Small Kitchen, Gluten-Free: Fried Calamari with Dill Tartar Sauce

Non-Gluten Free Fried Seafood: Baja Fish Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Crema; Lightly Fried Tilapia with Caper Brown Butter; Over-Fried Flounder; Coconut-Crusted Tilapia; Pan-Fried Trout with Pecans

I suppose it could be considered lucky that I found out about my little problem with gluten right at the brink of summer. If there is ever a time when I crave pasta less, it’s probably August, when the weather makes me want to sit in my shower under an icy stream and never come out.

But while summer offers plenty of delicious veggies to cook up and eat in abundance (sans pasta), for every full farmers’ market table is an even more alluring fish shack by the sea, serving nothing but clams, oysters, and haddock, plucked from the ocean, and subsequently plunged into a batter-laden deep fryer.

There used to be nothing I loved more than fish and chips. That was, until I met a fried oyster. Then I submitted to an indiscriminate orgy of fried seafood. Like Cara, I love it all.

It should be telling that the few times I’ve broken my gluten-free diet were not for cookies or spaghetti but for fried calamari and fried green tomatoes in Charleston, fried clams and fried scallops in Portsmouth, and fried fish in Sausalito on our book tour. I am a weak woman.

So what better dish to tackle in my new small, gluten-free kitchen than the old fried seafood standby: fried calamari. If Applebee’s can do it, so can I.

I tested out a few different combinations, but settled on my mother’s go-to, millet flour, plus yellow cornmeal—which is used in quite a few non-gluten-free versions. While the millet flavor might not be for everyone, it is hands down the best bet for keeping your fried seafood nice and crispy. And though I have yet to try it out on some of my other favorite mollusks, I bet you could exercise the same combination for oysters, clams, and scallops.

Luckily, while I can’t always have the fried fish, I can still indulge in the chips part. I do so the best way possible, by dipping them in WAY too much tartar sauce. So to honor that summer favorite, I’ve shared a great from-scratch tartar sauce recipe for all of you summer seafood lovers to use on whatever outrageously salty, briny, and delicious combinations your fish shack can throw together on a greasy sheet of parchment paper. A very high high five, if that fish shack is in your very own gluten-free kitchen, as mine apparently now is.

From my kitchen, where my fried seafood is gluten-free and drenched in tartar sauce, to yours,


p.s. Calamari is also really CHEAP. This would be a perfect inexpensive seafood fix for a summer dinner for two.


Fried Calamari with Dill Tartar Sauce
Makes 4 appetizer servings

I used millet flour because I think it makes fried foods extra crispy. If you wanted something a little bit milder in flavor, rice flour would work too, as in this recipe from which I took my inspiration.

1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup millet flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 egg, beaten
1/2 pound squid (calamari), sliced into rings
2-3 cups vegetable oil
Dill Tartar Sauce (recipe follows)

Combine the cornmeal, flour, salt and paprika in a Ziplock bag. Shake it to combine.

Beat the egg and 1 tablespoon of water in a small bowl. Add the calamari and toss until coated. Shake off the excess egg and add the calamari rings to the bag. Seal and shake until they are covered in the flour mixture.

Meanwhile, in a medium cast iron skillet or heavy-bottomed pan with deep sides, pour in enough oil to come up 1/2 inch on the sides. Get the oil hot over high heat. Test one piece of calamari to see if the oil is hot enough–it should sizzle immediately and become golden brown in less than 1 minute. Add the rest of the calamari in one layer (you may need to do this in two batches). Using tongs, flip the calamari when golden brown, about 30 seconds, and cook on the other side for another 30 seconds. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels.

Allow to drain until cool enough to touch. Transfer to a bowl, or create a cone our of parchment paper. Taste for seasoning and sprinkle with salt or squeeze with lemon juice. Serve with Dill Tartar Sauce (recipe follows).

Dill Tartar Sauce
Makes 1 cup

If you like your tartar sauce sweet, this is not the recipe for you. Sweet relish is used in classic tartar sauces–and sweet relish is not my fave. Instead, I’ve ramped up the pickles in my recipe and added dill to bring home that fresh, herby flavor.

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill pickle
1 tablespoon capers, drained and chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill
2 teaspoons finely chopped shallot or onion
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, stir together all the ingredients. Taste for seasoning. Tartar sauce can keep for up to a week in the fridge. Serve alongside fried calamari!


  1. These look delish!! Now we just have to pretend they’re kosher so Adam can eat them! 

  2. Millet flour? Really? Gotta try that one. Oh, and I would drown happily in a vat of tartar sauce.

  3. I love using leftover tartar sauce as a sandwich spread.  Especially good with turkey, tuna, sliced pork or beef….yum.

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