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Sauteed Calamari is such a quick and easy way to enjoy the delicious, versatile seafood! With a serious kick from fresh hot peppers and a delightful brininess from capers and black olives, this Mediterranean-inspired dish that’s topped with a buttery, herby breadcrumb topping may just convert you from “fried” to “sautéed”. Read on for more!
Spicy Sautéed Calamari is bursting with flavor from capers, black olives, green onions, garlic and fresh hot peppers for some serious picante. It’s rounded off with some fresh lemon juice, then topped with lightly pan-fried panko breadcrumbs for a crispy finish. Once the ingredients are prepped, the dish comes together in only 15 minutes.
By quickly sautéing the calamari for only one to two minutes at a high heat, we’re able to maintain its tenderness, much like as if it were fried, but without all the mess, frying oil and extra calories.
This dish is so simple to prepare with only a few key ingredients. And, while this dish certainly reminds me of the holidays, it is a seasonless combination that can be enjoyed year-round and customized for the seasons. For example, sometimes I’ll add a handful of peas when making this in the spring, some diced fresh tomatoes in the summer, and some fennel in the fall. In the winter, you can generally find this dish on our Christmas Eve menu for the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” as it is a perfect addition to the holiday table and doesn’t take a lot of advance planning.
It’s also a nice combination to include in a hot antipasto at your next dinner party. Or, frankly, on any random Tuesday night.
One Minute or One Hour . . .
I can still hear my favorite culinary school instructor, Chef Scanlan, waving his finger at the class and repeating, “Always cook calamari one minute or one hour!” What he meant was that calamari can be cooked in one of two ways: for the blink of an eye, as in fried or grilled calamari, or for a longer amount of time so that it passes through the middle cooking stage when it is unappetizingly rubbery and arrives at the tender and super-appealing stage.
Both Calamari, Potato and Peas and Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo take the longer approach to cooking calamari. But, this dish takes the short approach. The calamari tubes and tentacles are quickly sautéed with capers, black olives, hot pepper, garlic and green onions, then finished with a splash of fresh lemon juice and parsley. With a crispy, buttery and herby breadcrumb topping, this dish is next-level delicious.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- Quick and Easy (One Pan)–If you make the crispy breadcrumb topping in advance, Sauteed Calamari comes together in about 10 minutes (and all in one pot or pan) once the ingredients are prepped. Easy peasy!
- No Deep Frying Required–As much as I love a good fried calamari, I don’t love the mess created and volume of oil needed for it. This recipe is very easy to pull together and is so satisfying (and a lot less calories than a deep fried version). And, you still get the crunchy element (that we all love) with the herby, buttery breadcrumb topping.
- Restaurant Worthy! As easy as this dish is, it is so darn impressive. It is just the right blend of ingredients + technique resulting in a flavor powerhouse. The combination of tender calamari with briny capers and olives, hot peppers, bright lemon juice, green onions and parsley, and crispy buttery breadcrumbs is truly a treat!
If you enjoy calamari and seafood, I hope you give this recipe a try. And, don’t forget the rustic bread as you’ll surely want to fare la scarpetta with this dish. Mangia bene!
Ingredients for Sauteed Calamari
Here are the ingredients we will be using in this Spicy Sauteed Calamari recipe:
- Calamari: Sometimes fresh calamari is difficult to find. I generally use a high-quality, frozen, pre-cleaned calamari, saving me lots of time. (Check the freezer section near the seafood department of your grocery store.) Cleaned fresh squid comes at a premium at the fish market, but is worth it in my opinion. Having said that, cleaning squid is not difficult, just time consuming (and a bit slimy), as you must remove the outer skin, innards and all cartilage. (Click here for a great resource on the process.) Once fully cleaned, use both the tentacles and body (cut up into rings) in this recipe.
- Hot Peppers: For something a bit different, we are sautéing fresh peppers here for the spicy heat element, and it works so well in this dish, adding great flavor and texture. I use a combination of long hots and fresno peppers, but frankly you can use any type of hot pepper. The seeds and membranes are optional. (The more seeds and membranes that you include, the hotter the dish.) Also, in a pinch, feel free to use crushed red pepper or chili paste for the heat if you do not have fresh hot peppers. Having said all this, you can 100% leave the hot peppers out if you prefer.
- Capers and Black, Oil-Cured Olives: Both of these add a briny, salty punch to the dish and give it the spirit of a puttanesca sauce.
- Garlic and Green Onions (a.k.a., scallions): These aromatic vegetable are important flavor builders and work so well with the calamari.
- Butter and Olive Oil: Used to sauté the all the aromatics and calamari.
- Lemon Juice: Add a splash of fresh lemon juice to the calamari at the very end of cooking to give the dish a touch of acid to round out and boost the overall flavors. I always say that fresh lemon juice makes almost anything better, and this is a great example of that.
- Fresh Parsley: Flat-leaf parsley adds a nice brightness to the dish and pairs nicely, in general, with seafood.
- Panko Breadcrumbs: Extra crispy panko breadcrumbs are toasted lightly in melted butter and combined with chopped parsley to make a delicious topping for the calamari, adding lots of texture and crunch. Panko is a type of flaky breadcrumb that has a light, airy and crispy texture. Substitute regular breadcrumbs for the panko breadcrumbs, if necessary.
Find a complete and detailed list of ingredients with amounts and instructions in the recipe below.
Sauteed Calamari Step-by-Step, Pro-Tips included!
Here are the main steps for making this delicious Sauteed Calamari recipe:
- Prep and gather all ingredients. Then, make the breadcrumb topping: Heat butter in small skillet over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, add breadcrumbs and parsley and cook until breadcrumbs are toasted, about 2 to 3 minutes, stirring continuously. Remove from heat and set aside, uncovered, at room temperature.
- PRO-TIP: You can make these breadcrumbs 3 to 4 hours in advance and hold them, uncovered, at room temperature.
- PRO-TIP: Substitute regular breadcrumbs for the panko breadcrumbs, if necessary. Panko breadcrumbs will produce a crunchier topping than regular breadcrumbs.
- Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium low heat. Then, add the garlic, hot pepper, ½ cup green onions and ¼ cup parsley and cook until the garlic starts to brown, about 4 to 5 minutes.
- PRO-TIP: If you prefer to keep this recipe dairy free, you can substitute the butter with olive oil.
- PRO-TIP: Use any type of hot pepper. Seeds and membranes are optional. (The more seeds and membranes that you include, the hotter the dish.) Also, in a pinch, feel free to use crushed red pepper or chili paste for the heat if you do not have fresh hot peppers.
- Stir in the capers, olives and paprika and cook until dry, about 2 minutes.
- Increase the heat to medium-high, then add the calamari. Toss for about 30 seconds.
- PRO-TIP: Try to buy already cleaned calamari, if possible. (See recipe NOTES below for information cleaning and prepping the calamari.) Once the calamari is cleaned and/or defrosted, cut the bodies into approximately ½” thick rings. Use both the rings and tentacles in this recipe.
- PRO-TIP: Pat the calamari with a paper towel to remove excess moisture before cooking.
- Then add the lemon juice, remaining green onions and parsley and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes only, then remove from heat. The calamari is done when it just turns firm and opaque in color.
- Serve immediately, topped with the herb breadcrumbs, and with some crusty bread in order to sop up all the wonderful juices! That’s it!
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about Spicy Sauteed Calamari:
Proper cooking technique! As I mentioned above, calamari is unique in that it should either be cooked very quickly (for 1 to 2 minutes), as in this recipe or a traditional fried calamari. Or, it should be cooked longer (closer to one hour) until it passes through the unpleasant rubbery stage and arrives at a very appealing tenderness. This should result in perfect calamari every time.
In the case of fried calamari, many cooks swear by tenderizing the calamari in a milk/salt mixture to ensure its tenderness. I have never actually found the need to do this.
Panko is a type of flaky breadcrumb that has a light, airy texture that helps it crisp as it cooks. Bread is processed into large flakes, rather than crumbs, and then dried to make panko. As a breading, it generally absorbs less oil than regular breadcrumbs, keeping food more crisp and crunchy.
Substitute regular breadcrumbs for the panko breadcrumbs, if necessary. Panko breadcrumbs will produce a crunchier topping than regular breadcrumbs.
“Calamari” is the Italian word for “squid” and is basically the culinary name of dishes containing squid.
But, the answer to this question varies. According to some, calamari and squid are different species within the class cephalopoda and squid is cheaper and tougher while calamari is more tender and expensive.
“Those two words are like ahi and tuna,” says Mike Vujevic of Bob’s Seafood. “Ahi is a type of tuna, but the two terms are often used interchangeably.”
Quickly-cooked calamari like this does not reheat well and tends to become rubbery. If you have leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. Then, consider just bringing them to room temperature to enjoy with a salad or other light meal.
Another option (that I can attest to personally), is to return any leftovers to a skillet and add some canned tomatoes. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes, covered, until the calamari become super tender. (Add a little water if necessary.) This technique would be akin to that in the Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo recipe and would result in the most delicious and flavorful calamari sauce for pasta. At this point, you could either refrigerate it for a few days or freeze it for up to three months to enjoy later.
Sautéed Calamari can be served as either an appetizer or an entrée and is a great, year-round dish. (And, I especially like to include this dish on my Christmas Eve menu.)
It can be an important component of a hot antipasto, a light entrée with a mixed green salad, or tossed with some capellini pasta or served over a rice or a hearty whole grain like farro or quinoa.
However I serve it, I always include some rustic, crusty bread to soak up all the delicious juices left on the plate! As the Italian say, “fare la scarpetta”!
I’d love to hear how you like to enjoy this Sautéed Calamari. Please let me know in the comments below!
Variations and Substitutions for Sauteed Calamari
Here are a few ways to change up Spicy Sauteed Calamari:
- If you’d like a bit of tomato essence in this dish, add 2 tablespoons tomato paste to the pan along with the capers and oliveand let it caramelize for a couple of minutes.
- Cancel the Heat! If heat is not your thing, no problem! This dish will still be so delicious without any of the hot pepper. Alternatively, pickled banana peppers or sweet peppadew peppers would be an interesting substitute.
- Add Peas: Calamari and peas are a natural pairing and go together so well. I left them out of this recipe, but feel free to fold some in at the same time as the calamari.
- Make it Dairy-Free: Just substitute the butter in the recipe with olive oil and this recipe will be dairy free.
- Make it Gluten-Free: Leave out the breadcrumb topping for a gluten-free option.
- Make it Heartier: Since shrimp and bay scallops are also very quick-cooking like the calamari in this recipe, you can add some to the pan at the same time as the calamari for a heartier dish with more varieties of seafood. Just be sure to not overcrowd the pan! Use a large pan or sauté the seafood in batches.
- Turn it into a Pasta: Turn sauteed calamari into a pasta by adding some capellini or spaghetti.
More Seafood Recipes
In Italian cooking, there are lots of recipes with seafood! Here are a few other favorites to check out:
- Spaghetti and Crabs
- Shrimp Oreganata in White Wine Lemon Butter
- Calamari, Potato and Peas
- Calamari Ragu Fra Diavolo with Bucatini
- Shrimp Scampi Pasta with Arugula
- Spicy Garlic Shrimp
- Quick and Easy Pasta with Lump Crabmeat
Kitchen Tools & Cookware Needed
To make Sauteed Calamari, you will need the following:
- Cutting board with non-slip mat underneath (I use shelf liner)
- Sharp chef’s knife
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Multiple bowls to hold prep
- Small skillet
- Large sauté pan or Dutch oven
- Wooden or silicon spoons
More Italian Recipes to Try
If you’ve tried Sauteed Calamari or another recipe here, let me know how it went in the comments below. I love hearing from you!
Quick and Easy Spicy Sautéed Calamari with Capers and Olives (Not Fried)
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbsp butter
- 2 Tbsp chopped garlic
- ½ cup thinly-sliced or chopped hot peppers, such as fresno, jalapeño or long hots (seeds are optional-see NOTES)
- 1 cup chopped green onions, divided (about 6 green onions)
- ½ cup chopped parsley, divided
- ¼ cup capers, drained
- ¼ cup pitted black, oil-cured olives, rough chopped
- 1 tsp paprika
- 2 pounds calamari, tentacles and rings (See NOTES re: cleaning and preparation)
- 4 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- To Taste salt and black pepper
Crunchy Herb Breadcrumb Topping
- 2 Tbsp butter
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 Tbsp chopped parsley
- Prep and gather all ingredients according to specifications above. Then, make the breadcrumb topping: Heat butter in small skillet over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, add breadcrumbs and parsley and cook until breadcrumbs are toasted, about 2 to 3 minutes, stirring continuously. Remove from heat and set aside, uncovered, at room temperature. (You can make these breadcrumbs 3 to 4 hours in advance and hold them, uncovered, at room temperature.)(Please see the section above in the blog post for Step-By-Step instructions with photos.)2 Tbsp butter, ½ cup panko breadcrumbs, 1 Tbsp chopped parsley
- Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium low heat. Then, add the garlic, hot pepper, ½ cup green onions and ¼ cup parsley and cook until the garlic starts to brown, about 4 to 5 minutes.2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 2 Tbsp butter, 2 Tbsp chopped garlic, ½ cup thinly-sliced or chopped hot peppers,
- Stir in the capers, olives and paprika and cook until dry, about 2 minutes.¼ cup capers,, ¼ cup pitted black, oil-cured olives,, 1 tsp paprika
- Increase the heat to medium-high, then add the calamari. Toss for about 30 seconds, then add the lemon juice, remaining green onions and parsley and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes only, then remove from heat. (The calamari is done when it just turns firm and opaque in color.) Season to taste with salt and black pepper.2 pounds calamari,, 4 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, To Taste salt and black pepper
- Serve immediately, topped with the herb breadcrumbs, and with some crusty bread in order to sop up all the wonderful juices! Buon Appetito!
- This recipe is meant to be spicy with a good amount of heat from the fresh hot peppers. Having said this, you can 100% leave the hot peppers out if you prefer.
- Any type of hot pepper can be used and the seeds and membranes are optional. (The more seeds and membranes that you include, the hotter the dish.) Also, in a pinch, feel free to use crushed red pepper or chili paste for the heat if you do not have fresh hot peppers.
- Try to buy already cleaned calamari, if possible. (Most of the frozen calamari out there is already cleaned.) However, if you need to clean it yourself, you will need to remove the beak, eyes, skin and the hard quill, which is the bone-like piece inside the squid. Then, rinse the calamari under cold water. Click here for a great video on the process.
- If using frozen calamari, be sure to defrost it prior to cooking.
- Once the calamari is cleaned and/or defrosted, cut the bodies into approximately ½” thick rings. Use both the rings and tentacles in this recipe. Also, pat dry the calamari with a paper towel to remove excess moisture before cooking.
- Note: There is no need to tenderize the calamari for this recipe. Tenderizing calamari in a mixture of milk and salt is a common practice for fried calamari.
- Regular breadcrumbs can be substituted for the panko breadcrumbs, if necessary. Panko breadcrumbs will produce a crunchier topping than regular breadcrumbs.
- If you prefer to keep this recipe dairy free, you can definitely substitute the butter with olive oil.