"Fried" Calamari the Healthy Eats Way

Calamari is loaded with nutrients but it's usually served fried, which adds tons of fat and calories. Try Robin Miller's baked calamari and get the benefit, not the guilt.

A basket of calamari is, no doubt, one of the most delicious ways to start a meal. Nutritionally speaking, calamari (Italian for squid) is crammed with copper (one 3.5-ounce serving has 90% of your RDA). Why should you care? Copper is essential for all this: proper growth of the skeletal, nervous and cardiovascular systems; reducing inflammation and arthritis symptoms; pigmentation of hair, skin and eyes; building connective tissue; stimulating the brain; absorbing iron; stalling aging; producing energy in the body; inhibiting bacteria such as E-Coli; reducing cholesterol and boosting immunity. Copper is the third most prevalent mineral in the body yet we can’t produce it on our own (meaning we need to get copper from food). As if that’s not enough, calamari is also rich in protein (16 grams per 3.5-ounce serving), B vitamins and vitamin C.  I learned all this while researching for this blog. I might eat calamari every day now.

Problem is, most people eat deep-fried calamari (it’s hard to find it prepared other ways). Frying destroys calamari’s stellar stats by piling on calories, fat and sodium.

I pulled nutrition information from a few national chain restaurants. Check out the numbers:

Raw Calamari (3.5 ounces)
Calories: 92
Fat: 1 g
Saturated fat: 0.4 g
Sodium: 44 mg
Fried (appetizer portion, about 1 cup)
Calories: 360-890
Fat: 22-54 g
Saturated fat: 5-8 g
Sodium: 2340 mg

And these numbers reflect a fairly small serving size; you’d probably eat double or triple that amount in a restaurant. Not to worry, I’ve got an amazing baked version that’s divine. Enjoy a hefty, 7.25-ounce portion for about 350 calories, less than 4 g fat, almost zero saturated fat and one quarter of the sodium. The squid is lightly battered in buttermilk before being tossed in a panko, tortilla chip and ranch-spiked crumb mixture. Then, the rings and tentacles are baked until the calamari is tender and the coating is crisp and golden brown.

Crispy Baked Calamari

I like to serve my calamari with warm tomato sauce on the side for dunking.

Note: I love the flavor of ranch in the coating but you can leave it out – the crunchy exterior still boasts the wonderful flavor of toasted white corn tortillas.

Cooking spray
1 pound calamari, tubes and tentacles
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
1/2 cup white tortilla chip pieces (2 inch pieces)
1 tablespoon powdered ranch dressing mix
1 1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Coat two large baking sheets with cooking spray.

Pat calamari dry with a paper towel. Cut tubes crosswise into 1/2-inch thick rings (do not cut tentacles). Set aside.

Combine panko, tortilla chips and seasoning in a food processor and process until finely ground.  Transfer mixture to a bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, 2 tablespoons of the flour and black pepper. Place remaining 1/2 cup of flour in a large freezer bag.

Add calamari rings and tentacles to the bag with the flour and shake to coat. Working in batches, dip the flour-coated calamari into buttermilk mixture and then into panko mixture. Arrange calamari, in a single layer, on prepared baking sheets. Spray the surface with cooking spray.

Bake 15-20 minutes, until calamari is tender and coating is crisp and golden brown.

Serves 4
Nutrition Info Per Serving (7.25 ounces, about 1 cup)
Calories: 353
Total Fat: 3.6 grams
Saturated Fat: <1 gram
Total Carbohydrate: 39 grams
Sugars: 3 grams
Protein: 24 grams
Sodium: 507 milligrams
Cholesterol: 267 milligrams
Fiber: 2 grams

Robin Miller is a nutritionist, host of Quick Fix Meals, author of "Robin Takes 5" and “Robin Rescues Dinner” and the busy mom of two active little boys. Her boys and great food are her passion. Check her out at www.robinrescuesdinner.com.

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