CIA’s Pan-Fried Calamari Recipe
For simple but sparkling holiday entertaining, nothing shines quite like champagne and seafood appetizers. The pairing of salty, savory appetizers with champagne makes for an easy yet elegant party menu.
The CIA’s fresh-fried calamari is a classic quick-cook starter that goes perfectly with a glass of bubbly. Epicurean entertaining from New York to Hong Kong to the sunny coast of the Mediterranean features seafood and sparkling wine on the menu—it’s a pairing meant for parties.
“Sparkling wine is not only great for celebrations,” explains John Fischer, Associate Professor in Table Service at The Culinary Institute of America. “It also happens to be great with food. With its bubbles and good acidity, it goes particularly well with salty and rich foods, like the CIA’s pan-fried calamari.”
While calamari is an American bistro staple, it can be found in restaurants and family kitchens all over the Mediterranean. Sometimes served with aioli, sometimes topped with parmesan cheese, always blessed with a spritz of lemon, calamari is a simple, yet delectable gift from the sea.
In America, fried calamari is most often accompanied by a marinara sauce or a spicy tomato “Fra Diavolo.” Tartar sauce or pepperoncini-flavored aioli can be served as well, but fresh-fried calamari is a confident solo performer.
The difference between perfect tender-crisp calamari and breaded rubber rings is only a matter of minutes. Over-frying it to gain a dark brown coating will yield an inedible mass of chewiness. Calamari needs only a few minutes in hot oil to reach a golden perfection as light as the sparkling Mediterranean. The time in the fryer should resemble a quick dip in the ocean, not a long soak in a hot tub.
Cleaned, ready-to-cook calamari is widely available from fishmongers. Frozen calamari can also be used after defrosting. This calamari recipe uses a simple breading process of first dipping the squid in milk and then lightly seasoned flour. The result is a crispy coating that won’t fall off during frying.
Deep-frying in batches without over-crowding will help maintain oil temperature. It’s a great choice for intimate gatherings where your guests can join you in the kitchen. Champagne and calamari—they’ll be the most talked about couple at your next holiday gathering!
This recipe has been adapted from CIA’s Vegetables cookbook.
Makes 4–6 appetizer servings
- 3/4 pound fresh calamari, cleaned and rinsed
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, or as needed for dredging
- 2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning mix
- Salt and pepper as needed
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 cup olive or canola oil, or as needed for pan frying
- 2 cups tomato sauce (recipe below) warmed
Makes 6 Servings
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 yellow onions, finely diced
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 1/2 pounds plum (Roma) tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 1 Tablespoon fresh basil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Cut the squid’s body into thin rings approximately 1/8-inch thick. Rinse the rings and tentacles thoroughly in cold water, then blot dry on absorbent toweling.
- Combine the flour, Old Bay seasoning, salt, and pepper in a large plate or pan. Pour milk into a shallow bowl.
- Add the oil to a skillet (there should be about 1/4-inch covering the bottom and preheat the oil over medium-high heat.
- Dip the squid rings and tentacles into the milk first and then in the seasoned flour, turning to coat evenly. Immediately lower the coated calamari into the hot oil. Cook, turning occasionally, until the squid is golden brown on all sides, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the calamari from the oil and drain briefly on absorbent toweling.
- Serve the squid with the warm tomato sauce for dipping.
- Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
- Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 6 minutes.
- Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the tomatoes, bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20–25 minutes.
- Add the basil and simmer for 5 minutes more.
- Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Nutrition analysis per 3.25-ounce serving using canola oil and without tomato sauce:
140 calories, 11g protein, 11g carbohydrate, 6g fat, 230mg sodium, 135mg cholesterol, 0g fiber. Tomato Sauce Nutrition analysis per one-ounce serving: 10 calories, 0g protein, 2g carbohydrate, 0.5g fat, 10mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol, 0g fiber.