6 Ways To Prep Calamari At Home

A bowl of crispy, salty calamari is the perfect monsoon snack! But prepping calamari well is key to its flavour. For fried calamari, it’s best to coat the rings in flour or breadcrumbs and deep-fry until golden and crispy. For grilled calamari, marinate the strips or whole tubes and grill over medium-high heat until charred and tender. For stewed calamari, it’s best to cook it slowly in a tomato-based sauce with herbs and spices until tender and flavorful.

Calamari can become tough and rubbery if overcooked. The key is to cook it either very quickly or for an extended period. Quick-cooking methods include frying and grilling, where the calamari is exposed to high heat for just a few minutes. For stewing, cook it slowly over low heat for at least 30 minutes until it becomes tender again. Here are a few things you need to keep in mind about prepping calamari.

Understanding Calamari

Calamari refers to several species of squid commonly found in coastal waters. These creatures have elongated bodies, large eyes, and ten appendages, including eight arms and two longer tentacles. The most common varieties used in cooking are European squid and Japanese flying squid. Knowing these basics can help you understand the ingredient better and make more informed choices when buying and preparing it.

Calamari can be purchased fresh or frozen, whole or cleaned. The whole squid requires more preparation but often offers better freshness and flavour. Pre-cleaned squid is convenient but may lack the same quality. Understanding these options will help you select the best product for your needs.

Calamari is low in calories and fat while being high in protein. It’s also a good source of essential nutrients like vitamin B12, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids, making it a healthy addition to your diet. Incorporating calamari into your meals can provide both culinary delight and nutritional benefits.

Selecting Fresh Calamari

When purchasing fresh calamari, look for the following indicators of freshness. Fresh calamari should have a glossy, translucent appearance. The skin should be smooth and intact without any tears or discoloration. Fresh squid has a clean, slightly sweet oceanic scent. Avoid any squid that smells overly fishy or ammonia-like. The flesh should be firm and resilient, not mushy or slimy.

If fresh squid isn't available, frozen calamari is a great alternative. Ensure it's well-packaged and free from freezer burn. Thaw it properly in the refrigerator before use to maintain its texture and flavor. This ensures that your calamari will be as close to fresh as possible, even if it's been frozen.

Choosing the right calamari, whether fresh or frozen, is crucial for achieving the best results in your dish. Freshness impacts both the flavor and texture, so take the time to select high-quality squid.

Cleaning and Preparing Whole Calamari

Cleaning whole calamari may seem daunting, but it’s a straightforward process with a bit of practice. Hold the body (mantle) firmly in one hand and the head and tentacles in the other. Gently pull to separate them. The innards will come out with the head. Locate the beak at the center of the tentacles. 

Squeeze it out and discard. Inside the mantle, you’ll find a clear, plastic-like cartilage (also called the quill or pen). Pull this out and discard it. Rinse the inside of the mantle under cold running water to remove any remaining innards. Peel off the outer skin if desired, though this is optional as the skin is edible.

Cleaning whole calamari allows you to control the quality and freshness of the final product. While it may require a bit more effort, the superior taste and texture are often worth it.

Cutting and Preparing Calamari for Cooking

Once cleaned, calamari can be cut into various shapes depending on the dish you plan to prepare. Slice the mantle crosswise into rings. This cut is perfect for frying or adding to salads. Leave the mantle whole for stuffing. Stuffed squid tubes are a popular dish in Mediterranean cuisine. Cut the mantle lengthwise into strips for stir-frying or grilling. Strips cook quickly and evenly, making them versatile for many recipes.

Different cuts of calamari lend themselves to different cooking methods and dishes. Knowing how to cut calamari properly will help you achieve the best texture and flavour in your dish.

Proper cutting techniques ensure that your calamari cooks evenly and maintains its tender texture. Whether you’re making rings for frying or strips for stir-frying, taking the time to cut the calamari correctly will enhance your dish.

Marinating Calamari

Marinating calamari can enhance its flavour and tenderize the meat. A simple marinade might include olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and herbs. Allow the calamari to marinate for at least 30 minutes to let the flavours penetrate. Avoid acidic marinades for extended periods, as they can break down the squid’s texture too much, making it mushy.

Marinating is an excellent way to infuse calamari with additional flavours. Experiment with different marinades to find combinations that complement your dishes.

Proper marinating techniques can elevate the flavour of your calamari and ensure it remains tender and delicious. Keep the marinating time appropriate to avoid compromising the texture.