What Is Calamari and How Do You Use It?

Published on June 4, 2024 | 0 Comments

Ever wondered to yourself, "what is calamari?" Perhaps you've sampled this ocean-faring delicacy at your favorite restaurant and are looking for a way to prepare it at home. Whether it's for an indulgent treat for yourself, a romantic date, or for dinner party guests who you're determined to "wow" with the perfect appetizer, this popular seafood goes far beyond the traditional fried rings that many associate with calamari.

If you're interested, then read on. This comprehensive culinary guide covers everything you need to know to add this popular seafood to your culinary arsenal, including what it is, where it comes from, how to cook it, its nutritional value and much more. 


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What Is Calamari?

In the United States, calamari refers to food that comes from a squid. Most of the squid we enjoy as food are smaller species that range from one to two feet in length. The meat of the squid is smooth and somewhat tough in texture, without the characteristic “fishiness” that some people dislike about seafood dishes. 

A whole squid cooked and presented on a wooden board with green salad, lime and carrots.
via Canva

Where Does Calamari Come From?

The word “calamari” comes from the Italian word “calamaro,” which refers to an ink pot or ink case. This might seem strange until you remember that, like octopi, squids are equipped with an ink sac that they use as a defense mechanism when threatened. Very common in many Asian dishes, calamari is sometimes eaten raw or as a snack food in countries like Korea, China and Japan. Today, it is a widely produced food around the globe, with commercial fisheries found in places like the Pacific Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and more.

Whole squid, or calamari, on ice.
via Unsplash

What Does Calamari Taste Like?

If you’re a seafood connoisseur, you might be most familiar with white fish that flakes when cooked. Unlike fish, squid has a slightly tough texture that can easily turn rubbery if not prepared correctly. When cooking squid dishes, keep in mind that you want your calamari to retain its chewiness without crossing over into being too rubbery. 

In terms of flavor, it has a sweeter, somewhat nuttier flavor than octopus, and it certainly doesn’t have the fishy flavors that can turn some people off from seafood. 

Raw squid with fresh ingredients.
via Canva

What Does Calamari Look Like?

Calamari might have different looks depending on the cut you purchase and how you plan to use it. The most common variety is rings cut from the body of the squid, but you can also purchase the tentacles or even the whole squid complete with beak and ink sac. If you’d like to try something really unique for your next dinner party, consider purchasing calamari steaks. These are larger cuts of meat that come from the body of the squid. Squids that are harvested for steaks are usually larger in size than the smaller ones used for rings. 

Calamari can look different depending on the part of the squid you use.
via Unsplash

Is Calamari Squid or Octopus?

If you’re wondering “What is calamari made of?”, the answer is squid. Many people confuse octopus and squid when it comes to somewhat unconventional seafood dishes, but calamari is taken from the mantle, body and tentacles of the squid. The difference between meat that comes from an octopus versus a squid really comes down to flavor. Octopus meat has a flavor similar to pork or chicken, unlike squid.

Calamari comes from squid and not octopus.
via Canva

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What Part of the Squid is Calamari?

The main parts of the squid that are edible are the body and tentacles, but you can also use squid ink in your cooking. Most of the time, squid rings are cut from the round body of the squid, giving them their ring-like shape. You might also see the tentacles fried and added to a dish of fried rings at a restaurant.

Fried calamari.
via Canva


Is Calamari Shellfish?

To answer this common question, yes. Squid are classified as part of the shellfish group. This group includes animals without a backbone like squid, octopus, clams and oysters, to name a few.

Squid is considered a shellfish.
via Canva

What Is Fried Calamari?

Fried calamari is one of the most popular dishes made with squid. This dish is usually a plate of piping hot rings battered and deep fried. You will often find it served with different types of sauces or with a simple drizzle of lemon juice. 

Delicious looking rings of fried calamari.
via Canva

What Is Calamari Steak?

Calamari steak is a larger cut of meat that comes from a much larger squid. This large seafood cut makes for an excellent protein source with dinner, and its mild flavor works well in a variety of recipes with many different types of flavor options. 


How To Use Calamari

For expert help in cooking squid, consider signing up for cooking classes near you. Alternatively, book online cooking classes and learn from the pros in the comfort of your own home. It can be tricky to learn how to clean and cook new types of seafood, but with an experienced professional guiding you every step of the way, you’ll be enjoying unique seafood dishes in no time. 

If you’re ready to get stuck in, then calamari can be used in many ways. Use fried calamari rings as a savory appetizer, or cook up a larger steak cut and enjoy as a main dish or served with a salad. Here are some tips and tricks for how to get the most out of your squid. 

Calamari, cleaned and ready for cooking.
via Canva

How To Clean Calamari

If you’ve purchased your squid whole from the grocery store or specialty fishmonger and are wondering how to clean squid for calamari, here are a few tips. 

First, separate the head from the body of the squid. Doing this should also remove the innards of the squid so that you can discard them. When you remove the innards, you should also see the dark ink sac. You can dispose of that or save it if you need to use the squid ink for your recipe. 

Once you’ve removed the head and insides of the squid, use your knife to slice below the eyes and remove the tentacles. You should also separate the beak and any cartilage that remains around the beak. 

From there, you should be left with the body and the tentacles. Be sure to wash both thoroughly before cutting the body into rings or preparing the tentacles to cook. 

A whole squid on a chopping board, ready to be prepared.
via Canva

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How To Cook Calamari Steaks

One of the simplest methods for cooking a steak cut of squid is to pan-sear it. You should wash and dry the steak carefully, then you can score it gently and season with salt or other flavorings. Place the scored side down in a hot pan with canola or other cooking oil and let it cook for around two minutes on each side. You can also bread your steak cut by dipping the steak in flour, egg and finally a seasoned breadcrumb mixture like panko bread crumbs.

Whole roasted squid steaks.
via Canva

How To Make Fried Calamari

If you’re looking for a quick and easy crash course on how to cook calamari rings, here are the basic steps. 

First, if your squid rings are frozen, be sure to thaw them out overnight by placing them in a bowl in the refrigerator. Once they are thawed and ready to use, rinse them and dry them carefully. Season the squid rings however you choose. 

Next, create an easy three-step breading for the squid rings. Coat each one in flour first, then in an egg coating made from a few beaten eggs. Finally, dip the rings into a crispy breadcrumb coating before frying. 

To fry the rings, use seafood tools like a deep pan or a deep fryer with oil that has been heated to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Space the rings evenly, as you don’t want to overcrowd your pan. The rings should cook for two to three minutes on each side and be crispy and brown when finished.

Serve as an appetizer or as a side dish, and don’t forget to squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the top of your piping hot fried squid to really enhance the flavors.

Fried calamari makes a great appetizer or side dish.
via Canva

How To Make Grilled Calamari

You can also grill the different parts of the squid to create a lighter, fresher dish. One key to grilling calamari is to let it marinate for at least thirty minutes before placing it on the heat. You can even marinate the squid overnight to truly allow the flavors to penetrate the meat. Grill for about four to six minutes on each side, and don’t forget that you can also grill the tentacles, which means you can use more of the squid than just rings cut from the body. You’ll find grilled squid as a stand-alone entrée, on kabobs or even served over salads with lemon and cilantro.

Squid skewers cooking over a grill.
via Canva

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Other Calamari Recipes

You don’t have to limit your love of squid to fried rings and grilled options. There are plenty of great recipes available that call for squid, like Tuscan fish stew, squid ink pasta or even a delicious bowl of seafood linguini.

Seafood linguine.
via Canva

Is Calamari Healthy?

Is calamari good for you? The answer lies mainly in how you prepare the dish. Like most sources of protein, it can be quite healthy when prepared in a lighter, more health-conscious way. If you’re concerned about the calories in your dish, opt for a grilled squid rather than the deep-fried option.

Squid can be a healthy option to add to your diet.
via Canva

How Much Protein Is in Calamari?

One benefit of eating squid is a healthy amount of protein. If you are monitoring your macros, keep in mind that one three-ounce serving can contain anywhere from 13 to 15 grams of protein.

Calamari is a good source of protein.
via Canva

How Many Calories Are in Calamari?

Squid is rich in protein and relatively low in calories, which can sometimes be a hard combination to find. In the same three-ounce serving, you’ll find approximately 150 calories, making this a great dish for anyone trying to increase their protein without consuming extra calories.

The amount of calories you consume with squid will depend on how it's prepared.
via Unsplash

How Many Calories Are in Fried Calamari?

It can be difficult to estimate the number of calories in a prepared dish, but battering and frying the squid does increase its calorie levels. Compared to a relatively low 150 calories for the squid itself, a serving size of fried squid contains anywhere from 300 to 350 calories. This is definitely something to consider if you are watching your diet. 

Fried squid with aioli and a slice of lemon.
via Unsplash

Is Calamari High in Cholesterol?

Squid is a unique seafood in many ways, one of which is its potential ability to help your cholesterol. Squid has been shown to have a lower amount of cholesterol than other seafood dishes, and it also contains some healthy fats that help your body.

Fried squid on a platter with sauce and veggie sticks.
via Unsplash

Where To Buy Calamari

It used to be difficult to find squid at your local grocery store, but these days calamari is widely available to buy, both fresh and frozen. You can purchase fresh squid at the fish counter at your local supermarket or find frozen squid rings in the freezer section. If you would like to buy the steak cut, you might have to venture to a local fishmonger, but, for the most part, squid has become a widely available seafood option.

Fresh quid on ice with a slice of lemon and lime and a sprig of rosemary.
via Canva

Hopefully this guide to calamari has armed you with all the information you need to go away and enjoy this popular seafood option. From rings, to tentacles to chunky steaks, we hope this guide to calamari has encouraged you to swap out one of your weekly meals for this unique source of protein. 

For even more ways to explore your favorite foods, check out other experiences happening on Cozymeal.