Culinary Arts

Learn About Calamari: Ingredient Information, Techniques, and Easy Recipe

Written by MasterClass

Mar 15, 2019 • 5 min read

Calamari is caught and prepared as food all over the world. It’s unlike any other seafood, with it’s thin, tough flesh, that can be transformed into tender meat if cooked well. The world’s oldest cuisines have long-established techniques for getting the most out of the animal: longtime culinary rivals China and Italy have been frying it up for centuries, but in Greece they stuff the entire cavity with a rice farce, and Japan has so many raw and cooked preparations, it’s useless to try and count all the ways they prepare squid. No matter where you are, however, it’s likely you’ll find squid nestled in a seafood stew, tossed with noodles, or fried in bite-size pieces.

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What Is Calamari?

Calamari, in both Italian and English, means squid. It's a culinary term in English, used to refer to squid as food. In Italian, calamari (plural for calamaro) can be used in reference to the animal and squid versions of food. It's common in English to have a separate term when referring to an animal as food: think of "meat" versus "animal," or how "pork" refers to pig meat and "beef" refers to the meat from a cow.

Where Does Calamari Come From?

The English term was taken from Italian in the early 1800s, so it's fitting that the most common preparation of squid in the United States is the breaded and fried appetizer at Italian-American restaurants. Though the Italian term is used in English, squid exist in every ocean and sea (with the exception of the Black Sea) and half of the total global squid consumption occurs in Japan, where is it called ika and grouped into the same category as cuttlefish, which is called koika.

What Does Calamari Look Like?

Squid, in addition to cuttlefish and octopus, are cephalopods recognizable for their elongated, soft bodies and long arms and tentacles. The three animals are similar in appearance, especially when skinned and cut into pieces, but differ slightly in texture and flavor. Squid have long bodies that are exceptionally easy to empty of their innards, leaving behind a thin cylinder-shaped mass of flesh that can easily be stuffed or cut into rings and fillets. They're often caught and prepared when they're between an inch and a foot long, but squid can grow up to 80-feet long.

What Does Calamari Taste Like?

Squid has thin and fairly bland flesh compared with octopus and cuttlefish, which have thicker, more flavorful meat like that of crab or lobster. Unlike fish and shellfish, squid meat is smooth and tough, almost like rubber. If prepared well, the meat can become tender and absorb the flavors it’s cooked with, otherwise it can become tough and quite bland.

Is Calamari Healthy?

Squid is mostly protein, with small equal percentages of fat and carbohydrates. It's a healthy, low-calorie protein rich in zinc, niacin, and vitamin B12, which respectively help boost the immune system, metabolism, and red blood cell count.

Though all around a very healthy ingredient, squid does have a high cholesterol count like shrimp. As is the case with any food that is low in calorie and fat on its own, the cooking method can drastically impact how healthy it is once served—breading and frying calamari rings transforms it into a food that's high in carbohydrates, fats, and calories, whereas brushing it with olive oil and cooking it over a grill will keep it close to its natural calorie count.

15 Dishes That Use Calamari

  1. Fried calamari. A common preparation all over the world, most recognizable at Italian-American restaurants where it’s breaded in flour, seasoned with salt and pepper, and served with lemon wedges and marinara sauce for dipping.
  2. Salt and pepper squid. In Cantonese cooking, squid is fried in cornstarch and with additional seasonings like green onions, garlic, ginger, and shaoxing wine.
  3. Spaghetti al nero di seppia. An Italian pasta that is tossed in a sauce made with squid-ink, white wine, garlic, and parsley.
  4. Spanish paella. Calamari is often cooked on top of saffron- and garlic-scented rice with chorizo, chicken, and various seafood. Find our recipe for classic paella here.
  5. Kalamarakia Yemista. On the Greek island of Crete, however, entire squid bodies are emptied and stuffed with a filling made from rice, fresh vegetables, and herbs. The plump squid simmer low and slow in a tomato sauce.
  6. Cioppino. In the late nineteenth century, California's Bay Area fishermen started throwing squid into tomato stews along with any other available seafood.
  7. Jjampong. A spicy Korean stew filled with noodles, vegetables, and seafood like squid and shrimp.
  8. Ojingeo Bokkeum. Bite-size pieces of squid are stir-fried with white and green onions in this spicy Korean dish.
  9. Char kway teow. A Malaysian stir-fried noodle dish that includes anything from Chinese sausage, pork belly, shrimp, squid, and eggs as toppings.
  10. Ika Sansai. Japanese marinated raw squid salad with mushrooms and bamboo shoots.
  11. Ika Nigiri. Squid sashimi.
  12. Yakimono. At yakitori restaurants, squid is grilled on skewers over charcoal.
  13. Ika nimono. Squid can also be found simmered in a classic Japanese marinade of soy sauce, sake, and mirin, a preparation called nimono.
  14. Ika somen. In Hokkaido, the northern Japanese island that accounts for the majority of Japan's squid fishing, squid is cut into thin noodle-like strips and topped with soy sauce and grated ginger and slurped up like soba or ramen.
  15. Ceviche. Ceviche is an ever-changing dish based on regionality and what is available. In addition to fish, shrimp, and octopus, squid is a common seafood for the Latin dish.

Fried Calamari Recipe

Ingredient Checklist

Total Time 35 min | Cook Time 20 min | Prep Time 15 min | Serves 4

  • neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed
  • 1-2 lb cleaned squid, sliced into rings and tentacles left intact
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 lemons, cut into wedges
  1. Pour 2 inches of oil into a pot and set over medium-high heat. While the oil heats up, try to blot as much moisture out of the squid as you can with paper towels.
  2. Season the squid with salt and pepper and fill a shallow bowl with the flour.
  3. When the oil is heated, toss a quarter of the squid in the flour so that it's lightly coated.
  4. Carefully add the squid to the pot and let it fry until cooked and golden brown, about 2 minutes.
  5. With a slotted spoon, transfer the squid to drain on paper towels and sprinkle with more salt.
  6. Repeat with remaining squid, working in small batches until it's all cooked.

Serve the squid while it's hot with lemon wedges.