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Everything You Should Know About Calamari

If you’ve ever wondered what calamari is, we’ve got you covered.

When perusing the seafood section of a restaurant’s menu, you may have come across calamari. Italian for the word “squid”, calamari generally refers to a deep-fried appetizer of battered squid in the United States. It is often served in restaurants and bars and is sometimes served alongside its main ingredient, squid. 

In Mediterranean regions and across Asia, many varieties of squid are served. Calamari is unlike most other seafood thanks to its thin yet tough flesh. When cooked properly, this becomes firm, tender meat.

freshly sliced raw calamari

Calamari has been getting fried up in Italy and China for centuries. Other countries, such as Greece, even stuff the whole squid cavity with different ingredients such as herbs and rice. And, in Japan, you are truly spoiled for calamari options including the raw variety.

The Spanish like to add the squid to paella, soups, pasta, and risotto while the Portuguese use it on kebabs alongside peppers and onions. Head to Korea and you can enjoy some calamari wrapped in lettuce leaves with a chili or mustard sauce. It can be prepared in many ways which we will explore in today’s article.

Wherever you are, you will usually find calamari mixed with a seafood stew or with noodles. A favorite of many is the bite-size fried pieces that are a perfect starter to many meals. 

With so many dishes that welcome calamari and ways to prepare it, we wanted to find out more about this popular food. That is why we have compiled an in-depth guide into calamari. Today, we will be discussing what calamari is, how to cook it, how it tastes, and much more.

So, read on to find out everything you need to know about this popular seafood. 


Calamari: What is it? 

As we mentioned above, calamari simply means “squid” in Italian. In English, calamari is a term used to describe squid meat. Currently, there are over 300 species of squid on the planet. However, only a handful of these are used in the culinary industry.

With the term calamari being used by English speakers since the early 1800s, it’s quite apt that this breaded, fried appetizer is the most common preparation of squid in Italian-American restaurants throughout the United States. 

fresh fried calamari with marinara sauce

Squid tend to range from just 1-inch in size up to a colossal 80 feet long. However, an 80-foot squid needs a very large plate so most culinary squids measure less than 12 inches. A mollusk that is related to the octopus and cuttlefish, the squid has a protective mechanism when it feels in danger. Like the octopus, it releases a dark ink into the water whenever danger is around. 

Further similarities with octopuses and cuttlefish are that squids are cephalopods. In other words, they are known for their elongated bodies which are soft along with their long arms and instantly recognizable tentacles. These long bodies are easy to prepare for chefs who, after a few cuts, are left with a thin cylinder-shaped portion of flesh. This is easy to stuff or cut into fillets or rings. 

Where Does Calamari Come From? 

Apart from the Black Sea, squid exists in every ocean on the planet. Although fewer than a dozen of the 300 squid species are used for culinary purposes, many continue to be fished, cooked, and consumed worldwide. Some of the most fished squids include the European squid, the Atlantic squid, the reef squid, and the Japanese flying squid. 

Japan is responsible for half of the global consumption of calamari. However, it is known as “ika” in this part of the world and grouped in the same category as cuttlefish or koika in Japanese. 

How Do You Cook Calamari? 

Although talk of shooting ink and tentacles doesn’t sound particularly appetizing, calamari is a delicious and very popular dish all over the world. Of course, much preparation goes into the cooking of calamari.

Squid is often cooked using hot and fast cooking methods. This includes broiling, grillings, deep-frying, and sauteing. And, it doesn’t even need to be cooked. Many people enjoy squid raw, it’s one of the many types of sushi.

You can also prepare squid via a low and slow-braised method. For the best results, braise in white wine and tomato or garlic sauce. Calamari curry is another favorite around the world. 

multiple whole squid on the grill

You can buy calamari in different forms. It can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried, and even pickled. And that black ink they shoot when in danger – that doesn’t go to waste either. It is often used to color pasta and risotto and provides a little salty flavor to the mix. 

While the tentacles are edible, it’s the body of the squid which is often the best part. This can be cut into flat pieces, sliced into rings, or stuffed with different ingredients such as rice. Whichever preparation and cooking method is used, there is no doubt that calamari is delicious seafood that continues to be enjoyed all over the world.

What Does Calamari Taste Like? 

When compared with octopus or cuttlefish, squid tends to have a thinner, milder flesh. It is more flavorful meat than other seafood options such as lobster or crab and, unlike fish or shellfish, raw calamari is smooth but firm. 

When prepared and cooked properly, calamari transforms into a tender piece of meat. And, if you cook it with other ingredients, it will soak up those flavors beautifully. Without other flavors to complement its taste, calamari can be quite chewy and bland.

How to Store Calamari 

When it comes to the majority of seafood, it’s frowned upon to freeze it for too long. However, squid freezes excellently. This is why you can purchase it in a frozen state at most grocery stores. If you buy fresh squid, you can clean it and place it into a zip-top freezer bag for freezing. 

When frozen, calamari can last for a couple of months. If your squid is cooked, it can be stored in your refrigerator for a few days. Any longer and it should be thrown out. Nevertheless, classic deep-fried calamari tastes best when it’s consumed immediately.

Where to Buy Calamari 

You can find fresh calamari in the majority of seafood markets and large grocery stores. In general, you should be able to buy domestically caught calamari. However, even with a far-reaching distribution, imported calamari from Asia is quite common. 

Most calamari comes either whole or pre-sliced and is usually cleaned. But, we recommend cleaning it again at home to be on the safe side. 

Calamari Dishes 

Squid is used in many iconic dishes. Here are just a few of our favorites for you to try out at home!

Fried Calamari 

fried calamari and lemon with marinara sauce

Fried calamari rings are one of the most popular ways to prepare and eat calamari all over the world. Head to most Italian-American restaurants and this will be on the menu. 

These are typically breaded in flour before being seasoned with salt and pepper. They are then served with lemon wedges and a marinara sauce to dip into. 

Spanish Paella 

Calamari is regularly cooked atop saffron and garlic-scented rice. This is then mixed with chicken, chorizo, and other types of seafood.

Cioppino 

seafood cioppino with calamari

This is one of the most popular squid dishes in the world. A seafood stew, cioppino was introduced by fishermen in California’s bay area in the late 19th century. Just add the squid to a savory tomato broth and you have yourself a cioppino!


Final Thoughts

Calamari is squid, but it can be served in so many ways that it’ll blow your mind. You can have it fried, in a stew, or even raw in the form of sushi. If you see squid on a menu the next time you go out to a restaurant, don’t be afraid to try it! It’s delicious!

What’s your favorite way to eat calamari? Let us know in a comment down below!

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Written by Rocco Smith

Rocco is from Sanibel Island, Florida, and a recent graduate of Florida State University with a Bachelor’s in Editing, Writing, and Media. With seven years’ experience in the restaurant industry as a cook, server, bartender, and more, he is deeply passionate about intertwining his fondness for food with his love of language.