Crispy fried Calamari is one of the most classic appetizers consisting of lightly battered rings of squid that’s quickly fried and served with a warm marinara sauce. It’s very easy to make homemade calamari for as a nice dinner party appetizer. (You can easily make fried calamari gluten free too!)
You can see Calamari on just about every restaurant menu across the country. It is that popular but not surprising!
There is so much satisfying textures and flavors in this simple dish, you can’t resist it. The crunchy light breading on a chewy and slightly sweet calamari makes a great combination of textures. Adding a warm marinara sauce for the dipping bring the whole bite together.
What is Calamari?
Did you know that the word “calamari” is actually Italian for “squid?!” How fun is that! It’s pretty clear and straightforward. Although, in the US we know it more as a specific method of preparation of squid and that is battered and fried rings of squid.
Calamari has white flesh and tastes very mild and slightly sweet. That is why it’s best with simply seasoned batter and a basic tomato marinara.
Although squid is usually chewy, it should not be rubbery. You should only cook calamari either nice and slow at low temperature, like in a soup or Paella, or fast at high temperature, when searing or frying.
Even though we know it in US as this crunchy, slightly chewy rings of squid, there are actually a lot of different ways to cook it. Many nations across the world include squid in various dishes, like in Paella, Cioppino, risotto, soups, and even seared, grilled, or fried whole.
Only six simple and inexpensive ingredients are needed to create one of the best dinner party appetizers!
- Calamari – The squid needs to be uncooked when you purchase it, whether you decide to clean it yourself or not. If it’s frozen, make sure to thaw it first.
- Whole Milk – use whole milk or low fat buttermilk.
- Flour – Simply use all purpose flour. If you need to use gluten free flour, use all purpose gluten free flour.
- Cornmeal – This is what helps to make the battering thick and deliciously crunchy. (Cornmeal is already gluten free but double check the ingredients.)
- Salt – use the amount of salt to your taste.
- Black Pepper – Freshly cracked black pepper will yield the best flavor.
How to Clean Squid
If you got a whole squid, it’s very easy and much cheaper to clean at home. It will take you 5-10 minutes to clean the squid.
Remove the head from the mantle (body) by gently pulling on the head and tangles to pull out the innards. Make sure to remove the beak from underneath the tentacles by gently squeezing it and pulling it out. Cut off the tentacles right between the eye and where they connect.
Pull the cartilage out of the mangle and rinse out the tentacles and the mantle inside and out. Take the skin off, if you wish, by pinching it and pulling it off. It should peel off quite easy.
If you want to see detailed instructions and a video, please check out our post on how to clean squid.
How to Make Fried Calamari
First, you’ll want to allow the squid to soak for about 15 to 20 minutes in salted milk.
While calamari is soaking, start heating oil in a cooking pan over medium high heat, cover a wire rack with paper towels, and combine the ingredients for the flour mixture in a bowl.
Take some calamari out and shake off excess milk. Then, toss it in the flour mixture, being sure to separate and evenly coat them.
Using metal tongs, carefully add the dredged calamari to the hot oil. It only needs to cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown.
Remove the calamari once it’s cooked and allow it to drain excess oil on the prepared paper towel covered wire rack.
Serve the freshly fried calamari with marinara dipping sauce or lemon aioli, and enjoy!
Where can I buy squid?
You have a few options as far as buying squid goes. The one I highly recommend is getting fresh squid from a seafood market! You can buy it whole and clean it at home, or you can see if they have squid already cleaned out and broken down.
Many fish mongers will be more than happy to even clean the squid for you, so don’t be afraid to ask. If you don’t have access to a seafood market or fresh squid, you can buy cleaned squid frozen. Make sure to slow-thaw it first in the refrigerator and then cook as directed.
Why does the squid need to be soaked in milk?
Soaking squid helps to tenderize it and lessens the fishy scent. The lactic acid in the milk helps to tenderize the muscle fibers so it helps prevent squid from turning rubbery.
What to Serve with Fried Calamari
Calamari is classically served with Marinara Sauce, but it also goes great with aioli and other creamy mayonnaise based sauces. For an easy lemon aioli, simply combine 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, 1 small garlic clove (pressed), zest off of 1 lemon, and a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. Add some salt and pepper to taste, and voila!
- Make calamari gluten free by using gluten free all purpose flour.
- When soaking, work in batches to dredge and fry so pieces don’t stick together and dry evenly.
- Raw squid actually freezes well, so you can always clean and cut the squid and then freeze it to use when needed. Get a few pounds at a time, clean it, and freeze in batches. use zip-top freezer bags to freeze it and make sure to get all the air out of the bags and label. Freeze squid for up to 2 months.
More Classic Appetizers You Should Try!
Bruschetta – a simple combination of tomatoes, onion, garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil over toasted bread slices flavored with olive oil, garlic, and salt.
Prosciutto and Melon – all you need is a fresh and juicy cantaloupe and thinly sliced prosciutto for this simply delicious appetizer.
Bacon Wrapped Scallops – there is a wonderful flavor combination between the salty bacon, the sweet and savory seasoning on the scallops, and slightly sweet natural flavor of scallops.
- 1 lb uncooked, cleaned, calamari cut into circles (and tentacles if available)*
- 1/2 cup whole milk (or low fat buttermilk)
- 3/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- Remove the head from the mantle (body) by gently pulling on the head and tangles to pull out the innards. Make sure to remove the beak from underneath the tentacles by gently squeezing it and pulling it out. Cut off the tentacles right between the eye and where they connect.
- Pull the cartilage out of the mangle and rinse out the tentacles and the mantle inside and out. Take the skin off, if you wish, by pinching it and pulling it off. It should peel off quite easy.
- Place sliced squid into a small mixing bowl and add whole milk until it's just covered. Add a couple of pinches of salt and mix well.
- Add oil into a deep, cooking pan, a 2.5-3 qt pot, or a skillet and let it heat up to 365°-375° over medium-high heat. (You can also use a fryer if you have one.)
- Cover a wire rack with a couple of paper towels and place it inside a rimmed baking sheet.
- In a wide, shallow bowl, mix together flour, cornmeal, salt, and pepper.
- When oil comes to temperature, it's time to fry.
- Pull squid pieces out of milk and let excess milk drip off back into the mixing bowl.
- Set aside and let it soak while you prepare to fry. (Give it about 15-20 minutes to soak.)
- Toss the squid into the flour mixture and gently toss the pieces around to coat them evenly but make sure they are not clumping. It's best to do it in batches to the pieces are coated evenly and don't clump together.
- Carefully add dredged calamari into the hot oil using either metal slotted spoon or metal tongs. Let it cook for 2-3 minutes, until golden brown.
- Take calamari out of the oil using a metal slotted spoon, metal slotted spatula or metal tongs. Spread cooked calamari onto the prepared paper towel covered wire rack. Repeat with remaining calamari.
- NOTE: If you are working in small batches, you can keep fried calamari warm by placing the prepared wire rack into the oven heated to 150°170°.
- Serve fried calamari with marinara sauce or lemon aioli**.
- *Note – if buying whole calamari, account for the innards and cuttlebone that you will be discarding, so get about 1.25-1.5 lb whole calamari.
- **For easy lemon aioli: combine 1/2 cup of mayonnaise, 1 small garlic clove (pressed), zest off of 1 lemon, and a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. Add some salt and pepper to taste, and voila!