Spicy Sweet Calamari Steak Salad

You know when you go into the store for one thing, and you leave with several other things that you didn’t originally intend to buy? It happens to the best of us, but random things in your shopping cart can lead to some pretty incredible experiences.

Thanks to the love of my life – who tends, occasionally, to be a bit more on the impulsive side – I’ve learned to “embrace the whim.” Because of that, we have this dish.

We ran into Whole Foods one night intending to pick up some hamburgers for dinner. Easy enough, right? Well, yes, because the meat department was well within our sight line, but we never made it past the fish monger.

Seafood often stops us in our tracks. We absolutely love seafood. To be honest, we’re a bit obsessed with it. We’re totally O.K. with our obsession, and we roll with it on a regular basis.

As such, all thoughts of hamburgers disappeared as we debated over the gigantic Blue Point oysters and the smaller, brinier wild caught Penn Cove oysters featured that day. As we fantasized about how delicious they would be with fresh-squeezed lemon and dollops of homemade horseradish sauce… The fleshy white ovals in another part of the seafood case caught our attention.

Spicy Sweet Calamari Steak Salads | BaconFatte.com

With all of our forays into seafood, we’re often reminded that we’ve barely scratched the surface of everything that is available and possible. When the fish monger told us that the fleshy white ovals were Calamari Steaks, we had no idea such a thing even existed.

He explained that the steaks are cut from the body (or mantle) of larger squid. Rather than cutting across the body to create the quintessential rings, it’s cut from top to bottom. Depending on the size of the squid, the steaks may be different shapes and thicknesses.

He also told us that he usually just marinades them in an Italian or Greek vinaigrette, grills or pan fries them, and enjoys them with cocktail sauce. That all sounded easy enough so we decided to try them!

I think we enjoy seafood so much because (a) We both have a life-long love affair with the water, and (b) Seafood always offers something new – it’s never the same twice. In this case, we were excited to try this new-to-us version of calamari, but we were also craving the rich favors of an old version that we can’t get anymore, but it remains one of our all-time faves.

There used to be a restaurant in Wayzata, MN that served an incredible pan-seared calamari dish. There wasn’t any breading… Just fresh, delicate rings and tentacles drifting in an inexplicably intoxicating sweet and spicy sauce. The dish was served with big spoons and gorgeous pieces of grilled garlic bread with which to soak up every last drop of sauce. It was beyond delicious.

I’ll never know what kind of magic they put in that dish, but our Calamari Steak discovery was the perfect excuse to come up with our own version of it based solely on the flavor-filled memories forever engrained in our palates. {Insert appropriately dramatic gestures here… I’m telling you, it was that good.}

Spicy Sweet Calamari Steak Salads | BaconFatte.com

Calamari itself is very mild so it goes well with bright sweet and savory flavors. The texture of calamari is very different from, say, fish or chicken. However you describe it, the overall texture is definitely unique – and more so in larger cuts.

Most people either love it or they can’t stand it – there’s very little in between. For those who don’t love calamari, it’s often because they just can’t “get past” the tentacles. If you absolutely can’t do calamari, this recipe would also be delicious with thin chicken cutlets, but I do hope you’ll give calamari steaks a try! Their clean, delicate flavor is really a treat.

The marinade I’m suggesting here is light and simple, but it tenderizes the steaks and sets the stage for all the wonderful flavors to come.

For this recipe, you’re going to cook the steaks quickly over high heat. Whole Foods says to “Grill steaks, turning once, until just opaque in the center, about 2 minutes per side.”

Steak size may vary, and the size of the steak will, of course, impact cooking time. The ones we used in this recipe were approximately ¼ pound (5 ounces) each, so 1½ – 2 minutes cook time per side was perfect.

Some cooks score the meat with a sharp knife before cooking, which is thought to keep the steaks from curling. That said, they generally don’t curl unless they’re overcooked. Overcooking calamari of any kind makes it unpleasantly chewy, so less is definitely more. Like scallops, calamari steaks will become whiter and firmer as they cook.

Make sure everything else is ready to go because you’ll want to serve them immediately after cooking for best flavor.

We lit some candles and thoroughly enjoyed these beautiful salads for dinner with a delicate white wine. And for “dessert,” because we couldn’t decide on one or the other, we sampled both the Blue Point and Penn Cove oysters and that was a deliciously different flavor experience in itself. It was an unexpectedly elegant dinner that provided maximum fabulousness with minimum cost or effort. While it didn’t have the exact flavors in that restaurant calamari dish we fell in love with years ago, it was perfect in every way!


Spicy Sweet Calamari Steak Salad
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A fresh calamari dish filled with bright sweet and savory flavors, perfect for lunch or a light dinner.
Recipe from:
Serves: 2
  • 2 calamari steaks, about ¼ pound* each
  • 3 cups arugula, loosely packed
For the Marinade:
  • 3 tablespoons extra light olive oil
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
For the Sauce:
  • 1 tablespoon extra light olive oil
  • 2 medium whole pepperoncini, halved and sliced (seeds and all)
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons pepperoncini liquid
  • 4 tablespoons fire roasted red peppers, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fire roasted red pepper liquid
  • 3 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
  • ⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon white ground pepper
  1. In a small bowl, combine the marinade ingredients and stir well. Place calamari steaks on a glass plate and pour marinade over the steaks, making sure to flip and coat both sides of each steak with marinade. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for 1 - 3 hours.
  2. While steaks are marinating, combine all of the sauce ingredients in a sauté pan. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and allow sauce to come to room temperature before serving.
  3. To cook steaks, place on a well heated grill or grill pan and cook for 1½ - 2 minutes per side, just until they’re opaque in the center. Flip the steaks only once.
  4. To serve, place a good handful of arugula (approximately 1 - 1½ cups) on a plate. Place the cooked calamari steaks on top of the arugula, and then spoon the sauce over each steak. Serve immediately.
Cook's Notes:
*If your calamari steaks are considerably larger, you may want to increase the ingredients a bit.
*The sauce can be made a day or two before. Refrigerate overnight, and bring to room temperature before serving.


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Spicy Sweet Calamari Steak Salads | BaconFatte.com

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