A squid is a cephalopod—a type of predatory mollusk closely related to octopuses and cuttlefish—that consists of three main parts: the torpedo-shaped body (also called a “mantle” or “tube”), a pair of fins, and the arms (8) and tentacles (2). Cephalopod supporters in the 70’s tried to move the needle on Americans’ squid squeamishness, but it wasn’t until the mid-90’s that fried calamari became a bar menu staple. Even now, home cooks rarely buy and prepare squid themselves. We want to change that, so we’ve compiled this guide (read: manifesto) for why and how you should cook it.
4 Reasons to Cook with Squid
- It’s Affordable
At about $10 per pound with just about 100 percent of each specimen being edible, squid is one of the best values at the seafood counter.
- It Requires Almost No Prep
Unless you’re buying fresh-caught squid, you’re likely to find it cleaned and ready to cook. This means that the head, intestines, ink sac, and clear skeleton (or “pen”) have been removed; the tentacles separated and reserved; and the thin skin covering the body peeled away. The squid’s long body will either be whole or sliced into rings.
- It Cooks in Minutes
Briefly cooking squid helps maintain its natural tenderness.
- It’s Versatile
Mild and subtly sweet with a tender but resilient texture, squid takes well to a broad range of applications—frying, sautéing, grilling, braising—and pairs well with just about any flavor profile.
How to Shop for Squid
Good squid looks pristine—moist, shiny, and ivory‑colored. Here’s what you should know when going to your supermarket or fishmonger to shop for it.
Cleaned squid is sold in two parts.
Most fishmongers sell both squid bodies and squid tentacles. The bodies tend to be smooth and tender, while the tentacles offer pleasant chew and more surface area.
Store uncooked squid on ice.
Like all seafood, squid deteriorates rapidly. Keep it in the back of the refrigerator, where it’s coldest, in a zipper-lock bag resting on a bed of ice.
Buy whole bodies when possible.
Though we’ve found the quality of precut rings to be just fine, buying whole bodies allows you to cut them to your own specification.
Most squid has been frozen.
Unless you have access to squid direct from the boat, anything you buy has been previously frozen and treated with additives such as sodium citrate and sodium carbonate to inhibit spoilage and enhance texture. But that’s fine: We found the quality of frozen squid—both frozen in the supermarket freezer section and thawed at the fish counter—to be good, and we didn’t detect any off-flavors or textures as we have in other types of treated seafood.
If you buy thawed: Ask the fishmonger how long it’s been thawed. For the best quality, thawed squid should be cooked within two days.
If you buy frozen: Many supermarkets carry frozen squid packaged in blocks of whole bodies or rings. To use part of a frozen block, wrap the block in a dish towel and press it against the edge of a counter or table to break it.
Science: Cook Squid Really Fast—or Really Slow
To avoid a rubbery texture, squid benefits from being cooked either very fast (as in our Fried Calamari) or very slow (as in a stew or pasta sauce). That’s because squid swim fast thanks to supple, flexible bodies loaded with collagen—which dramatically affects their texture when cooked. When you lightly cook squid, its tough collagen remains intact, but its muscles don’t have a chance to contract much, so the squid retains its natural tenderness for a texture that’s pleasantly springy. Cooking squid longer causes those muscles to tighten and wring out moisture (think dry, tough overcooked beef), but with continued cooking, squid collagen converts to gelatin that lubricates the muscles and makes the flesh moist and tender again.