Don't miss these pro tips for light, golden brown crust and tender calamari that is not grease-heavy or rubbery. This fried calamari recipe will be your go-to! Be sure to read through and watch the video below.
If you've done some traveling around the Mediterranean and Southern Europe, you likely encountered some form of fried calamari in small fish shops or taverns. The squid is coated in batter and quickly deep fried to golden perfection. It's served hot, usually with a splash of citrus, any number of dips, and a refreshing beverage, like Spanish Agua de València.
This is also a familiar dish throughout the United states, rising in popularity in the 1980s according to this New York Times article, and becoming a mainstream appetizer served in most American casual dining restaurants. But you don't have to wait for your next outing with friends to share a plate of perfectly crispy fried calamari; it's easy to make at home.
My calamari recipe comes with a few tips that ensure a light, golden crust and tender squid that is not grease-heavy or rubbery.
What is calamari?
Is calamari squid or octopus? Calamari is the Italian word for squid, a cousin to octopus. Squid is firm and white with a mild, slightly sweeter taste that lends itself to so many flavors. There are more than 300 species of squid in the world's waters, but fewer than a dozen are utilized in cooking.
Squid is available in most grocery stores and, thankfully, it is not very expensive. You can find it at the fish counter but, more often, in the freezer aisle. In this calamari recipe, I used wild-caught frozen calamari tubes, which are already cleaned. Frozen calamari rings are also available and will work in this recipe.
How do you tenderize calamari before frying?
Here is one of the biggest tips for today's fried calamari recipe: tenderize your squid rings by soaking them in salted milk and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This will help tenderize the calamari while taming the fishy smell! It also helps the flour coating to stick to the meat of the squid.
To tenderize your calamari, simply stir about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt in ½ cup of milk. Add your squid rings to the salted milk solution and refrigerate for 30 minutes. There are other alternatives for tenderizing squid such as soaking it in buttermilk or lemon juice.
5 Tips for the best crispy fried calamari recipe
- Do not cut the calamari rings too thinly. I cut my squid tubes into ¾-inch thick rings, which extends the cooking time long enough for the flour coating to brown and crisp up nicely, while making sure that the calamari is tender on the inside.
- Soak the rings in a solution of salted milk for 30 minutes (refrigerated) before cooking. I shared this earlier, but this is the trick to tenderizing the calamari meat and it also helps tame the fishy taste.
- For crispy fried calamari, coat the rings in a mixture of flour, cornstarch, and baking powder! You'll get a golden-brown, crispy exterior on the tender squid rings.
- Once coated in the flour mixture, allow the squid rings a few short minutes to sit in a colander before frying. This allows the flour to rehydrate so that the coating does not fall off the calamari when fried. This will happen naturally anyway as you wait for the oil to heat, and you will be frying the calamari in batches which will allow enough time for the coating to stick.
- Manage the heat of your cooking oil. Heat the oil to somewhere between 350 and 365 degrees F before cooking the calamari. The more common problem with oil temperature is that it is often too low and the calamari will absorb too much of the oil and become too soggy or chewy. And if the oil is too hot, the outside will burn before the inside is cooked properly. So that is why it is important to manage the oil heat.
An oil thermometer is helpful here, but if you do not have a thermometer, how do you know if the oil is ready for frying? To test, drop just one calamari ring in the oil, lots of gentle bubbles should form around it immediately and the calamari and bubbles begin to float to the top.
- Serve ASAP! Fried calamari rings are at their best when served as nice and warm with a big splash of lemon juice!
How do you make fried calamari from scratch?
- Slice into rings
Unless you already bought calamari rings, you'll start by cutting the cleaned tubes into ¾-inch thick rings.
- Soak in salted milk
In a medium bowl, stir 1 teaspoon of kosher salt in ½ cup of milk. Add the squid rings and toss. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Prepare a flour mixture by whisking together 1 ½ cup all-purpose flour, ⅓ cup cornstarch, ½ teaspoon baking powder, ¾ teaspoon of dry oregano, and ½ teaspoon each black pepper and cayenne. Toss a few calamari rings in the flour mixture until well-coated, then transfer them to a colander. Repeat until all the calamari is coated in the flour mixture.
- Fry and Drain
Fill a small 2.5-quart pot or saucepan with 4 inches of grapeseed oil and heat the oil to somewhere between 350 and 365 degrees F. Drop one calamari ring, if the oil bubbles and forms around it and the calamari brings to float, the oil is ready. You can now cook the squid rings in batches (about 8 at a time) for 3 minutes or until golden brown.
Prepare a tray and put a wire rack covered with paper towel on top. As the calamari cook, use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked crispy rings to the prepared wire rack. If you have your oven heated on the lowest setting, you can stick the cooked calamari in it to keep them nice and warm. To test your oil, drop one calamari ring, many bubbles will form around it and the calamari will begin to float.
Can I make this in the air fryer?
Yes, you can make calamari in your air fryer! I do not own an air fryer, but I have done some research and asked a few friends. Based on that, here is your option for air fryer calamari once you have coated the calamari rings in the batter:
- Arrange the calamari in one single layer in your air fryer basket (you may do this in batches if you need to)
- Coat the calamari with cooking spray
- Cook at 400 F for 8 minutes or until the calamari turns golden and is cooked through
Serve it with
For me, calamari is great served hot with a squeeze of lemon juice and maybe a side of marinara (if I have any leftover homemade spaghetti sauce, I will use that) or even Tzatziki sauce for a Greek twist.
Want to add a couple more mezze or small dishes next to it? Here are some options:
- Crispy lemon roasted broccoli, baked zucchini spears, or eggplant pizza bites
- Skordalia (Greek garlic potato dip), Melitzanosalata, or even my latest spinach Greek yogurt dip
- Salmorejo (Spanish Chilled Tomato Soup) or Gazpacho
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Crispy Fried Calamari Recipe
- 1 pound frozen calamari tubes thawed
- Kosher salt
- ½ cup 2% milk
- 1 ½ cup all purpose flour
- ⅓ cup cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon dry oregano
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Grape seed oil as needed
- 1 lemon cut into wedges to serve
- Slice the calamari tubes into ¾-inch thick rings.
- In a medium bowl, stir 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt in ½ cup milk.
- Add the calamari rings to the milk mixture and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, oregano, black pepper, and cayenne (make sure the mixture is well combined).
- Prepare a large colander and set it on top of a large bowl. Using a pair of tongs, take a portion of the calamari rings (about ½ of them) shake off excess milk and toss the calamari in the flour mixture. Toss the calamari to coat evenly. Put the coated calamari in the colander. Repeat with the rest of the calamari.
- Turn your oven on a low 150 degrees F. Prepare a large sheet pan and set a wire rack on top. Top the wire rack with paper towel.
- Heat 4 inches of grape seed oil in a small cooking pot (I used a 2.5 quart pot) to somewhere between 350 and 365 degrees F. To test your oil, drop one calamari ring, many bubbles will form around it and the calamari will begin to float.
- Once your oil is ready, using a pair of tongs, gently add some of the calamari in and fry for about 3 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the calamari from the oil and arrange it on the paper towel on top of your prepared wire rack. Immediately season with kosher salt, then transfer to your warm oven to keep warm while you work on the rest. Repeat until you have fried all the calamari.
- Transfer the fried calamari to a serving plate and finish with a squeeze of lemon juice!
- Don't skip soaking the calamari in the salted milk. This helps tenderize the calamari while also taming the fishy taste
- Serve fried calamari hot with a side of marinara sauce or Tzatziki sauce.
- To make this in the air fryer: (this is according to my research as I do not own an air fryer). Arrange the calamari in one single layer in your air fryer basket (you may do this in batches if you need to). Coat the calamari with cooking spray. Cook at 400 F for 8 minutes or until the calamari turns golden and is cooked through
- Leftovers & storage: leftovers will last in the fridge for up to 3 days. The calamari will lose its crunch, but will still taste good. Do not reheat leftover fried calamari
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