This sautéed calamari is a crazy-delicious but simple recipe that will make you forget you ever loved deep fried squid with heavy mayo dipping sauces. Lots of garlic, chilis and feta cheese have a way of making us forget...
Fresh calamari has a mild taste and a slightly chewy texture that takes well to quick-cooking recipes. Sauteing raw calamari in a very hot pan and then tossing the calamari with big flavor partners is a great way to give the calamari flavor without overcooking the little guys and making them tough.
This dish is lovely as a main course, served with crusty bread or large slices of grilled sourdough. But I also love serving it as an appetizer on a big platter with grilled bread, where everyone can build their own calamari toast with a squeeze of grilled lemon over the top.
My guiding star for this recipe is a family-owned restaurant in Chattanooga - The Boathouse. They serve a wood grilled squid dish that has been blowing my mind for the better part of my adult life. One of the happiest days of my life came the first time I replicated this tasty recipe in my own kitchen. And now you can make it in yours!
What you'll need to make sauteed calamari with roasted garlic, onions and feta:
- calamari, rings and tentacles
- extra virgin olive oil
- fresh garlic
- red onions
- feta cheese
- fresh arugula
- red chilis
- fresh lemon
- sea salt and black pepper
- smoked paprika
Step by step instructions for this sauteed calamari recipe:
First begin by heating ½ cup olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add roughly chopped garlic cloves and a pinch of salt to the oil.
Turn heat down to medium low and monitor, stirring occasionally to ensure the garlic roasts and softens, but does not brown. Depending on the heat, this process will take 8-10 minutes. Once completed, remove from heat and add sliced red peppers and ½ teaspoon of smoked paprika. Stir to combine.
The spice will bloom in the residual heat of the oil. Set aside.
While the garlic is cooking, prep the rest of your ingredients - rinse your calamari rings and tentacles, and dry them well with a paper towel. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of black pepper. Slice 2 small red onions, cut a 6 ounce block of feta cheese into squares, slice a lemon in half and prepare your sourdough for grilling. Finally, roughly chop 2 cups of arugula. We will be using the peppery arugula as a fresh herb in the dish, so we want it just a little smaller without being too fussy.
Heat a cast iron skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat. Add lemon halves, cut side down, to one side of the pan. To the other, add slices of sourdough. Grill until all are golden brown. Remove lemons and set aside. Wrap grilled bread in a kitchen towel to keep warm.
Add 3 tablespoons of the garlic flavored olive oil (but none of the garlic pieces) to a large skillet, then add all of the sliced onions to the hot oil. Sauté until cooked through and charring around the edges, about 6-8 minutes. We are not caramelizing the onions, which is a low and slow method. We want to brown and char these onions to give a smoky flavor while retaining their firm texture. Add additional garlic oil if the pan gets too dry.
When the onions are finished cooking, add them to a large bowl. Then add 2 cups of chopped fresh arugula to the bowl.
Return the pan to the burner, and raise the heat to high. Add a few tablespoons of garlic oil and the seasoned calamari to the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, browning the calamari quickly over the high heat, and tossing to ensure it is warmed through. Move the cooked calamari to the bowl of onions and arugula.
Next squeeze two grilled lemon halves over the bowl and add the remaining roasted garlic pieces and chili in their smoky olive oil to the bowl. Toss well to coat in the lemon juice and garlic oil mixture. Then add the feta cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning - I often add a pinch of additional salt before serving.
Finally transfer to serving dish and garnish with additional lemon wedges and grilled sourdough.
FAQ's and Serving Suggestions:
You can - just be sure to thaw the calamari in the refrigerator overnight and dry it very well with paper towels before dropping it in the hot pan.
Absolutely! The tentacles add a nice texture variation, but if you prefer rings, just leave out the tentacles.
The spice only comes from the red chili pepper added to the olive oil, so if you want no spice, just omit the chili pepper or use just a few slices. If you're looking for a fiery calamari dish, add two red chilis and maybe a pinch of red pepper flakes to the oil.
If you're serving it as an appetizer, I always pair it with grilled sourdough. For a main dish, you might add an extra cup of arugula to the dish which would give it just enough peppery lettuce to be considered an all-in-one grilled green salad. Still pair it with bread, though!
To store: there's no two ways about it, calamari doesn't take well to re-heating. So I recommend making only what you will eat in one sitting, or be willing to eat leftovers chilled.
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