Fried Calamari is incredibly easy to make at home, and so much better than the restaurant! This recipe has a crispy batter that fries perfectly to a golden brown crunch. I share tips for ensuring the calamari isn’t tough, and has great flavor and robust crispiness.
Are there any foods you can think of that you MUST get if you see it on the menu when you’re dining out? For me, fried calamari, or “calamari fritti” as it often said on the menu, was always one of those must-order dishes, along with Coconut Shrimp.
I don’t eat fried food too often, but fried calamari is one of my favorites. Rings of squid coated in a super crispy, crunchy shell, dipped in a little marinara or aioli…the BEST!
I get the impression that a lot of people are intimidated by deep frying, but it’s actually one of the easiest and quickest cooking methods of all. This crispy fried calamari for instance only takes 2-3 minutes total for each batch. It’s super fast, and the fresh-out-of-the-fryer crispy coating is so much better than what you’d get at a restaurant.
Tips for Best Results
Be precise with temperature – The most important thing when frying is to make sure the temperature is right. This helps you nail the cook and crunch! If you don’t have a thermometer, get one! It is one of the most essential tools for the kitchen. Some people like having a dedicated deep fry thermometer, but I just use an instant read thermometer to check the temperature.
Soak the calamari in lemon juice – Beginning with a soak in lemon juice both tenderizes and flavors the squid.
Use real buttermilk – The flavor of real buttermilk is unmatched. I know people often substitute milk with a little vinegar, but it’s not the same in terms of flavor or texture. Get the real stuff, and if you need to use up the leftovers, try Lemon Buttermilk Pie or Buttermilk Pancakes.
Salt the fried calamari immediately out of the oil – As soon as you pull the squid from the fryer, season with salt immediately, so the salt sticks well to the calamari.
Step by Step Overview:
To get started with the calamari, cut each whole squid into tubes, then soak in a large bowl with fresh lemon juice for 15 minutes:
This not only adds flavor, but will give you more tender squid as the acid in the lemon tenderizes the squid tubes.
Next, in a separate bowl, mix all-purpose flour with cayenne pepper, paprika, and sea salt. If you wish to also add black pepper, or any other seasonings, add them here.
Split this flour mixture between two bowls, then add buttermilk to a third bowl.
Remove the squid from the lemon juice, then dredge in the seasoned flour, shaking off the excess:
Then into the buttermilk, letting any excess liquid drip off for a few seconds:
Then into the second duplicate bowl of seasoned flour, again shaking off any excess:
Why do you need to shake off the excess?
If you’ve ever had breading fall off during cooking, this is because the excess was not shaken off during each step of the breading process. After each dredging session in the bowl, take a few seconds to either shake off excess flour or allow the liquid to drop off for a few seconds before proceeding to the next bowl.
Once the fresh calamari has two layers of this flour coating, deep fry the pieces in small batches, for about 2-3 minutes.
Note how short the cooking time is, so it’s really important that the deep fryer temperature is spot on.
The fried calamari should be golden brown perfection, and thoroughly crispy, after just a few minutes!
Remove the squid rings from the hot oil using a slotted spoon or spider strainer, then drain on a paper towel. Immediately salt the calamari so the seasoning sticks:
Repeat batches until all of the remaining battered calamari is cooked, making sure to watch the oil temperature as you go.
When frying on the stove, I usually need to hover between medium heat and medium-high heat in order to maintain the the proper 375F for a perfect golden crust and tender calamari.
How to Serve It
There’s enough flavor here in the batter that you can truly serve it plain and it’s delicious! Or you can serve it with a simple tomato sauce (I purchase a jar of Rao’s marinara sauce), lemon wedges, Tartar Sauce, or Aioli.
Just make sure that you enjoy it promptly out of the fryer, while the crunch is its most robust.
What to do with the used cooking oil?
One benefit of using tallow instead of fats like soybean oil or peanut oil, is it’s stable enough that it can be reused again and again. Animal fats in general have high smoke points and are more resistant to oxidation than industrial oils.
I simply filter the used tallow to remove the crumbs and sediment from the homemade calamari, then use it for another deep fried recipe, such as Homemade Mozzarella Sticks, Homemade Corn Dogs, or Potato Croquettes.
Tips and FAQ
Store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 days, spread out on a piece of paper towel, to help absorb any excess oil. Know that it will never be as crispy as straight out of the fryer.
Yes, store in an airtight container, spread out on a piece of paper towel to help absorb any excess oil, for up to 2 months. Know that it won’t be as crispy upon thawing.
If you truly want the crispiest results, deep fry it again, straight cold from the fridge, for about 2 minutes at 375F (or if straight from the freezer, add 1 extra minute). You may also try pan frying it over medium high heat for about 5 minutes, until lightly crisp and heated through. I do not recommend the microwave, as the squid will be soggy.
Did you enjoy the recipe? Please leave a 5-star rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page.
- 1 lb cleaned calamari tubes cut into rings, and tentacles left whole
- juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 2 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp cayenne
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup buttermilk*
- tallow for deep frying
- marinara sauce, lemon wedges, or aioli, for serving, optional
- Place the calamari into a bowl with the lemon juice, and let sit for 15 minutes. This will tenderize the calamari.
- Preheat the tallow or your frying oil of choice to 375 degrees F, either in a deep fryer or a large cast iron pot, no more than 1/2 full.
- In a medium bowl, whisk to combine the flour, cayenne, paprika, and salt. Add half of this mixture to another medium bowl. Place the buttermilk or milk in a third bowl. Place the three bowls on the counter in the following order: spiced flour, buttermilk, and spiced flour.
- Remove the calamari from the lemon juice, then dredge each piece in the flour, shaking off any excess, then into the buttermilk, shaking off the excess, then back into the second bowl of flour. Repeat this process with all the calamari.
- Fry the calamari in batches for about 2-3 minutes total, until golden brown. Then drain on a paper towel and immediately salt the calamari generously so the salt sticks. Serve with marinara sauce and lemon wedges, if desired. Enjoy!
Nutrition is estimated using a food database and is only intended to be used as a guideline for informational purposes.
Post updated in November 2018. Originally published February 2016.