Spicy Grilled Calamari

June 16, 2022
3 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Prep time 40 minutes
  • Cook time 5 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

When my sister moved away, she left me with a bunch of groceries she didn't want to throw away, including a package of frozen baby squid—which I promptly shoved in the freezer and ignored for a few months while I tried to work up the nerve to cook squid for the first time.
When I finally bit the bullet, I decided I didn't want to go the lemon/oregano/garlic/balsamic that's ubiquitous in Mediterranean restaurants, and used a smoked paprika, lemon and cumin marinade inspired by North African spices.

I'm really happy with the results—these little calamari skewers are spicy and flavourful and entirely different from any other grilled squid I've ever had. Thanks, sis. —Izzbell

Test Kitchen Notes

True to its name, Izzbell’s North African-inspired calamari is a bright and spicy dish that will make a great addition to your summer grilling repertoire. Or, if you’re lucky enough to live in a warm climate and celebrate Christmas, grill it outside and serve it as part of a Feast of the Seven Fishes on December 24th. To make this dish , start with one pound of baby squid including the tubes and tentacles because someone will prefer rings, while others will favor the bits that get charred and crispy on the grill. Depending on where you buy your seafood, one pound of tubes and tentacles can cost between $13-$17 and you’ll get about 20 pieces per pound. This recipe serves four, which works out to about five large pieces per person (though you could certainly break it up into fewer pieces on more skewers if you want to serve this as an appetizer for a crowd). Smaller squid will work just as well, too —and remember, garnishing with a squeeze of lemon is key!

Oh, and don’t be scared off by the lengthy prep time—30 minutes are reserved for marinating the squid in a flavorful combination of smoked paprika, cumin, lemon juice and zest, olive oil, cayenne pepper, and garlic. Squid can seamlessly adapt to the flavor of what it’s being cooked or marinated in, which is why we went with a more robust marinade that t would be overpowering on other kinds of seafood). Pro tip: if you’re using bamboo skewers, soak them in water while the squid marinate to prevent them from totally and completely burning on the grill. If you use stainless steel skewers, just carefully grab them with tongs when pulling from the grill as the metal will be hot. Once the squid has had time to hang out in the spicy, saucy marinade, they’ll cook in mere minutes on the grill. The recipe comes together with ease but the platter of perfectly grilled squid served simply with sliced bread and lemon wedges makes quite an impression. —Kelly Vaughan

What You'll Need
  • 1 pound cleaned baby squid (tubes and tentacles)
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 pinch ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Bamboo skewers
  • Lemon wedges, for garnish
  1. In a small mixing bowl, combine smoked paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, cayenne and garlic, along with zest from the lemon. Add 1/4 cup olive oil, stirring until you have a smooth, runny paste.
  2. Juice the zested lemon into a second small bowl. Spoon in 2 tbsp of the paprika paste and stir until combined. Cover and set aside.
  3. Pour the remaining paprika paste into a large zip-seal bag. Add squid, and toss to coat evenly with marinade. Seal the bag closed and transfer to the refrigerator to marinate for 30 minutes.
  4. While the squid is marinating, soak bamboo skewers in cold water to prevent them from charring, and preheat a gas or charcoal grill on high heat.
  5. After 30 minutes, remove the squid bodies and tentacles from the marinade and gently thread onto skewers (I like to use two skewers to prevent the food from spinning around, but it's not entirely necessary). Discard the marinade.
  6. Place the skewers directly onto the preheated grill, and cook for about 2-3 minutes per side or just until the squid turn opaque. Remove from squid from heat immediately, and drizzle with the lemon juice and paprika mixture.
  7. Garnish with lemon wedges. Serve with a loaf of crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • The Pontificator
    The Pontificator
  • Howard West
    Howard West
  • TheGringoChapin
  • healthierkitchen
  • SouffleBombay

18 Reviews

The P. July 13, 2019
Going to try this.
jencordes March 26, 2019
I thought this was just ok. A little too much paprika for my taste. Think I prefer just a simple olive oil and lemon preparation.
Cynthia September 1, 2018
I love this recipe. I make it often.
Howard W. October 27, 2017
Just cooked this, it was delicious. Do it.
Jessica February 12, 2016
I just made these last night and had to come rave about them. They were so delicious! I didn't have smoked paprika, so I did a little tweaking - 1/2t chipotle, 1/2t ancho chili, 1t paprika, 1/4t alderwood smoked salt and 1/4 t kosher salt, rather than the 2t smoked paprika and 1/2 t salt called for. I also left the garlic out by accident, but these turned out so wonderfully that I would probably leave it out again. It's definitely not grilling season, so I cooked them on the stove using out cast iron griddle. Be aware, since it's oil-based, the marinade releases a TON of smoke if you cook these inside! Overall, wonderful recipe. Thanks!
neighome May 31, 2015
Are these good cold or room temp? I'm looking for picnic food.
TheGringoChapin January 5, 2013
Just made this and it is so good I wish I had bought twice as much calamari! May be the best calamari I have ever eaten!
Joanie922 June 11, 2012
My husband likes to fish and recently caught some calamari. Not having a clue what to do with it, we tried this recipe and really loved the flavor.

We decided the marinade would also be great for shrimp.
healthierkitchen January 17, 2012
Wow! This sounds delicious. I missed this the first time around but will save for grill season.
healthierkitchen January 17, 2012
Wow! This sounds delicious. I missed this the first time around but will save for grill season.
SouffleBombay May 5, 2011
Looks fantastic!
wssmom May 4, 2011
Oh, yeah!! :)
hardlikearmour May 4, 2011
Yummy, great seasoning blend! I can almost taste them.
mrslarkin May 3, 2011
this sounds great!
healthierkitchen May 3, 2011
this really does sound like a terrific way to cook squid!
boulangere May 3, 2011
Mmmmmmmm! So glad you let them mature in the freezer for a time while you thought of just the right touch for them. So lovely!
Izzbell May 4, 2011
Ha. "Mature". It makes it sound much better... as if calamari improve with age, like a fine wine. :)
(Not that they seemed to suffer any ill-effects from sitting in the freezer so long, thankfully)
gingerroot May 3, 2011
YUM! Sounds really delicious.