What Is Calamari and Delicious Ways You Can Cook It

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Marian Published: March 30, 2021 Modified: June 9, 2021
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If you ever want to expand your seafood experience, then it’s about time that you try a delicious calamari dish. But what is calamari, anway? In general, it’s a seafood delicacy that you can cook in a variety of ways, and add in other dishes like pasta, salads, or stews. 

This tentacled creature is addicting to eat, especially when it’s a delicious serving of crispy fried calamari. It’s the classic seafood appetizer that’s cut into small ringlets with lemon slices and parsley for garnish, then paired with a sweet and tangy marinara sauce or tartar sauce on the side. The combined chewiness and crunchiness of the fried squid is what makes it a palatable dish to try at home. 

But serving it fried is just one of the many ways you can cook this yummy seafood. And in this article, we’ll provide you with a guide on how to properly clean, store, and cook delicious calamari. 

What is Calamari?

what is calamari, calamari, squid

In Italian, calamari literally means ‘squid’ and in the culinary world, the term refers to recipes that use squid as the main ingredient.

But if we were to be specific, calamari is actually a specific type of squid. Still, both terms are often used interchangeably by both professional and home chefs alike.

This tentacled creature is not only delicious, but also has accompanying health benefits. Seafoods, in general, are part of real foods which makes them a very natural source of daily nutrients like proteins, vitamins, and minerals.

While calamari is actually a squid, however, there are some who think that calamari dishes are made with octopus. So what exactly is the difference between squid and octopus, and can octopus be used for calamari dishes?

Squid vs Octopus

Squid and octopus are closely related to each other. They belong to the same cephalopod and molluscan classification, and they have similar-looking features too. Thus, it’s easy to confuse both species with each other. 

To really distinguish squid and octopus, it’s best to look at how they are cooked. Contrary to popular belief, octopus aren’t used for calamari dishes. They have different taste (especially when served raw) and texture when cooked. For instance, our calamari garlic lemon risotto makes use of the squid’s meat. It’s thinly sliced, chewy, and has a smooth texture. 

Meanwhile, octopuses have a mild and light taste that some people say is similar to pork or chicken. It’s also chewy yet not so firm. That’s why it’s perfect for seafood recipes like the popular Japanese street food called takoyaki or “octopus balls”.

What Does Calamari Taste Like?

With the varying calamari recipes all over the world, the taste of this seafood depends on how you cook it. On its own, the flesh of a squid is white, firm, and chewy to eat. It has a mild sweet and nutty flavor, but adding other seasonings or marinade can definitely enhance its taste. 

Hence, the overall flavor of the dish really depends on the recipe you’re trying to make. That’s why it’s important to choose a calamari recipe that will satisfy your craving. Whether it’s from Eastern or Western cuisine, your calamari dish will surely be bursting with flavor. 

How to Cook Squid or Calamari 

calamari rings with lemon and parsley garnish and white dipping sauce

Pre-Soak the Squid in Either Milk or Lemon Juice

Before you cook the calamari squid, here are some tips for making it tender. Firstly, you can choose to either soak the squid in milk or lemon juice. People often tenderize the squid so that it’s not too firm and rubbery when eaten. Soaking it beforehand in either milk or lemon juice ensures the high quality and freshness of the squid. 

Soaking the squid in lemon juice will help improve its texture. The acidity from the lemon actually breaks down the squid’s collagen or tissues, hence its tenderizing effect. Place the squid inside a bowl and add the lemon juice. Soak it in for about half an hour. 

You can also use milk to pre-soak the squid. Do the same process, and then proceed to soak for around half an hour or, if you have time, overnight.

Different Ways to Cook Calamari

There are various ways to cook this yummy and delicate seafood. When cooking calamari squid, remember that timing is important. If you overcook squid, the meat can become too rubbery or firm. Hence, keep in mind this rule when you try your hand at making your favorite calamari recipes!: 

  • Frying or Deep-fry

Calamari Steak Recipe

Aside from the popular fried calamari rings, there’s also the classic Italian calamari fritti that’s a staple during the country’s summer season. But if you want to try something more unconventional, why not try cooking calamari steak that’s simple yet fully appetizing to eat? The squid have their bodies cut into segments, then flattened to make it appear like the typical dish. Then, it’s dredged in flour and parmesan cheese, sauteed, and fried until golden brown to make a crunchy and crispy calamari dish. 

  • Grilling

You can also try making grilled calamari to make another special kind of seafood dish. We recommend trying this grilled sausage-stuffed calamari. It’s more on the stuffed calamari side of preparation that uses the tentacles as well. This recipe offers a heavy serving of both the sausage and squid with the delicious taste of herbs and seasonings. 

  • Braising

Another cooking method is braising the squid with either tomato sauce or soy and vinegar. Then, add vegetables and other herbs to really season the squid. Most braised calamari recipes have soup in it which makes it extra delicious and tender for the squid.

  • Combine with Pasta or Salads

Lastly, try adding your cooked calamari in pasta or salads, since seafood pasta are quite popular. Make this delectable creamy calamari pasta for your next tasty dinner! The calamari blends well with the sauce–it combines the chewiness of the squid with the smoothness of the cheesy sauce. It’s perfect for those dinner gatherings with friends or family with a glass of wine on the side. 

Add another dish into the mix with a delicious serving of chilled calamari salad with lemon and parsley. Combine fresh vegetables and seasonings to create a bowl of calamari salad that’s both healthy and refreshing.

Where to Buy Calamari

shrimp, crustaceans, squids on a plate with lettuce

Calamari squid is available in your local supermarkets and is usually stored in the frozen section. You can also buy it in fish markets or at your nearest farmers’ market if you want them fresh. Since squid is a common seafood, it’s easy to find anywhere. There are a lot of calamari options available for you. Grocery stores often sell frozen calamari that’s either pre-sliced or whole. You can also ask for a cleaned calamari or squid. 

What to Consider When Buying Squid

  • Make sure that the fresh squids are shiny and plumpy. They’re not supposed to be flat or squished. 
  • The body should also be intact with the tentacles. 
  • The color should not be too gray or pink. A fresh and edible squid has a purplish gray color.
  • For frozen squids, look for signs of freezer burns. These appear as excessive amounts of ice crystals forming around the squid. 

How to Clean Calamari  

Since it’s seafood, it really needs to be handled carefully. Make sure that your squids are thoroughly cleaned inside and out. This means that the head, innards (viscera), ink sac, fins, the beak at the base of the tentacles, and skin membranes are removed. We only need the tentacles and body for cooking. Wash the squid lightly under running water to remove any more impurities. Then, you’re ready to cut and prep.

After cleaning your squid, proceed to cut it. Usually, the squid is cut into calamari rings. You hold the body down flat and then start cutting crosswise to get the ringlets. However, if you’re making a dish that requires you to use the whole squid’s body, then you don’t need to slice it. There are some recipes that make use of the whole body to make stuffed squid recipes. 

How to Store Calamari 

Squid, like any other seafood, can be properly stored inside the freezer. It freezes well and can last long when sealed well inside a container. Of course, we recommend that you consume your squid upon purchasing so that it’s extra fresh. However, if you bought in bulk or wish to preserve it longer, then you can choose to freeze it. 

Before freezing, remember that your squids have to be rinsed and cleaned without its visceras or guts. Pat the squids dry with a damp cloth. Then, you can proceed to place it inside an airtight container or a freezer or resealable zipper bag. You can also use freezer-safe glass containers with a tight lid on top. Your squid will be fresh for up to three months. 

If placed inside the fridge, however, it can last for up to two to three days only. Make sure to check your squid from time to time. If the color changes to a slight pink or red, then the squid is not safe to consume anymore. 

Calamari is a delicious seafood option that you should indulge in.

It’s one of those seafood delicacies that’s addicting and tasty once you get a bite of it. Start with the classic fried squid and explore the other cooking methods as well for a more gastronomical seafood experience. With our helpful cooking guides and tips, it’ll be easier to make a wonderful serving of a calamari dish of your choice.



Marian is a content writer who is interested in anything related to history, fiction, and even literary theories. She is currently learning about the connection between food and culture through the many articles she has written. She likes how writing about food creates a communal space for other people to enjoy and learn about the different cuisines and cultures. It also gives her a lot of cooking ideas to try. She is most enthusiastic about learning how to cook Korean and Japanese food.

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