Calamari with Pickled Peppers and Almond Romesco

Crispy and tender calamari is paired with smoky almond romesco and sprinkled with vibrant and crunchy pickled peppers.

Calamari with Pickled Peppers and Almond Romesco

Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Chelsea Zimmer / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

Active Time:
30 mins
Total Time:
30 mins
8 servings

Delicately fried until golden brown, the calamari at The Osprey, a stylish restaurant just a short walk from Lake Baldwin in Orlando, Florida, is a must-order appetizer. Squid tentacles and tubes are dunked in smoky paprika-spiced buttermilk and then dredged in sumac-seasoned cornstarch for the ultimate crispy, yet light breading. The perfectly tender, craggy calamari is served over a bed of satiny almond romesco — a Spanish tomato-based sauce made here with fire-roasted piquillo peppers, sherry vinegar, toasted almonds and fruity olive oil. A scattering of vibrant pickled sweet pepper rings brilliantly bridges the dish’s sweet and smoky flavors, and adds a punch of acid to brighten the fried squid. Chef Michael Cooper keeps a vat of homemade pickled snack peppers on hand at the restaurant, but says colorful and crunchy store-bought jarred peppers are a great substitute.

Tossing the crispy calamari with spices fresh out of the frying oil helps the spices stick and thoroughly season each bite. Colorful store-bought pickled sweet peppers add a bright and lively finish to the platter. Almond romesco can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.


Almond Romesco

  • 4 jarred roasted piquillo peppers (from 1 [12-ounce] jar)

  • 1 whole peeled San Marzano plum tomato (from 1 [14-ounce] can)

  • 1/4 cup whole almonds, toasted

  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • Kosher salt, to taste

  • Black pepper, to taste


  • Neutral cooking oil, for frying

  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika

  • 1 tablespoon Montreal steak seasoning

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Caribbean jerk seasoning

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground sumac

  • 2 cups buttermilk

  • 1 large egg, beaten

  • 2 cups cornstarch (about 9 ounces)

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (about 2 1/8 ounces)

  • 1 pound cleaned squid (tubes and tentacles), tubes cut into 1/2-inch-thick rings and tentacles left whole (about 2 1/2 cups)

  • 1 (16-ounce) jar pickled sliced sweet peppers, drained, or Pickled Snack Peppers (see Note)

  • Chopped fresh chives, for garnish


Make the almond romesco:

  1. Process piquillo peppers, tomato, almonds, and vinegar in a blender until smooth, about 30 seconds. Remove center piece of blender lid. With blender running, slowly drizzle in olive oil, processing until mixture is slightly thickened, 30 to 45 seconds. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Make the calamari:

  1. Pour cooking oil into a Dutch oven to a depth of 2 inches. Heat over medium-high to 350°F. While oil heats, whisk together paprika, Montreal steak seasoning, Caribbean jerk seasoning, and sumac in a small bowl. Whisk together buttermilk, egg, and 1 tablespoon spice mixture in a large bowl. In a separate large bowl, whisk together cornstarch, flour, and 2 tablespoons spice mixture. Set remaining spice mixture aside.

  2. Working in 2 batches, toss squid in buttermilk mixture until well coated. Shake off excess buttermilk mixture, and transfer to cornstarch mixture; toss until all pieces are well coated and separated. Shake off excess cornstarch mixture, and transfer to hot oil using a slotted spoon or spider. Fry, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, 2 minutes to 2 minutes and 30 second per batch. Transfer to a large paper towel–lined bowl. Toss calamari with remaining 1 tablespoon spice mixture.

  3. Spread almond romesco evenly on a platter. Top evenly with calamari and drained pickled peppers. Garnish with chives, and serve.


Get the Recipe: Pickled Snack Peppers

Suggested Pairing

Citrusy coastal Italian white: 2021 Lunae Labianca Bianco.

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