Grilled calamari with lemon and cilantro is one of those famously uncomplicated Mediterranean dishes. A simple and humble appetizer with pure flavours that just breathes vacation, beach and sunshine. This grilled calamari recipe is first marinated in Mediterranean flavours after which it comes together in just under 10 minutes.
Calamari is mostly eaten battered or breaded then deep fried. It is a very popular appetizer for many people albeit mostly ordered and eaten in a restaurant. Now if you enjoy eating calamari as much as I do, you will love this recipe. Even though I like deep fried calamari, I prefer eating grilled calamari either as a light lunch or as part of a tapas menu. You can combine this dish with other Mediterranean appetisers like garlic mushrooms, Spanish tomato bread, feta stuffed Padrón peppers or in cider braised chorizo.
Calamari or squid?
I often get asked the question if you should use calamari or squid for this recipe. Well, the short answer is that calamari is the Italian word for squid (or kalamar in Greek, calamar in Spanish) and in English the word calamari is often used as the culinary word for squid. So basically, for this grilled calamari recipe use either squid rings or calamari rings, whichever is sold by your fishmonger.
Which ingredients to use
The main ingredient of course is the calamari. Either buy calamari rings or slice the rings from cleaned calamari tubes. If you are unsure about cleaning the calamari yourself, ask your fishmonger. They will gladly assist in cleaning the calamari or squid and if necessary, cut it into rings.
For the marinade you should preferably use bold Mediterranean flavours. I have mixed lemon with olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Fresh cilantro is not that often used for grilled squid rings Mediterranean style, but it works amazingly well in this recipe. You can substitute with fresh parsley if you are not a fan of fresh cilantro. Add chili flakes if you like to give it some extra punch.
How to cook calamari rings
Making homemade calamari rings sounds more difficult than it actually is. At some point we’ve all eaten chewy calamari with a soft and bland tasting batter thinking how difficult it must be to get it right. Well, forget about the batter in this recipe since we will grill the calamari. And the key for how to cook the squid rings to get them nice and tender is either quick on high heat or slow braised on low heat. Black or white, no grey area possible.
Another important step that should not be skipped is to marinate for half an hour in lemon and herbs. It will add flavour and the acidity of the lemon helps to tenderise by breaking down the texture.
- Prepare the marinade:
Mix the olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, cilantro, chilli flakes, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl and stir well to combine.
- Prepare the calamari:
Cut the cleaned calamari tubes into rings of around 0.5 inches or 1 cm. Add the calamari rings to the marinade, cover with foil or a lid and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Grill the calamari rings:
Remove the calamari rings from the marinade and drain the excess liquid. Prepare the barbecue, grill pan, gridle or grill. The calamari rings will need to be cooked quick on high heat so make sure the pan or grill is hot. Place the rings in the hot pan or on top of the grill, but make sure the pan or grill is not overcrowded. If that ends up being the case, work in smaller batches. Leave to grill each side for 2 minutes, or longer if the rings are thicker. Test one of the rings to see if they are done and remove from the heat.
Serve immediately in a bowl or plate with freshly chopped cilantro or parsley and lemon slices.
Can I use frozen calamari
My preference goes to fresh calamari or squid but since these are not always available they can be substituted with frozen calamari. Either buy calamari rings or calamari tubes and leave to thaw in the fridge. When thawed, rinse under cold running water and pet dry with a dish towel. From here you can follow the steps as described above or in the recipe card at the end of this post.
Tips for the best grilled squid rings
- Don’t skip the marinade part as that is what tenderises the calamari. As an alternative you can soak the calamari in milk or even in kiwi fruit juice. I have never used either of those myself as I love to use lemon but it is worth a try if you’re feeling adventurous.
- Remember to work in batches. Don’t overcrowd the pan as it will cool down and the calamari will end up getting stewed instead of being grilling. The rings will then come out chewy.
- Watch the cooking time. Don’t overcook as the calamari will get tough. Count maximum 2 minutes each side then take one out and try it to see if they are ready.
- Cut all the rings in similar sizes to allow equal cooking time.
Grilled calamari with lemon and cilantro
- ½ pound (or 250 grams) raw calamari rings
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon chilli flakes
- 1 teaspoon garlic grated
- 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro leaves
- ½ teaspoon seasalt flakes
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Marinate the calamari rings
- Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, chilli flakes, cilantro, pepper and salt in a bowl and mix well.
- Add the calamari rings and toss to coat. Cover the bowl well with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Grill the calamari rings
- Pour out the excess liquid from the mixing bowl or drain the calamari in a colander.
- Grill the calamari rings over high heat in a grill pan or on a griddle. Grill each side 1 to 2 minutes depending on the thickness.
- Serve immediately. Add extra salt and pepper to taste and garnish with fresh cilantro and lemon wedges.
- Make sure the grill pan is very hot before adding the calamari. If the pan is not hot enough, excess moisture will be released and the calamari will not sear but rather cook.
- Do not overcook the calamari rings otherwise they’ll become chewy and tough.