Fried calamari is a favorite appetizer to order when dining out, but here's a little secret restaurants don't want you to know: it's actually quite easy to prepare in your own kitchen! My fried calamari recipe has a light, crispy coating, and comes complete with a spicy marinara sauce for dipping—it's the perfect finger food for sharing!
Fried Calamari, a Favorite Hot and Crispy Appetizer
There are a small handful of appetizers which my husband and I find utterly irresistible when we spy them on a restaurant menu, and fried calamari is definitely one of them.
Now, I must admit that the first time I tried fried calamari many years ago I was a wee bit skeptical of whether I would enjoy it, because those slightly strange looking rings and tentacles seemed a little daunting.
But when I squeezed some lemon over top of that platter of fried squid, picked up my first crispy ring and dipped it into the side of marinara sauce, I was forever smitten. Who'd of thought it could be so darned delicious?
Because I knew that squid could be a bit, shall we say, fickle, when it came to preparing it (rather tough if under/over-cooked), I assumed that fried calamari would always be best enjoyed at a restaurant, rather than prepared in one's home kitchen... Au contraire!
I'm so glad to say that isn't the case, because preparing lightly golden, hot and crispy fried calamari at home is actually quite doable.
Coated in a deliciously seasoned mixture for an extra light and crispy finish, then served with my easy spicy marinara sauce for dipping, my fried calamari recipe is a tasty and fun appetizer to pass around to friends and family, or enjoy as part of a “date night” in with a couple of cocktails (or "mocktails").
How to Make Fried Calamari with a Delicious Dipping Sauce
Since I'd rather not spend the time cleaning and prepping the squid, I find it easier (and cleaner) to purchase it from my local fish market, or from the seafood section of the local market, already prepared for use.
Typically, you will be able to find squid already cleaned and separated from the tentacles, and that's perfect. I like to cut my own rings from the tube-like body into my desired thickness, between 1/4” to 1/2”, and the tentacles are already good to go, just as they are.
Once you have your squid cut and ready, then it's onto tenderizing, coating, and frying!
I find that marinating the calamari in buttermilk for about 2 hours helps it to stay nice and tender when fried, and helps guard a little bit against it becoming tough.
Then, the calamari takes a dip in a coating mixture made from equal parts seasoned all-purpose flour and cornstarch to create a light and crisp finish after a quick fry.
And since the dipping sauce is a huge part of what makes fried calamari as tasty as it is, I prepare a spicy marinara sauce brimming with lots of garlic, red pepper flakes, and a flourish of herbs which simmers up in only 10 minutes. It's super savory and delicious!
Here's a peek at my fried calamari recipe: (or just jump to the full recipe below...)
- To get things started, I slice my squid bodies into rings between 1/4” to 1/2” thick, and place both the rings and the tentacles into buttermilk to marinate/tenderize, for about 2 hours, in the fridge (I even go as long as 24 hours, if prepping ahead).
- While the squid marinates, I prepare my spicy marinara sauce, and keep that warm until I'm ready to serve.
- Next, I fill a medium pot with enough oil to deep-fry the calamari (about 4-6 cups), and just before I'm ready to coat my calamari and then fry it, I begin slowly bringing my oil up to 375° (use a digital thermometer for this, if you have one).
- To prep the calamari for frying, I drain the rings and the tentacles very well, and toss them in a well-seasoned mixture of all purpose flour and cornstarch, and set the coated pieces on a plate or parchment paper-lined baking sheet to hold.
- I fry in batches as to not cool the oil down too much (this will result in greasy calamari), for roughly 2 1/2 minutes, total; then, I drain the fried calamari on a paper towel-lined wire rack, and immediately season with salt and black pepper plus a sprinkle of paprika.
- To serve, I add the seasoned fried calamari to a serving platter, place some cut lemon wedges around, garnish with parsley, and serve with warm spicy marinara sauce for dipping.
Fried Calamari with Spicy Marinara Sauce
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Serves 4
Nutrition Info: 356 calories (with about 2 tablespoons of sauce)
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Fried Calamari Ingredients:
- 1 pound cleaned squid, bodies cut into rings that are between 1/4” - 1/2”, plus tentacle pieces
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, plus extra for sprinkling
- Oil, for frying
- Paprika, for sprinkling after frying
- Chopped parsley, for garnish
- Lemon wedges, for garnish
Spicy Marinara Ingredients:
- Olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1 (15 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- Black pepper
- Place the prepared squid into a medium size bowl, and pour the buttermilk over it; allow it to marinate at least 2 hours, or even up to 24 hours, if preparing ahead.
- To prepare the spicy marinara sauce, place a small sauce pan over medium heat, and drizzle in about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil; add in the garlic, the red pepper flakes, and the Italian seasoning, and saute those together for about 30 seconds, just until the garlic is aromatic.
- Add in the crushed tomatoes, a good pinch of salt and pepper, and reduce the heat to low to allow the sauce to simmer very gently for about 10-15 minutes; set aside to serve warm with the calamari, or if prepping ahead, allow to cool and keep in the fridge.
- To prepare the coating mixture, add the flour, the cornstarch, salt, Italian seasoning, granulated onion and garlic, and white and black pepper into a large bowl, and whisk together to combine.
- Add the frying oil (about 4-6 cups) into a large, deep pan or pot, and bring it up to 375°.
- While the oil heats, drain the squid from the buttermilk thoroughly, allowing any excess to drip off, and toss it into the flour/cornstarch mixture, tossing it very well to completely coat each ring and tentacle piece; shake off any excess, and place the coated pieces onto a plate to hold.
- To fry, add a small batch to the hot oil (I usually work in about 4 batches) and allow the squid to fry for about 2 1/2 minutes, just until a pale golden color.
- Remove the fried calamari from the hot oil and drain on lots of paper towels to whisk away any excess grease, and season immediately with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, plus a bit of paprika; repeat the process until all calamari is fried.
- Place the fried calamari onto a serving platter or bowl, sprinkle over the chopped parsley and tuck the lemon wedges around, and serve while hot/warm with a large ramekin of warm spicy marinara sauce for dipping.
Tips & Tidbits for my Fried Calamari with Spicy Marinara Sauce:
- Purchase cleaned/prepped squid for convenience: Your local fish market, or the seafood department of your local supermarket, will most likely have squid that has been cleaned and prepared for fried calamari. Typically, you can find the tube-like bodies already separated from the tentacles, and then slice the bodies into rings; but if not, ask the seafood department to do this for you.
- Marinate in buttermilk to keep things tender: While you can certainly skip this step, I find that marinating the calamari in buttermilk helps to tenderize it a bit more, and impart extra flavor. 2 hours or more is best, but even 30 minutes will work in a pinch.
- Equal parts flour and cornstarch for light, crispy texture: Though you could use all flour for the coating, I like using equal parts flour and cornstarch in the coating for fried calamari. This creates a bit more of a golden color (though the color will be a pale golden, and this is perfect) and a slightly crispier texture once fried.
- Work in batches when frying: To keep that oil at a nice hot temp, work in batches when adding the calamari into the oil. This way, you won't bring the temperature of the oil down too much, which can create greasy calamari.
- Drain on a paper towel-lined wire rack: Once fried, drain the calamari on paper towels briefly to help wick away any excess oil. Also, season with salt/pepper/paprika at this point! 😉
- Prepare the marinara sauce ahead: You can prepare the spicy marinara sauce a day or two ahead of when you plan on frying and serving the calamari, and keep it in a covered container in the fridge. Then, gently reheat and serve when ready for the calamari.
- Another yummy sauce option: If you prefer a creamy, mayo-based dipping sauce to serve with this fried calamari recipe, check out the scrumptious lemony Chive Mayo that's served with my crab cakes recipe—a super tasty option as well!