What Is Calamari? What Every Foodie Should Know

Updated 06/08/19
what is calamari
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If you’ve stepped into any seafood restaurant or high-end Italian cucina as of late, you’ve probably seen calamari on the menu. But what is it? Often served with a side of marinara or tartar sauce, calamari has the appearance of an onion ring and the texture of a rubber band—but somehow it manages to work perfectly. Whether you’re curious to try a new cuisine or intend to impress foodies at your next dinner party, you may want to give this fried delicacy a closer look.

Calamari, to put it in the simplest terms possible, is fried squid. Yes, those cephalopods make for good eating, which is why they’re featured in cuisines throughout the world. The culinary term “calamari” refers specifically to Mediterranean-style fried squid. It’s often presented in those familiar deep-fried rings, but it can also be prepared with the tentacles displayed on the outside. Read on to discover what makes this crunchy treat unique.

What is Calamari?

“Calamari” is the Italian word for squid (plural), and the dish is extremely popular in countries like Italy and Spain. Although some culinary experts would quibble about the details that distinguish true calamari from other squid dishes, the term “calamari” is often used interchangeably with squid on various menus.

Regardless, when ordering calamari, you can most commonly expect bite-size helpings of squid that are battered and deep-fried. This delicacy has a slightly sweet flavor, and the crisp, flaky breading provides a nice complement to the firm white meat. A garnish of parsley and lemon completes the presentation.

Where to Buy Calamari

While you can turn to the menu at many restaurants to order calamari as an appetizer or as part of your main course, you can also buy the seafood on your own to prepare it at home. Most grocery stores keep calamari in stock for you to buy fresh or frozen. In fact, you can even usually have someone at the fish counter clean the squid for you if you're not ready to tackle that challenge for yourself. If your local store doesn't carry it, you can also look into finding a nearby fish mart to procure the squid from.

Why Eat Calamari?

Besides the fact that the taste of calamari appeals to many people, squid contains a host of nutrients that make it a healthy protein to incorporate into your diet. Though squid is a bit high in fat and cholesterol (depending on how it’s prepared), it’s also an excellent source of protein, iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin B12, and calcium. Squid is also low in saturated fat and contains a good amount of healthy fats like monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat. In moderation, it can be an excellent source of nutrients.

How to Cook Calamari

Though squid vary greatly in size, most calamari is made from squid less than 12 inches in length. Calamari is a challenging dish to prepare for the uninitiated: It involves removing the head, cartilage, and innards from the squid, and then typically cutting the meat crosswise to create strips.

While calamari rings make for popular entrees and appetizers, the meat can also be prepared in strips and presented like large french fries. After being cut, the squid is battered and fried using high heat. It can then be garnished with any preferred spices and prepared with marinara sauce, mayonnaise, cocktail sauce, or another favorite dipping sauce.

Whether you decide to enjoy calamari at home or at your favorite restaurant, make sure to jump in with an open mind. For many people, the chewy texture can take a bit of getting used to, but if you accustom yourself to this unique delicacy, you’ll quickly come to appreciate and even crave the interplay between the firm and the crunchy and the sour and the savory.

Calamari Recipes to Try

If you're ready to try your hand at a few calamari recipes in the kitchen, you'll need some new recipes to work with. Squid is a versatile ingredient that can work in a variety of different type of dishes and cuisines. Think squid ink pasta and fried seafood appetizers. Here are just a few to try next time you're in the mood for a homemade seafood dish.

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