Rhode Island Style Calamari

Rhode Island Style Calamari

If you have ever ordered the fried calamari appetizer at your local Italian restaurant then you have likely encountered the classic Italian preparation – squid rings battered and fried until golden, often served with a side of marinara sauce or lemon wedges. However, if you’ve ever visited Rhode Island, you may have discovered a unique variation that has become a local favorite – Rhode Island-style calamari.

This week as part of my Taste the Nation Series we are featuring Rhode Island which is the smallest of the United States. It is known for its strong ties to the water, its colonial history, Gilded Age mansions, and unique foods.  

I always give instructions with step-by-step photos in my posts just in case some readers have questions. But if you are just here for the recipe, click the JUMP TO RECIPE tab under the title and it will take you straight there. You can also print the recipe card with full instructions or you can click one of the SHARE BUTTONS and save it for later!

In 2013, Rhode Island House of Representatives member Joseph McNamara launched a campaign to make his state as famous for squid as Idaho is for potatoes. The following year, he got his wish — baskets of fried squid with garlic and peppers were handed out, and the bill naming calamari the official state appetizer was signed into law.

In the summer of 2020, during the virtual Democratic National Convention, McNamara called Rhode Island the “Calamari Comeback State” while standing on a beach alongside a chef wearing a mask (thanks pandemic) and holding a plate of fried squid with garlic, parsley, and peppers.

State Democratic Party Chairman Joseph McNamara highlighted the state’s official appetizer during the roll call of the largely-virtual DNC.calamari
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State Democratic Party Chairman Joseph McNamara highlighted the state’s official appetizer during the roll call of the largely-virtual DNC.
Screenshot of the virtual Democratic National Convention in the summer of 2020.

Needless to say, Rhode Islanders take their Calamari seriously! 

The Origins of Rhode Island-Style Calamari 

Rhode Island’s culinary scene is heavily influenced by its Italian-American community. Rhode Island calamari is a prime example of this fusion. Legend has it that this dish was born in the kitchens of Italian restaurants in Providence and neighboring cities, where chefs experimented with adding hot peppers and other ingredients to the traditional calamari recipe.

Rhode Island-style calamari vs traditional

So, what sets Rhode Island-style calamari apart from its classic counterpart? The secret lies in the addition of silky garlic butter and peppers, such as hot cherry peppers or banana peppers, which give the dish a delightful kick of heat. These peppers are typically sliced and tossed with the calamari rings before frying, infusing their flavor and spice throughout the dish.

Many restaurants in Rhode Island also serve their calamari with a separate bowl of hot pepper rings, allowing diners to add extra heat to their liking. This dish is a must-try for anyone visiting New England, and it has become a beloved staple in many local establishments, such as Iggy’s Boardwalk and other iconic Italian restaurants.

Easy to make at home or in your RV Kitchen

While fried calamari may seem like a dish best left to professional chefs, it’s actually really easy to make at home. Follow the tips below for crispy, succulent, calamari rings every time. 

  • Don’t cut the calamari rings too thin. I recommend cutting 3/4-inch rings so that the flour coating can have time to brown and crisp before the calamari overcooks.
  • Soak the rings in buttermilk and salt before cooking. This will help tenderize the calamari and give the flour mixture something to adhere to.
  • For the crispiest fried calamari, coat the rings with a combination of flour, cornstarch, and baking powder. You’ll get a golden-brown, crispy exterior on the tender squid rings.
  • After they have been coated in the flour mixture, let the rings rest for about 10 minutes before frying. This allows the flour to rehydrate so that the coating doesn’t fall off the calamari when you fry it. 
  • Make sure the cooking oil is hot before you start to fry the calamari rings. You are aiming for a temperature of 350- 360 degrees. If the temperature is too low, the rings will absorb too much oil and become soggy. If it’s too hot, the outside will burn before the inside is cooked properly. It’s best to use an oil thermometer, but if you don’t have one, drop a calamari ring in the oil once you think it’s hot enough. Gentle bubbles should immediately form around it and it will start to float to the top.
  • Serve ASAP! Rhode Island calamari needs to be served hot. As soon as it’s fried, toss it in garlic butter and peppers and serve immediately. 

Let’s Gather Up the Ingredients

Organizing all your ingredients ahead of time not only streamlines the cooking process but also ensures you have everything required to complete the dish successfully. You can find the exact amounts in the recipe card below.

  • Squid– you want about a pound of medium squid with the tentacles.
  • All-purpose flour
  • Baking Powder
  • Cornstarch
  • Salt, pepper, and cayenne
  • Vegetable oil
  • Buttermilk
  • Butter
  • Garlic cloves
  • Sliced hot cherry peppers, banana peppers, or pepperoncini
  • Fresh Italian parsley

Now Let’s get cooking

Make the garlic butter

Heat a skillet over medium heat and add butter. Once it melts, add garlic and sauté until golden. Add drained peppers and stir to combine. Turn the heat down to low while you prepare the squid.

Clean the squid

 Separate the bodies from the tentacles and slice them into 3/4-inch rings. Leave the tentacles whole.

Soak in salted milk
In a medium bowl, stir 2 teaspoons of kosher salt into 1 cup of buttermilk. Add the squid rings and stir. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Dredge
Prepare a flour mixture by whisking together 1 ½ cups of all-purpose flour, ⅓ cup cornstarch, ½ teaspoon baking powder, and ½ teaspoon each black pepper and cayenne. Toss a few calamari rings in the flour mixture until well-coated, then transfer them to wire rack so that the excess flour can fall through. Repeat until all the calamari is coated in the flour mixture.

You can also throw in a few of the pepper rings so that they get nice and crispy along with the calamari.

Fry and Drain
Fill a pot or saucepan with 4 inches of vegetable oil. Heat it to somewhere between 350 and 365 degrees F. Drop in one calamari ring. If the oil bubbles and forms around it and the calamari begins to float, the oil is ready. Cook the squid rings in batches for 3 minutes or until golden brown.

Prepare a tray and put a wire rack covered with paper towel on top. As the calamari cook, use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked crispy rings to the prepared wire rack. Transfer to a pre-heated oven to keep warm while you work on the rest. Repeat until you have fried all the calamari.

Tips for success: Be sure not to overcook the calamari, which can make it tough and rubbery. About 3 minutes is all it takes.

Toss and serve

Add all of the fried squid to the hot pan with the garlic butter and sliced peppers. Sprinkle with chopped parsley, and quickly and gently give it a toss. Serve immediately with extra sliced peppers on the side.

The entire cooking process typically takes less than 30 minutes, making this a quick and impressive appetizer. 

Frequently asked questions:

How do I reheat calamari?

All I can suggest here is don’t. Calamari is meant to be eaten right after frying. If you attempt to reheat, it will become tough and rubbery.

What is the difference between calamari and squid?

There is no actual difference between calamari and squid. Calamari is the Italian word for squid, and the term stuck around in English-speaking countries.

What is the secret to tender calamari?

Marination: A brief soak in milk or buttermilk can help tenderize the squid.

Quick cooking: Fry calamari for no more than 2-3 minutes. Overcooking makes it tough and rubbery.

How can I tell if my squid is fresh?

It should look moist and shiny with no odor.

With its simple ingredients and straightforward preparation, Rhode Island-style calamari is an accessible dish that allows home cooks to bring a taste of The Ocean State to their own kitchens. Whether you’re an experienced cook or a novice, this flavorful twist on traditional calamari is well worth giving a try.

More appetizer recipes

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As always, I will be back next week with more delicious recipes from my RV kitchen to yours!

Fried calamari in a white bowl with garlic butter and peppers

Rhode Island Style Calamari

Crispy, spicy Rhode Island Calamari: Tender squid rings and tentacles coated in a zesty batter and fried to golden perfection. Toss with garlic butter and hot pepper rings for a delicious New England twist on the classic appetizer.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 3 minutes
Total Time 33 minutes
Course Appetizer
Cuisine American, Italian
Servings 4 servings
Calories 340 kcal

Equipment

  • Oil thermometer optional
  • Heavy Bottomed Pot
  • Slotted spoon
  • Tongs
  • Wire wrack

Ingredients
  

  • 1 pound whole medium squid with the tentacles.
  • 1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking Powder
  • cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 cup sliced hot cherry peppers, banana peppers, or pepperoncini
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley

Instructions
 

  • Slice the calamari tubes into ¾-inch thick rings. Leave the tentacles whole.
  • In a medium bowl, stir 2 teaspoons kosher salt into 1 cup of buttermilk.
  • Add the calamari rings to the milk mixture and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, black pepper, and cayenne (make sure the mixture is well combined).
  • Using a pair of tongs or clean hands, take about half of the calamari rings, shake off the excess buttermilk, and place them in the flour mixture. Toss the calamari to coat evenly. Place the coated calamari on a wire rack. Repeat with the rest of the calamari.
  • Turn your oven on a low 150 degrees F. Prepare a large sheet pan and set a wire rack on top. Top the wire rack with paper towel.
  • Heat 4 inches of oil in a small cooking pot (I used a 2.5 quart pot) to somewhere between 350 and 365 degrees F. To test your oil, drop one calamari ring. Bubbles should immediately form around it and the calamari will begin to float.
  • Once your oil is ready, using a pair of tongs, gently add some of the calamari in and fry for about 3 minutes or until golden brown. Remove the calamari from the oil with a slotted spoon and arrange it on the paper towel on top of your prepared wire rack. Immediately season with kosher salt, then transfer to your pre-heated oven to keep warm while you work on the rest. Repeat until you have fried all the calamari.
  • Once finished, add all of fried squid to the hot pan with the garlic butter and sliced peppers, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and quickly and gently give it a toss. Serve immediately with extra sliced peppers on the side.

Notes

Calorie Disclaimer:
The nutritional information provided is intended for informational purposes only. While we strive to provide accurate and up-to-date information, the actual nutritional content of recipes may vary depending on various factors, including the specific ingredients used, portion sizes, and cooking methods.
Keyword Rhode Island style Calamari