What Calamari Is

Fried Calamari
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Calamari is made out of squid. In Italy, squid translates directly as calamari, which is how the popular appetizer gets its name. In fact, calamari is most often referred to as a squid dish from the Mediterranean area. This is a staple in both Italian and seafood restaurants, though there are other versions like the Asian "salt and pepper fried squid" found in bars and food trucks.

The Squid

This particular type of squid is a mollusk related to the cuttlefish and octopus and has 10 tentacles. Like its cousin the octopus, it also has a protective mechanism which releases a dark ink into the water when it senses danger. The squid ranges from one inch in size up to 80 feet, but the most common size for eating is less than 12 inches. Although the tentacles are edible, the body is the prime section of meat which can be stuffed whole, cut into flat pieces, or sliced crosswise into perfect rings.

The Taste of Calamari

Calamari meat is firm and white with a mild, slightly sweet, and almost nutty flavor. Eating small fried squid is an often firm and chewy experience, rich in vitamins and minerals. However, it does have high levels of saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol. While the breaded and fried version of calamari is the most popular version served in restaurants, there are also versions of the squid not breaded that you can find in pasta, paella, soups, and salads. 

How It's Served

This batter-coated fried squid is perfect when paired with salt and lemon on the side. Deep-fried or crispy baked calamari is typically served crisp and golden brown with a warm tomato sauce to dunk it with. You can also find it garnished with parsley or sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Dips like peppercorn mayonnaise, tzatziki, or tartar sauce can also be found next to the calamari appetizer. The dish is also popular in countries like South Africa and Australia and can be found in fish and chip shops.

Eating Squid

Squid lends itself to just about every cooking method imaginable and is often eaten raw in sushi dishes. A versatile food, squid is available fresh, canned, frozen, dried, and pickled. Squid belongs to the same family as oysters, scallops, and octopus. When it's not deep-fried or breaded, squid is full of many health benefits because it's low in saturated fat. It's high in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and healthy fats.

How Cultures Prepare Squid

Popular in many countries, squid can be found in restaurants all over the world in places like Spain, Italy, Portugal, Croatia, Egypt, Malta, Korea, and more. Spain and Italy make squid in paella, risotto, soups, and pasta, while Portugal makes lulas, grilled whole kebabs of squid rings with bell peppers and onions. In Korea, fresh squid is often served with mustard and sauce before being salted and wrapped in lettuce or pillard leaves.

Squid is found in additional Asian countries like China, Thailand, Japan and Taiwan. Usually, the squid is grilled whole and sold in food stalls and stands. You can find more heavily spiced squid in stir-fries, rice, and noodle dishes in Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisine.