About 500 species of squids exist worldwide, ranging in size from 2½ cm to the largest invertebrate on Earth, the infamous giant squid, measuring up to 18m long and weighing 900kg – a 15m long specimen was found washed up on Seven Mile Beach in eastern Tasmania in 2002, weighing 250kg.
Technically squids are molluscs, although, unlike other molluscs, the subgroup to which they belong, cephalopods (which includes octopus and cuttlefish), don’t have external shells (with one exception) and have an ink sac, from which they squirt a thick black ink to help distract predators. Most of them can also rapidly change colour, another handy survival technique. Squids have long, cylindrical bodies (also called a mantle, hood or tube) with 8 shorter arms and 2 longer tentacles and a thin, translucent, feather-shaped internal shell (called a quill or gladius fin), which is made from chitin, a plastic-like material from which prawn shells are also made. They are found in oceans and estuaries all over the world, from inter-tidal waters to great depths. In Australia, “calamari”, the Italian word for “squids”, is used specifically for squid species with side fins running the full length of their bodies rather than the relatively shorter side fins of other squids; they are often more tender than other squids too.
Squid in Australia
There are five main squid species found in Australia:
Loligo Squid (Uroteuthis chinensis and other Uroteuthis species), also known as Hawkesbury squid, have mottled pinky-purple skin, long thin bodies and pointy side fins that run about half their length. Typically they are about 20cm long and weigh 100g and are found in estuaries along the NSW coast.
Luminous Bay Squid (Loliolus noctiluca), also called bottle squid, have small squat bodies (maximum length about 8cm) and are found right along the Australian east coast. They’re named for their ability to glow in order to hide their silhouette from potential predators.
Gould’s Squid (Nototodarus gouldi), also known as arrow, torpedo, or seined, squid, have smooth, light brownish-pink skin with a purpley-blue stripe running down the tube. They average 300-500g and 23cm mantle length and are found around the southern Australian coast from southern Queensland to Geraldton in WA.
Southern Calamari (Sepioteuthis australis) have mottled purpley-brown skin with long, rounded side fins running almost the full length of their bodies. They are typically 300-500g and 16-20cm mantle length and are common in coastal bays around southern Australia from Brisbane to Shark Bay in WA, with most of the commercial catch coming from SA.
Northern Calamari (Sepioteuthis lessoniana) have thick, dark browny-green bodies with long side fins running almost their full length. They average 500g-1kg and 20-30cm mantle length and are found around Australia’s northern coast from northern NSW to south of Shark Bay in WA. Most of the commercial catch comes from southern Queensland in winter.
When purchasing fresh whole squid look for intact bright skin, with a light brown to purple mottled appearance and intact head, arms and tentacles. Cleaned tubes should be white without any brown markings.
Make sure squid are gutted and cleaned thoroughly. Wrap in plastic wrap or place in an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months below -18ºC.
To clean whole squid: grasp the arms and pull firmly to separate head from tube (try not to break the ink sac, as the ink stains), cut below the eyes and discard head and guts, push beak (mouth) out from between the arms. Remove quill, peel skin off by grasping side fins and peeling around the tube. Side fins can be peeled and used; tentacles can also be washed and used. Cut tube open along the obvious seam, lay out flat and wipe the inside firmly with a clean damp cloth to remove any remaining gut and membrane, or, if cutting into rings, slice into several sections, turn inside out and wipe, then slice into rings. Once cleaned it can be sliced into thin strips, or scored in a cross-hatch pattern (honeycombing) and sliced into larger chunks. It is also possible to cook squid without peeling them, the skin will turn a dark purple as it cooks. The average yield is 80%. Gould’s squid are generally larger and tougher than other squids; they have hard suckers which must be sliced off their arms and tentacles and the flesh of larger specimen can be tenderised with a meat mallet. Other squids and calamari have similar texture to one another and are largely interchangeable in recipes.
Squid should be cooked either quickly over high heat or for a long time over low heat, otherwise the flesh will be tough and chewy. Either way it has a mild flavour and firm texture and will marry well with almost any flavouring. It is suitable for a wide variety of preparations, whole tubes can be stuffed and baked, strips or rings can be dusted in seasoned flour and deep-fried or marinated and char-grilled or stir-fried.
Cuttlefish, a close cousin of squids, can be substituted in most recipes calling for squid or calamari (though you’ll need 40-50% more as the yield is lower); they have broader, thicker bodies and their thicker calcified internal shell is most often seen in birds’ cages. It is cuttlefish ink, rather than squid ink, which is traditionally used to colour black risotto and pasta. Another relation, octopus, can also be substituted in some recipes. One rarely seen species of cephalopod, the pearly nautilus, does have an external shell.
Culinary Usage of Squid
Squid is a popular food in many parts of the world. Calamari is a culinary name for squid, especially for dishes from the Mediterranean, notably fried squid (fried calamari)
Fried squid (fried calamari, calamari) is a dish in Mediterranean cuisine. It consists of batter-coated, deep fried squid, fried for less than two minutes to prevent toughness. It is served plain, with salt and lemon on the side.
- In North America, it is a staple in seafood restaurants. It is served as an appetiser, garnished with parsley, or sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. It is served with dips: peppercorn mayonnaise, tzatziki, or in the United States, marinara sauce, tartar sauce, or cocktail sauce.
- In Mexico it is served with Tabasco sauce or habanero. Other dips, such as ketchup, aioli, and olive oil are used.
- In Turkey it is served with tarator sauce. Like many seafood dishes, it may be served with a slice of lemon.
- In South Africa, Australia and New Zealand fried calamari is popular in fish and chip shops; imitation calamari of white fish may also be used. When offered for sale as whole fresh animals, the term Calamari should only be used to describe the Northern and Southern Calamari (Sepioteuthis spp.), however once prepared as food it is common to apply the term calamari to any squid species and even cuttlefish.
Squid Preparation by Country
The body (mantle) can be stuffed whole, cut into flat pieces or sliced into rings. The arms, tentacles and ink are edible; the only parts of the squid that are not eaten are its beak and gladius (pen).
- In Spain and Italy, squid or cuttlefish ink is eaten in dishes such as paella, risotto, soups and pasta ( see Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia – Spaghetti with Squid Ink).
- In Portugal lulas are commonly eaten grilled whole, in kebabs of squid rings with bell peppers and onion (Espetadas) or stewed. Also stuffed with minced meat and stewed (Lulas Recheadas). The battered version is known as ‘lulas a sevilhana’, named after Seville, the Andalusian city that popularised the dish.
- In Sardinia, squid have a sauce made from lemon, garlic, parsley, and olive oil.
- In Italy, Greece, Spain, Croatia, Egypt, Cyprus, Albania and Turkey, squid rings and arms are coated in batter and fried in oil. Other recipes from these regions feature squid (or octopus) simmered slowly, with vegetables such as squash or tomato. When frying, the squid flesh is kept tender by short cooking time. When simmering, the flesh is most tender when cooking is prolonged with reduced temperature.
- In Malta klamar mimli involves stuffing the squid with rice, breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic and capers and then gently stewing in red wine.
- In Spain, (rabas or calamares a la romana, battered calamari, lit. Roman-style calamari) has the calamari rings covered in a thick batter, deep fried, and with lemon juice and mayonnaise or garlic mayonnaise. Battered and fried baby squid is puntillitas. Squid stewed in its own black ink is called calamares en su tinta or chipirones en su tinta resulting a black stew-like dish in which squid meat is very tender and is accompanied by a thick black sauce usually made with onion, tomato, squid ink, among others.
- In the Philippines, squid is cooked as adobong pusit, squid in adobo sauce, along with the ink, imparting a tangy flavour, especially with fresh chillies. Battered squid is served with alioli, mayonnaise or chilli vinegar. Squid is grilled on charcoal, brushed with a soy sauce-based marinade, and stuffed with tomato and onions. Another recipe is rellenong pusit, stuffed with finely-chopped vegetables, squid fat, and ground pork.
- In Korea, squid is sometimes killed and served quickly. Unlike octopus, squid tentacles do not usually continue to move when reaching the table. This fresh squid is 산 오징어 (san ojingeo) (also with small octopuses called nakji). The squid is served with Korean mustard, soy sauce, chili sauce, or sesame sauce. It is salted and wrapped in lettuce or pillard leaves. Squid is also marinated in hot pepper sauce and cooked on a pan (Nakji Bokum or Ojingeo Bokum). They are also served in food stand as snack food, battered and deep fried or grilled using hot skillet. They are also cut up into small pieces to be added into 해물파전 (Korean Seafood Pancake) or variety of spicy seafood soup. Dried squid may also accompany alcoholic beverages as anju. Dried squid is served with peanuts. Squid is roasted with hot pepper paste or mayonnaise as a dip. Steamed squid and boiled squid are delicacies. Squid is also used for Soondae (Korean Noodle Sausage) as a casing to hold in rice and noodle.
- In Slovenia squid are eaten grilled and stuffed with pršut and cheese, with blitva (Swiss chard).
- In Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisine, squid is used in stir-fries, rice, and noodle dishes. It may be heavily spiced.
- In China, Thailand, Japan and Taiwan, squid is grilled whole and sold in food stalls.
- Pre-packaged dried shredded squid or cuttlefish are snack items in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, China, Russia, often shredded to reduce chewiness.
- In Russia, a lightly boiled julienned squid with onion rings, garnished with mayonnaise, makes a salad. Another dish is a squid stuffed with rice and vegetables and then roasted.
- Squid is a sushi, sashimi and tempura item.
- In Japan and Korea, squid (usually sparkling enope (firefly) squid or spear squid) is made into shiokara (in Japanese) or jeotgal (in Korean). Heavily salted squid, sometimes with innards, ferments for as long as a month, and is preserved in small jars. This salty, strong flavoured item is served in small quantities as banchan, or as an accompaniment to white rice or alcoholic beverages.
- In India and Sri Lanka, squid or cuttlefish is eaten in coastal areas for example, in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Squid are eaten deep fried (Koonthal Fry) or as squid gravy (koonthal varattiyathu/Roast). In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, squid are called koonthal, kanava or kadamba.
- In the United States, in an attempt to popularise squid as a protein source in the 1970s, researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a squid-gutting machine, and submitted squid cocktail, rings, and chowder to a 70-person tasting panel for market research. Despite a general lack of popularity of squid in the United States, aside from the internal “ethnic market”, polling had shown a negative public perception of squid foods, the tasting panel gave the dishes “high marks”.