. I do it quite often now and haven’t bought it at a restaurant since. Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean.

  8. I TOTALLY ADORE CALAMARI WITH VARIOUS DIPS, MY FAVORITE WAY OF COOKING THEM IS TO DEEP FRY FOR 1.1/2 TO 2 MINS COATED IN A HERB SEASONED PANKO BREADCRUMBS OR IN A HERB “TEMPURA ” BATTER GOES WONDERFUL WITH EITHER A CHINESE DIPPING SAUCE OR A BLUE CHEESE DIP JUST NEVER EVER OVER COOK THEM !!!

    • It is easy, Christina, and I was surprised to find out, too. And you just cannot beat serving them fresh from your kitchen! As I replied to another commenter, I only make them myself now and haven’t ordered some from a restaurant in ages. Give them a try and you’ll see what I mean.

    • These are good, Lisa, and far easier than I had imagined. The buttermilk soak really does work and it is up to you whether to use plain of seasoned flour for the coating. Good luck!

  9. John, good old calamari. This looks particularly good. I’ve always had a bit of trouble eating this particular food, mainly due to the texture. The first time I ever tried it was in a fabulous San Fran old Italian restaurant down by Fisherman’s Wharf. My husband loved it so I was encouraged to give it a try. After chewing what I believed to be “noodles” for ten minutes, I whispered in his ear that the pasta was tough but the sauce was delicious. Now, I like it, particularly treated in this manner. As always, leaves me hungry. :)

    • Mine, too. Once I made them at home for the first time, I never ordered them again in a restaurant. They are so easy to make and so much better when piping hot.
      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  10. Hi John, This is going to sound like a really weird question, but how much oil do you put in the pot? Should it be two inches deep? 3 inches? I’d really like to try to make these, but I’m really nervous about frying anything at home. I’ve only ever used an electric deep fryer before at pastry school way back in the day and haven’t touched one since. Other than that, thanks for posting the results of 4 different techniques. Now I know what the best way to batter calamari is! Thanks!

    • Hey, Anne! If I’m serving 1 or 2 people, I use a 4 quart saucepan with 2 – 3 inches of oil. If I’m serving more than that, I use a deeper saucepan or Dutch oven. I never put oil past the halfway depth of either pan, as a precaution against boiling over, and I keep the pan lid nearby to smother flames, if necessary. Thankfully, I’ve never had either problem.
      You will be surprised how quick and easy these are to prepare. You can season the flour with whatever you like and get ready for a real treat. I’ve not ordered them in a restaurant in years. I’m a bit spoiled. :)

        • You’ll do fine. Remember not to overfill the pan with oil; not to dump too much food into the hot oil all at once; and work in small-ish batches until you’re more comfortable with the process. And that won’t be long. :)

        • Anne (and the rest of you as well) probably know this already but I feel that your comments are just begging for a quick reminder for this “oil cooking problem”. Heaven forbid any of us should accidentally start an oil fire in our kitchen (or grill, etc.), but should it happen just remember that if your recipe calls for using a lot of oil then be sure to keep an LARGE opened box of baking soda right next to your cooking-stove area (make sure the opening is quite LARGE!). Better yet, pour your entire box of baking soda into a nice ‘cereal sized’ bowl that will allow you to shake it over and across any flare ups that might accidentally happen but could flair up extremely quickly into a nearly impossible to control fire in just seconds! Be careful not to get too close to the fire, just close enough to shake the baking soda as quickly and evenly over the flair up as possible. This puts out an oil fire faster than just about anything! It seriously could be the difference between life and death, or a kitchen fire that burns up your entire kitchen! Such a horrible thought I know, but better to be aware and prepared than not. Take this from someone who’s father is a retired 30 year veteran fire fighter! Please don’t let this scare you more – just think of it as being ‘prepared’ and you’ll feel a whole lot safer about using hot-to-boiling oil on your stove! Have fun and enjoy! I plan to try a few of these recipes as well. I LOVE calamari too but have only eaten it in a restaurant, so I’d LOVE to know how to make it at home! I had it once as an appetizer at a Greek restaurant in the Napa Valley and they made it with a “New O’lens” (see that accent LOL) style Cajun spicy dip that was to die for! If mine turns out well it will probably turn into an at least once-a-week meal for me! YUM! :)

  11. Thanks so much for sharing this “experiment”. I love calamari, but have never been sure how to do them right. Thanks to you, I’ll now charge ahead and prepare some calamari at home:-)

    • Hello, Jeanette. You’ll be surprised how easy this is to make and how good the result. They brown surprisingly quickly and you’ll be serving them in no time. I hope you, too, enjoy them.
      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

      • Thank you so much for sharing your delicious recipe!! They really do look a lot easier than I ever imagined and I’m looking forward to enjoying them with one of the upcoming soccer matches:-)

  12. As what my son would say when he discovers something exciting, Oh, my Gosh! I always wanted to find a perfect Calamari recipe and today, it just fell on my lap…or computer. Thanks for a delicious treat! Have a great weekend.

    • I know what you mean. WordPress should post a disclaimer about reading food blogs on an empty stomach. :)
      I hope you do try to prepare these. It s such an easy dish. You’ll wonder why you haven’t done it before.
      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment.

      • John – as usually happens – you made me laugh!! Actually, at the hotel there weren’t lots of Americans – and I just kinda feel that only Americans (like myself) would call the poor man Mr. Calamari!!

        • Don’t feel bad. My Dad’s name was “Marino”. You should have heard the many ways it was mispronounced. He never let it get to him and had a good laugh about it.

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  15. Oh, I love a nice thorough test like this! Wonderful job – I usually just give my calamari a quick pan fry, but now I know the best way to fry them! And they’re so good fried, I need to do some, and soon. Buttermilk so often is a winner, isn’t it? Superb post – thanks.

    • Thanks, John, for you kind words of encouragement. These calamari turned out to be far easier — and tastier — than I had imagined. I haven’t bought fried calamari from a restaurant in years, as a result.
      Yes, buttermilk works wonders in the kitchen. I used to lament having to buy it by the quart because it often went to waste. Then, at a cheese making site, I read that buttermilk could br frozen. Now I use the excess to fill ice cube trays and no more waste.

  16. I’m so pleased you posted this recipe! You’re right, fried calamari is often on the menu here in the States, but it’s often deep fried from a frozen state and, therefore, a bit rubbery. There’s nothing like calamari prepared right before you eat it! I have a quick story – when we lived in Malta we used to love going to a hotel (on the Maltese island of Gozo) where the manager’s name was Mr. Camelleri – I can’t tell you how many times I called him Mr. Calamari !!

    • I’m glad you like this recipe, Cecile. It is so quick and easy with such great results that I no longer order it when I’m out.
      I hope the guy had a good temperament. I imagine that he was called Mr. Calamari all of the time and it would be a shame if he let it bother him.

    • I don;t have experience with rice four but if it worked well with soft shell crabs, I bet you’re right. It would be great with calamari. If you try it, please let me know how it works out.. I’m very interested. Thanks! :)

  17. Reblogged this on KC in AZ and commented:
    I can’t wait to give this recipe a try. Usually I only get calamari at a restaurant but this recipe looks as though I can get top restaurant quality right at home!

      • Et, bonsoir mes amis!! ( I had to look up ‘amis’.. just to be sure I shouldn’t be writing ‘amies’. It turns out that, because I’m writing to 1. plural 2. male & female it’s ‘mes amis’. If I were talking to more than one female, then it would be ‘mes amies’.
        I think French is sooo difficult. Then again, Italian also has it’s masculine & feminine ‘rules!. Guess what – not long ago I discovered that English used to have both masculine and feminine spellings – aren’t we all happy they got rid of THAT!!

  18. This is great. So long story short, this Christmas Eve will be 20 years that my grandma is not with us. So I thought I would try to take over the tradition, and all my uncles, aunts, and cousins were thrilled. To start off I have never tried seafood and never will, pretty crazy I grew up with it in the house. So I just have a question she made stuffed calamari then fried it and then just served like that…. I understand the stuffing part, then I fry it. I see a lot of recipes but never fried and stuffed, so how long should I fry it, and for the tentacles I have what do I do with them, I kind of remember her frying them maybe in onions and serving that on a platter but separate from the calamari. Any help would be great, I wish when I was 14 I paid attention to her cooking…

    • I am truly sorry for the delayed reply.
      I’ve never seen calamari stuffed and then fried. We also stuff them but then either braise them in a tomato sauce or bake them. We lightly sauté the tentacles, chop them, and place them in with the stuffing. I wish I cold be of more help but I really have not seen calamari cooked this way. My recipe here is to make fried calamari rings like one gets at a restaurant as an appetizer.
      I do hope you find a recipe. It sounds like a delicious way to serve calamari. Grandmas always know best! Good luck and Merry Christmas.

  19. I have made calamari on Christmas Eve for the last 15+ years and by following this recipe, this has been by far the best it has ever come out. Thank you.

  20. I am so glad you made this experiment John. I have been working around to find the best dipping liquid (eggs or flour) and buttermilk never crossed mind. This looks amazingly crispy and as fried calamari tops my list of fav food, I am going to try this for sure.

    • Thanks, Minnie. This is such an easy dish to prepare. I haven’t ordered calamari in a restaurant since I first ran those experiments. The money I would have spent on a calamari appetizer now goes to a chocolate dessert. This is a real win-win!!! :D

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