Making your own fried calamari at home is easier than you think! This classic Italian recipe for calamari fritti will transport you straight to the shores of the Mediterranean. With just a few simple ingredients and some basic kitchen skills, you can recreate this popular restaurant dish in the comfort of your own kitchen.
Recently a few of our friends caught a literal boatload of fresh squid to use as tuna bait. They had tons of it leftover and kindly gifted us a bag of tentacles and tubes. Fried calamari was definintely in order!
Fried squid, or Calamari fritti as its known in Italy, is a simple, classic Italian appetizer that's popular at Italian restaurants and can also be found as street food or at outdoor markets in Italy.
My recipe includes fried hot cherry peppers in addition to the squid, inspired by the fried calamari in Rhode Island, which gets tossed with a spicy pepper mixture after being fried.
The pickled peppers add a bright, tangy kick and are really delicious when fried with the same crispy coating. Plus, frying the peppers with the squid cuts out a step with traditional Rhode Island calamari.
There's nothing like enjoying plate of hot, fresh calamari fritti with a crisp glass of white wine or an ice cold beer.
I love it as a summer appetizer or cocktail snack, but it's also a classic addition to the Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner on Christmas Eve!
Why this recipe works
- Easily make this Italian restaurant classic at home.
- Buttermilk neutralizes any "fishy" taste and tenderizes the calamari.
- A quick, hot fry ensures a light, crispy breading with tender squid every time.
- Optional hot pickled cherry peppers add tang and lots of flavor.
- Can be served alone or with a variety of different sauces.
- Squid: Look for great quality fresh squid at your local fish market or supermarket. It should have a translucent sheen, not look cloudy or mushy in any way. I like to use the tubes and the tentacles for a mix of textures, but you can just use the tubes if you would like. While I recommend buying fresh squid, you can use frozen in a pinch. Just make sure to defrost it before using.
- Cherry Peppers: These tangy and spicy peppers add a delicious kick to calamari fritti. This is inspired by “Rhode Island style” calamari, which is tossed with banana and cherry peppers and some of their brine. They are optional, but I highly recommend adding them for their extra burst of flavor. Feel free to substitute pickled jalapenos, banana peppers, or pepperoncini if you can't find cherry peppers.
- Buttermilk: Buttermilk serves as a great tenderizer for the squid. It also helps to get rid of any fishiness and adds a subtle tanginess to the dish. Letting the calamari tubes and tentacles soak in the salty buttermilk to let the coating stick is key. If you don't have buttermilk, you can make your own by adding 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of milk and letting it sit for 5 minutes.
- Flour and Cornstarch: The combination of flour and cornstarch in the breading recipe is key for achieving that light and crispy coating on the calamari.
- Baking Powder: Including a small amount of baking powder in the flour mixture adds a light airiness to the coating, making it extra crispy.
- Seasonings: I keep it simple with salt and black pepper, but feel free to add in other seasonings like garlic powder or Italian seasoning for extra flavor and customize the seasonings to your liking!
- Oil: For frying, I like to use a neutral oil with a high smoke point, such as peanut (my preferred oil for flying) or canola oil. This allows the calamari to cook evenly without burning. You can also use grape seed, vegetable oil or your favorite oil for frying.
*Full ingredient list with quantities is in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
- Large Pot - A heavy-bottomed pot, such as a Dutch oven, is best for frying. It will hold the oil at a consistent temperature and prevent splattering. A deep fryer is also a great way to fry the calamari fritti, as it maintains a consistent temperature throughout cooking.
- Spider Strainer - This handy tool helps to easily remove the calamari from the hot oil without burning yourself or breaking apart the coating. You can also use a slotted spoon or tongs, but a spider strainer is the best tool for the job.
- Candy Thermometer or Deep Frying Thermometer - It's important to keep an eye on the oil temperature while frying. A digital thermometer will ensure that the oil stays at the right temperature for perfectly crispy calamari.
- Wire Rack - I like to drain my fried foods on a wire rack set over top of a sheet pan, but you can also use paper towels.
- Baking Sheet - This is essential for draining the fried calamari and removing excess oil. You want something like a sheet pan with a large surface area so the calamari drains in an even layer and doesn't pile up, making it overly oily and soggy.
1) Start by prepping the squid and cut them into ½-inch rings.
Tip: Avoid slicing them too thin, as they may overcook easily.
2) In a bowl, mix buttermilk, salt, drained cherry peppers, calamari rings, and tentacles. Stir well, cover, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 8 hours.
3) In another bowl, whisk flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and black pepper.
4) Remove squid from the buttermilk mixture, allowing excess liquid to drain off.
5) Transfer squid to the flour mixture, coat well, and remove any excess flour using a strainer.
6) Heat about 1 inch of oil in a large pot or pan with high sides until it reaches 375°F. Carefully drop breaded calamari pieces into the hot oil, frying in batches. Fry for 2-3 minutes or until golden, shuffling occasionally for even cooking. Transfer to paper towels or a wire rack to drain. Repeat with the remaining squid rings.
Tip: Use a spider or wire strainer to separate and move the pieces in the oil.
Serve piping hot and enjoy!
Tips for success
- Make sure you use fresh squid for the best calamari fritti!
- It’s really important the squid doesn’t have too much buttermilk on it when being added to the flour. You want to make sure you really shake most of it off first, or else it will clump up and make the coating thicker and more dense.
- Either use a candy or oil thermometer to make sure the oil is at approximately 375°F. Don’t let it get lower than 350°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, dip the back of a wooden spoon into the hot oil, and if it rapidly bubbles, the oil is ready.
- Work in batches! Don’t overcrowd the oil, or it will lower the temperature, which will cause the calamari to become greasy and rubbery. 2-3 minutes max in the hot oil. You want it crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, light, and not overly greasy.
- Serve hot! Fried calamari is best enjoyed fresh and piping hot. It can get soggy if left out for too long, so be sure to serve it right away.
My favorite way to enjoy really fresh calamari fritti is piping hot with just a squeeze of lemon juice over the top. You can also serve it with a side of marinara sauce, tartar sauce, or aioli for dipping.
Tip: Fried calamari works perfectly as one of the 7 seafood dishes for a Feast Of The Seven Dishes! Serve it with perfectly pan seared scallops, Maryland style crab cakes and linguine with clams for an amazing Italian Christmas Eve dinner.
Fried calamari has a crispy, golden exterior and a tender interior when cooked correctly. It has a very mild seafood flavor and pairs well with tangy dipping sauces like marinara or aioli. When over cooked, it becomes chewy.
There are a few things to keep in mind to achieve ultra crispy fried calamari.
First, make sure the oil is at the correct temperature (375°F) before adding the squid. This will allow for a quick fry and prevent it from absorbing too much oil. Don't allow the oil to ever fall below 350°F.
When putting together the calamari coating, use a combination of flour and cornstarch to help create a light and crispy texture.
It's also important to remove any excess buttermilk and flour before frying, as it can cause clumping and hinder crispiness. Let the buttermilk drip off before adding to the flour, and shake off all excess flour before frying.
Lastly, don't overcrowd the pan or pot when frying. This will lower the temperature of the oil and result in soggy breading!
Calamari can get tough if it's cooked for too long. So, just keep an eye on the cooking time and take out the squid rings from the oil when they turn golden and crispy, which usually takes around 2-3 minutes.
And, if you slice the calamari too thin or use older squid, it might also end up chewy. So, aim for rings that are about ½-inch thick and use fresh squid for the best results.
Absolutely! Simply swap out the all-purpose flour for your favorite gluten-free flour blend. The rest of the ingredients remain the same.
Calamari, like all fried food, is best eaten fresh. But if you'd like to reheat, pop the calamari in a preheated oven at 400°F for around 5-8 minutes or until it's crispy and warmed through. If you have a convection oven or an air fryer, that will work even better. Just keep in mind that the longer you heat the calamari, the tougher it will become.
Just a heads up, microwaving leftover fried calamari might make the breading soggy and tough, so I don't recommend it.
Did you make this recipe and LOVE it? Please leave a star ⭐️ rating and/or comment to help other readers. I absolutely love hearing from you and do my best to answer all questions and comments. I love seeing when you make my recipes, so please tag me @ColeyCooks on Instagram and I will repost!Print