My zesty calamari recipe with tartar sauce is an essential one to have on hand—it’s an all-time favorite snack, comes together in a flash and it’s loaded with seafood goodness. I love zesting up the classic calamari with plenty of lemon zest, herbs, pinch red pepper flakes and I serve it with a light as air sour cream dill tartar sauce for a refreshing feel.
This is one of my must-have recipes again, it’s a snack that you can’t get enough of and it’s super tasty. Mind you, I used to hate calamari when I was young, I just hated that oily feel in my mouth and the gummy rubbery feel of fried squid. The minute I overcame these, calamari with tartar sauce turned into my go-to last-minute snack!
WHAT IS CALAMARI?
Calamari refers to battered and deep-fried squid served as an appetizer in many U.S. seafood restaurants, and common in many Mediterranean cuisines. The word comes from the Italian word for squid, which is a descendent of the Latin word for ink pot.
Is calamari octopus?
Calamari is made from squid, which has a milder and more sweet flavor than octopus. It is white in appearance when fresh, and has a firm texture.
How to buy squid.
These days you can find squid in the frozen section of most grocery stores. If you cannot locate it in the frozen section, you might be able to purchase fresh squid from the fish counter. The easiest thing to do is purchase calamari tubes or calamari rings which have already been cleaned and prepared for cooking. Look for wild-caught squid for a more intense flavor.
What part of squid is calamari?
Calamari can be made from the tentacles of the squid or the actual body/head cut across it’s width into rings.
HOW TO COOK CALAMARI
This beautifully fried calamari is first soaked to soften and tenderize the meat, while also taking the edge off of the strong flavor. After soaking, the calamari is dipped in flour and allowed to settle in the flour before frying. Then the calamari is deep-fried in small batches for a scant two minutes for each batch for the perfect bite every time.
How do you tenderize calamari before frying?
Prior to frying, the calamari is soaked for 10 minutes in a milk-garlic-herb bowl. This is to soften them and remove any strong squid taste. Other methods of tenderizing the calamari include soaking in salted milk or lemon juice. After soaking, they are coated with one layer of flour so the coating isn’t too thick. This allows the taste of the squid to shine through. Zesty calamari with tartar sauce is the perfect bite because they’re really fried for a couple of minutes only, and so they’re light in color as opposed to the deep golden brown ones (over fried or fried in oil that’s been overused).
Note: I do not recommend attempting to make this recipe in an air fryer.
TIPS FOR PERFECTLY FRIED CALAMARI
- Careful on the oil. So the trick is to fry them in small batches and not let them drink so much vegetable oil. In fact, frying them for just 2 minutes is quite enough—more than that they will become oily, and even worse—they will become rubbery. It’s the same concept with shrimps, the more you cook them the gummier they become. And to fix that, you’ll need to overcook them with plenty of fluids for a while so they soften up a bit. But no matter how they soften up, they never have the same texture as the perfectly 2 minute cooked ones.
- Don’t overcook or undercook your calamari. Keep your oil temperature steady between 350º and 365º to avoid overcooking or undercooking the calamari. If you have an oil thermometer, use that to determine when to dump it into the fryer. Test oil without a thermometer by dropping a piece of the battered calamari into the oil. If it starts sizzling and bubbling right away your oil is good to go.
- How to maximize flavor. The trick to infusing so much flavor into this zesty calamari is to actually sprinkle any herbs and spices on them after they’re fried and while still hot. This way they absorb so much flavor and taste lighter and fresher than if they were just fried. My favorite way to zest them up is with a mixture of lemon zest, herbs, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. This tiny final step really makes your calamari stand out. So by all means don’t skip it, and by all means, feel free to use your favorite spice/herb combo!
- How to get crispy fried calamari. Before frying, let your floured rings sit for just a couple of minutes in a strainer or colander. This gives the calamari and flour time to mesh with each other. Otherwise, you will lose the coating in the fryer.
A dipping sauce is a perfect accompaniment to calamari. I love serving it with my light dill tartar sauce because it’s made with sour cream and is loaded with bright flavors from the dill, capers, parsley, and mustard. These herbs add an extra fresh feeling to the dish. You could also serve it with chili sauce or marinara sauce.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH THIS CALAMARI RECIPE
You may want to have an appetizer night or a variety of dishes to serve with your fried calamari recipe. Besides the tartar sauce, which is essential, here are a few options we love.
Zesty Calamari With Tartar Sauce
A zesty calamari with tartar sauce recipe is an essential one to have on hand—it’s an all time favorite snack, comes together in a flash and it’s loaded with seafood goodness. I love zesting it up with plenty of lemon zest, herbs, pinch red pepper flakes.
- Calamari Ingredients
- 2 qt . oil , for crying (canola or peanut oil)
- 2 lb . squid , cut into rings (fresh or frozen)
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 pinch salt
- 1/2 cup of milk
- 1 small garlic clove
- 1 tablespoon of minced herbs (your choice)
- Zesty Ingredients
- ¼ tsp . salt
- ¼ tsp . pepper
- 1 lemon , zested
- 2 Tbsp . parsley , minced
- 1 large pinch crushed red pepper flakes (+/- depending on spice level)
- Light Dill Tartar Sauce
Place the milk, garlic and herbs in a bowl. And place the flour with a pinch of salt in another bowl. In a third bowl mix together the zesty child mixture of salt, pepper, lemon zest, parsley and crushed red pepper flakes; set aside
Heat up oil in a deep pan over medium heat until 375F is reached or use a deep fryer for convenience.
In the meantime, pat dry the squid rings and soak them in the milk mixture for no longer than 10 minutes. Drain them well and place them in the flour bowl.
Toss evenly and make sure each piece is well coated with flour.
Remove the rings and fry them for 2-3 minutes or until cooked.
Remove from the hot oil and place on paper towel-lined plate. Immediately season the calamari with the zesty chili mixture and toss to coat evenly.