Who doesn’t love a good plate of crispy fried and bite-sized calamari rings? Try and find medium-sized whole calamari (about 6-7 inches in length) as the meat will be more tender and bouncy instead of rubbery and tough. I make this with fried rings of spicy jalapeño and sweet baby peppers, which serve as a perfect companion in arms to the calamari. This classic appetizer dish is served with a simple garnish of lemon wedges and a spicy marinara dipping sauce, but just about any sauce would do. I usually like to have something mayo-based or creamy on hand, like this spicy cilantro dijonnaise dipping sauce. You may be tempted to skip the buttermilk marinade step, but beware you would be skipping out on a crucial step to tenderize and flavour the calamari, not to mention that the buttermilk helps the dredge to adhere to the calamari pieces more evenly as well. This can be made in advance and crisped in the oven at 450°F for about 5 minutes until hot.
Popcorn Calamari With Sweet and Spicy Peppers 5 Steps
In a mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk, kosher salt, dried oregano, granulated garlic, paprika and black pepper and whisk until even. Mix the calamari rings and tentacles with this buttermilk mixture and allow to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour refrigerated.
While the calamari is marinating, prepare the spicy marinara dipping sauce: heat the olive oil on medium heat in a small saucepot. Add in the diced onions and minced garlic cloves and sweat until very soft and translucent. Add in the puréed tomatoes and chili flakes and simmer for 15-20 minutes until thickened. Adjust seasoning with kosher salt and a splash of red wine vinegar then remove from the heat and set aside.
To prepare the breading and fry the calamari, bring a wide shallow pot of vegetable oil up to 375°F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the all-purpose flour with the cornstarch and mix until even. Using a slotted spoon, remove the calamari rings and tentacles from the buttermilk mixture into the flour and cornstarch mixture (note it may be necessary to do this in batches to avoid having the calamari pieces clump together). Toss until all of the calamari pieces are evenly covered and transfer all breaded pieces into a strainer to dust off excess. Do not discard the buttermilk mixture. Once all of the calamari has been removed and breaded, toss the sliced pepper rings into the buttermilk, followed by the breading mixture.
To fry, carefully add in the breaded calamari 10-15 pieces at a time so as to not overcrowd the oil and drop its temperature, fry until golden brown and cooked through approximately 2-3 minutes. Remove from the oil and transfer onto a tray lined with a wire rack or a plate lined with a paper towel. Season immediately with a light sprinkle of kosher salt. Repeat this process until all of the calamari pieces and peppers are fried.
To plate, transfer the fried calamari and peppers onto a platter, top with fresh cracked black pepper, chopped parsley, garnish with lemon wedges and serve with dipping sauce.