This recipe for kung pao calamari is based on a classic Chinese takeout dish known for its fiery hot chilies, flavorful sauce, and crunchy peanuts. Served with rice to tone down the spice, I find this dish to be incredibly comforting.
I eat an extraordinary amount of chicken throughout the week in an attempt to eat healthy. Because chicken starts to get boring when you eat it every day, I am always looking for healthy alternatives. Calamari has quickly become a go-to substitution due to its low calorie and fat content, high protein content, and low mercury content. However, this recipe for kung pao calamari will easily work with chicken, beef, shrimp, fish, pork, or tofu.
Calamari has a reputation for being chewy, but if cooked right can be quite tender. The key is to cook it quickly over very high heat to keep it tender. Coconut oil is wonderful for high temperature cooking because of it’s high smoking point. Peanut oil, sunflower oil and avocado oil can also be used. It is important to keep the heat high, so cook in smaller batches if you are using a smaller pan.
While the toasted chilies add a level of heat to the dish, it is the szechuan (sichuan) pepper (also known as Chinese coriander) that provides that tongue tingling, numbing sensation we love so much.
Combine marinade ingredients in a bowl. Add calamari and marinade for 30 minutes.
Heat wok pan on medium-low heat. If you don’t have a wok pan, a cast iron skillet will do, just ensure the temperature stays very hot during the cooking process. If you’ve got a real wok with a hot enough flame, you are good to go! Add the chilies and peanuts and toast, stirring constantly to avoid burning (about 2-3 minutes). The chilies will likely start to smoke, so I recommend turning on a fan. In my experience, inhaling that smoke is not a pleasant experience! Remove from heat and set aside.
Combine all the sauce ingredients and mix well.
Heat 1/2 tbsp. coconut oil over high heat until smoking. Add green peppers and stir fry for 1 minute; remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add remaining 1 tbsp. of coconut oil and let pan return to smoking. Add calamari and stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Cooking the calamari for a short time over very high heat will help to keep it tender.
Add green peppers and stir fry another minute.
Add sauce and cook until thickened. Add peanuts and chilies, toss and remove from heat.
Top with green onions and serve with rice, noodles, or just by itself (if you are going for a low carb option). For a healthier option, this kung pao calamari can also be served with brown rice.
How did your calamari turn out? Was it nice and tender? Did you adjust the seasoning at all? If so, what variations did you make? I would love to hear how it turned out!
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