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Packed full of spice and umami flavor, this kung pao calamari is super easy to make and absolutely delicious!
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 or cast iron skillet on medium-low heat. 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.
Did you make this recipe? Lave a comment below and let me know what you think!
Kung Pao Calamari
For the Marinade:
- Combine marinade ingredients in a bowl. Add calamari and marinade for 30 minutes.
- Combine the sauce ingredients and mix thoroughly.
- Heat a wok (or large non-stick skillet) over medium high and add the cooking oil.
- Add the calamari in 3 batches (this is important to keep the heat up and the calamari tender) and stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Remove and set aside.
- Add the green peppers and stir fry for 1-2 minutes on high heat.
- Add Sichuan peppercorns, peanuts and chilies and stir fry another minute, stirring to ensure they don't burn.
- Add the calamari and the sauce to the wok. Cook until the sauce has thickened (about 1-3 minutes).
- Top with green onions and serve with steamed white rice. Sprinkle a little extra ground Sichuan peppercorns or some of this homemade Chili Oil on top.
- If the sauce is too thin, combine 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water and mix well. Slowly pour it into the stir fry, stirring constantly, until the desired consistency is reached.
- If the sauce is too thick, add 1-2 tablespoons of water to thin it. Only add a little at a time to prevent it from thinning too much.
- Be sure to make the sauce before you start to stir fry.
- To toast Sichuan peppercorns, place them in a skillet over medium heat and toss every 20-30 seconds. Once they become fragrant (about 2-3 minutes), remove them and grind with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
- The calamari should be cooked in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. We want the edges of the calamari to caramelize, and crowding the pan will cause the calamari to steam instead of fry.
- Sprinkle the calamari with additional ground Sichuan peppercorns or this homemade Chili Oil.
- If you're using raw peanuts, toast them in the oven for 5-10 minutes on 400F OR saute them over medium in a pan with a teaspoon of oil for about 5 minutes, until the outsides are lightly browned.
- Add additional dried chilies for extra spice.
- Add vegetables like diced red peppers, onions, green pepper, water chestnuts, zucchini or broccoli. Add the vegetables at the same time as the green peppers and cook for 2-3 minutes until just tender. Remove and continue with the rest of the instructions. Add the vegetables back in with the calamari at the end.
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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