If restaurant guests aren't in the mood for chicken, they can order seafood for a change of pace. Besides the classic tuna nigiri or shrimp scampi, calamari has become a seafood dish that diners tend to avoid.

Calamari, known as deep-fried or cooked squid, offers a unique chewy texture and taste that isn't found in other types of seafood. While different cultures worldwide cook and savor squid with various flavors and spices as part of their cuisine, calamari on any menu might occasionally raise a few eyebrows. Some diners might ask their server multiple questions about its flavors, tastes, preparation method, and whether squid ink is even edible.

However, cooking calamari or ordering squid at a restaurant doesn't need to seem like a daunting task reserved for sailors. To help quell the sea of anxiety surrounding calamari, we've answered some popular questions about squid so anyone curious about the art of calamari squid can dine at ease.

What is calamari?

Calamari is a popular way of preparing squid through various cooking methods. Chefs prepare calamari by removing the squid's beak, shell sack, and sometimes the tentacles.

Many bars love deep-frying calamari to serve for guests as they sip their beer, thanks to its chewy yet oily texture. Another popular preparation method involves sautéed or lightly grilled calamari squid to maintain the fresh seafood taste. Guests typically enjoy calamari alongside a cup of white wine.

Deep fried calamari with lemon and ketchup.
Calamari rings offer a chewy crunch and a savory flavor, especially with marinara sauce.

Calamari can even be eaten raw, such as sushi, or included in salad. To find more calamari dishes that utilize common preparation methods in any kitchen, check out the squid recipes we've included at the end of the blog. Just remember to bring a slotted spoon.

Is calamari octopus or squid?

No, cooked calamari is not octopus. Although these creatures with tentacles come from the sea, calamari is exclusively squid. While octopus and squid are used to create different dishes, they have different tastes and flavor profiles, similar to the difference between turkey and chicken meat. And since fewer than a dozen types of squid are cooked and prepared for actual consumption, calamari represents a small slice of seafood found at the fish counter.

Calamari name origin

While many people typically refer to any squid dish in the United States as calamari, the name has a fascinating history. While various cultures have caught and cooked fresh calamari, the word 'calamari' derives from the Italian word for ink pot or pen case.

Some restaurants outside the United States still differentiate calamari as a separate culinary term from cooked squid. So if you're in Cape Cod or Rhode Island, and you see deep-fried calamari on the menu, you can be sure it'll be similar to other calamari dishes found elsewhere in the area using that same Italian word. And if you're eating at a bistro in Southern Europe or Greece, you'd receive entirely different dishes.

Where to buy fresh calamari

clean squid calamari and large octopus at fish market seller
Squid and octopus are two popular types of seafood to buy at a fish market.

Calamari might seem complicated to find if you aren't a fisherman searching for squid in the Black Sea. However, you can find fresh calamari in grocery stores, sitting alongside other seafood items like shrimp and salmon. And if you feel like cooking something other than squid meat, some grocery stores even offer small batches of fried calamari rings you can bring home and eat right away with a side of marinara sauce or mustard.

How to prepare calamari

Most fish lovers might think you can prepare and cook calamari just like any other seafood. Unfortunately, although fish and squid come from the ocean, they are nothing alike. Calamari mainly possesses a chewy, tender texture if prepared correctly, while fish offers a meaty, heartier dish.

To prepare calamari, set the seafood out to thoroughly defrost. Defrosting will ensure that the calamari's taste remains as fresh as possible while reducing the fishy taste associated with seafood. The calamari should still possess its main meat and tentacles but should not include any inedible parts, such as the beak or shell sack. Most fish markets already have the squid prepared correctly.

outdoor seafood restaurant beach oceanside summer calamari
Seafood restaurants typically serve calamari alongside their other dishes.

After defrosting and washing the squid, chefs prepare calamari in several ways, from a slow braise with salt and pepper to throwing the raw seafood into a large bowl with mushrooms and bamboo shoots. Some recipes even ask chefs to tenderize calamari in a milk and salt mixture before cooking.

In the United States, calamari is mostly breaded and then fried until cooked to a chewy consistency. Some people even enjoy it raw. However, we highly recommend sticking to the cooking time designated in your favorite calamari recipe since it cooks quickly on high heat.

What does calamari taste like?

Two french bistro guests enjoy wine and calamari dish
Calamari can be enjoyed with a friend and some wine.

Calamari is a chewy and tender meat with a slightly sweet flavor, unlike chicken or fish. Of course, the way the calamari is prepared will also affect its taste. Fried calamari tastes similar to onion rings. Quickly cooking the calamari hot will make the squid meat a bit chewier, compared to a slow braise approach that will always create tender calamari.

Is squid ink okay to eat?

Yes, squid ink is okay to eat, especially if ordered from a restaurant. The ink from squid has been used as an ingredient for many different seafood dishes thanks to its iconic black color, anti-oxidant health benefits, and savory flavor. Next time you're in a seafood restaurant, ask the server if squid ink pasta is available.

Fried calamari rings with squid and lemon sauce
A squeeze of lemon can add a bunch of delicious flavor to any dish.

Squid is such a versatile food that you'll find many different recipes that offer a wide range of flavors and experiences. To help you start your culinary journey cooking calamari, here are some simple yet classic recipes every calamari enthusiast will savor.

Deep-fried calamari rings

Fried squid calamari with lemon in a restaurant.
Anything deep-fried is delicious, especially squid.

Deep-fried calamari rings are a classic squid dish that will always hit the spot at any seafood restaurant. Squid rings go great with an assortment of different sauces. Squeeze some lemon wedges over your squid rings for a mild flavor, or dip your fried calamari into homemade tomato sauce. To create a fritto misto, fry some vegetables and shrimp alongside the squid rings.

Deep-fried calamari rings recipe

  • Before frying, ensure your squid is evenly sliced into rings. If the slices are too thin or thick, the texture might not be consistent throughout the entire ring.
  • Mix baking powder, black pepper, flour mixture, and your preferred spices in a medium bowl.
  • Next, toss your calamari in the flour mixture to evenly coat the meat for frying.
  • Heat olive, avocado, or grapeseed oil in a large bowl or pan, checking to see the best temperature for frying in that specific oil.
  • Place the calamari in the oil mixture with a slotted spoon or tongs. Let it cook for about 3 minutes or until golden brown.
  • Place the golden calamari on a paper towel to dry. Add salt to taste. Serve with lime or marinara sauce.

Salt and pepper squid

Salt and pepper squid is a delicious calamari dish that originated as a classic Cantonese dish. It requires only a few simple ingredients, similar to deep-fried calamari.

Salt and pepper squid recipe

  • Rinse your squid and cut off its tentacles.
  • Cut the hood into pieces of the same size to maintain an even cooking texture.
  • Marinate the squid in your preferred wine and oil. We recommend sesame oil.
  • Pour cooking oil into a medium pot and heat until it simmers.
  • Use a slotted spoon to lower the squid into the hot oil until the meat looks golden brown. This step should take 2-3 minutes per batch. If your oil is on low heat, this process might take longer.
  • Set out your freshly cooked calamari on a paper towel, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve and enjoy!

Whether you're at a fine-dining restaurant or a quick-service concept, calamari is a great dish to try if you want to venture beyond beef and chicken and try something adventurous.

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