Our simple calamari recipe with garlic, chilli, olive oil, and lemon makes calamari a la plancha, cooked on a barbecue or griddle. It’s one of the easiest calamari recipes you can make for a Spanish tapas feast, yet if done correctly it’s also one of the most delicious. We go with ‘pineapple cut calamari’ for tenderness and flavour.
Calamari is a Spanish food staple found in everything from seafood paella and slow-braised squid stew to fried calamari and calamari a la plancha, popular Spanish tapas bar dishes. Although normally sliced in rings, we use the Southeast Asian ‘pineapple cut’ of scoring the squid in a criss-cross pattern, which ensures the calamari stays tender and the flavours cling.
This simple calamari recipe is next in our series of best Spanish tapas recipes, which have so far included a Spanish meatballs recipe for albondigas, a chorizo and potato croquettes recipe for croquetas de patata y chorizo, and a chorizo in red wine recipe for chorizo al vino tinto, one of our favourite recipes with chorizo.
As with so many of the recipes we’ve been sharing since the pandemic began and these food and travel writers could no longer travel, our Spanish tapas series is a result of a longing for Spain, Spanish food and the quintessentially Spanish experience that is the tapas bar crawl, a leisurely bar-hop from one boisterous spot to another to sip wine or vermouth as you savour tapas, small plates of snacks.
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Simple Calamari Recipe with Garlic, Chilli, Olive Oil and Lemon for a Spanish Tapas Spread
This simple calamari recipe with garlic, chilli, olive oil, and lemon will make you calamari a la plancha, calamari that’s cooked on a barbecue or griddle. It’s one of the easiest calamari recipes you can make, yet if it’s done right, it is also one of the most delicious calamari dishes.
There are infinite ways to cook squid or calamari in Spain – fried calamari is one of the most popular in Spanish tapas bars – and we’ll share more calamari recipes in future posts, but this simple calamari recipe is one of the easiest and tastiest, with the calamari cooked with little else than garlic, chilli, extra virgin olive oil, and a squeeze of fresh lemon at the end.
Calamari can be tricky to cook, because if you don’t cook it enough it will be soft and flavourless and if you over-cook the calamari it will be rubbery and unpleasantly chewy. There are a few methods to tenderise the calamari, but, living in Southeast Asia and cooking a lot of Southeast Asian food as we do, we love the ‘pineapple cut’ technique.
Called the ‘pineapple cut’ for obvious reasons, it’s simply a method of scoring the calamari in a criss-cross pattern, and it’s mainly used in Southeast Asia for braises and stir-fries. It not only results in more tender calamari but also more flavourful calamari, as sauces and spices cling to squid.
In this case, we’re talking about garlic, chilli, extra virgin olive oil, and lemon juice, all very traditional Spanish flavours that are so simple yet so delicious. We’ve made one more tweak aside from the pineapple cut, and that’s to use chilli flakes, another Southeast Asian ingredient, instead of Spanish red peppers or capsicum.
I only have a few tips to making my simple calamari recipe for calamari a la plancha, starting with that pineapple cut scoring of the squid.
Tips to Making this Calamari a la Plancha Recipe for Spanish Style Squid
Just a few tips to making this simple calamari recipe for Spanish style squid, starting with the squid itself and the style of cutting the squid.
To make this ‘pineapple cut calamari’, slice open the calamari tubes and lay them flat on a cutting board with the ‘skin’ of the squid facing down. First you’ll need to remove any excess flesh from the seam of the tube.
Use a sharp knife to carefully cut the squid at 7 mm (1/4 inch) intervals from one side to the other, being careful to not cut right through to the ‘skin’.
Turn the calamari tube 90° and make the same cuts again perpendicular to the first ones. You can now cut the calamari tubes into squares at the desired size.
Many people shy away from cooking calamari as it has a reputation for turning into rubber and being very chewy in texture. During my travels around Europe over a dozen years or so, every chef I’ve met in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece has given the same advice: cook it hot and fast or slow and low. There is no in-between.
With this method, we first release most of the moisture from the calamari while giving it a decent coating of olive oil and then place it on the grill very quickly to get some scorching, smoky heat into the pieces.
Once cooked, it’s important to serve the calamari immediately with a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, and a lemon wedge, and squeeze on some lemon juice just before digging in.
Simple Calamari Recipe for Calamari a la Plancha
- 500 g calamari tubes fresh and cut into 'pineapple' shapes (see tips) and dried off
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 3 cloves garlic chopped thinly into small pieces
- ¼ teaspoon red chilli flakes or more to taste
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 8 lemon wedges
- Heat both a frying pan and a griddle plate or grill.
- Add olive oil to the frying pan and when shimmering carefully add the calamari. Sprinkle over the chilli flakes. Add the garlic. When the juices from the calamari have mixed with the olive oil and has reduced, remove the calamari and add to the hot griddle plate.
- Leave the calamari in place until it states to smoke and then turn the pieces over until you have a good light char all around the pieces.
- Remove and serve immediately with a little drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and a lemon wedge.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you make our simple calamari recipe for calamari a la plancha recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.