Even if you are a seafood lover and enjoy your favorite ocean creatures often, you may get confused with questions involving different types of sea species. Some of these confusing questions involve calamari. For example, is calamari squid?
Or is calamari octopus? Calamari is not octopus. Calamari is the Italian word for squid. It is used as both the culinary name for squid and a specific species of squid.
If this question gets you confused too, then stick with us. In this article, you will learn what calamari really is, what makes it a type of squid, and how calamari are different from octopus.
What Is Calamari?
If you knew Italian, figuring out what calamari is wouldn’t be as difficult. Calamari is the Italian word for squid. But for the majority of people, even if they are seafood lovers, this question may get confusing.
Is Calamari Squid?
The word calamari is often used interchangeably with squid. While both are the same thing (or calamari is more specific and squid is generic), calamari sounds more luxurious and makes it easy for brands to sell it at a higher price.
So, calamari is essentially made of a type of squid.
But in the United States, the word calamari is often used to refer specifically to deep-fried squid rings covered in batter. In this case, we may say that calamari is made of battered squid rings.
Some people think that calamari is the name given to squid in culinary contexts. Others think that calamari is the name of a type of squid. This makes sense, as there are over three hundred types of squids, but not all of them are edible.
From 1-inch squids to ones that are nearly 80 feet long, the oceans of the world are home to a wide range of squids. But the squids people use in cooking are typically up to 12 inches long.
Types of squids differ not only in size but also in tenderness and flavor. According to some people, calamari is a squid variety with the most tender meat.
You can buy squid in nearly all grocery stores, as it is no longer a specialty item. If you prefer fresh squid, we recommend you head to the fish market. In grocery stores, you are more likely to find frozen calamari rings.
Calamari is widely eaten in the US, countries of the Mediterranean, and many Asian countries.
Is Calamari Octopus?
If you consider calamari and octopus from a biological point of view, you can put them in the same category. Both calamari and octopus are cephalopods.
Cephalopods are a marine species of active predatory mollusks. But different groups of this species inhabit different living conditions.
Squids (calamari) inhabit in the open ocean and deep sea. Octopuses, on the other hand, prefer reefs and dark crevices.
So, calamari is not octopus.
The two are different species and it is not surprising that they have different physical characteristics.
The head of a squid has a triangular shape, while the octopus has a round head. An octopus has eight arms which are covered in a row or two of suckers.
Squids have eight arms too, but also two specialized tentacles and a mantle that distinguish them from an octopus.
One of the main differences between calamari and octopuses is that the latter doesn’t have a shell. Calamari, surprisingly enough, do have a shell. Not one like clams or oysters. The shell of calamari is inside their body.
Calamari have a flexible backbone. This small backbone, often called a pen, supports the mantle.
Calamari and octopus are different size-wise too. In general, calamari are smaller than octopuses. Most squids, including calamari, measure up to 12 inches long. There are, of course, larger species of squids that are longer.
The average size of octopuses ranges from 12- 36 inches.
Calamari Vs Squid Vs Octopus
As octopuses, squids, and calamari (a type of squids) belong to the same family of cephalopods, they have a few similarities. But there are also many differences between the three species, including slight differences in their flavor and texture.
What Does Squid Taste Like?
If you have eaten squid many times and still can’t figure out what they taste like and if you like them or not, that’s perfectly normal.
This is because the flavor of squid can range from mild and sweet to rubbery.
The flavor of squid can range from delicate to strong depending on the cooking method. But what squid does not taste like is fish.
If you use medium to high heat to cook the squid, expect it to have a mild flavor. In this case, the flavor of the squid resembles that of shrimp or lobster.
If you overcook the squid, it will taste rubbery and nothing like shrimp or any other seafood.
Another thing that can affect the flavor of the squid is how well you have cleaned it. If you are new to squids and are not sure that you can clean them properly, get them cleaned at the fishmonger.
If you are cleaning the squids yourself, keep in mind that the edible parts include the mantle, the arms, the tentacles, and the ink. The latter can be used creatively as food coloring.
What Does Octopus Taste Like?
Those who like seafood claim that octopus tastes really good. We actually have a whole other article about octopus and what it tastes like, if you’re interested.
While the texture of octopus is different from other commonly consumed meats, cooked octopus meat often reminds people of chicken, pork, and even lobster. In other words, it has a quite subtle flavor.
It is worth mentioning, though, that the flavor of octopus largely depends on two things.
First, an octopus can be a blank canvas and get its flavor from the spices you use to flavor it. And second, a lot depends on the cooking method.
For example, when grilled, the octopus also acquires a smoky flavor in addition to the typical flavor notes octopus meat has.
Octopus doesn’t taste fishy, if that is what you are concerned about. If you try eating raw octopus, you will experience a slight sweet flavor instead of the fishy notes you would expect to experience.
The edible parts of octopus include everything except for the intestines, beak, and ink.
If you don’t like octopus meat but would like to start eating it, we recommend you cook it with your favorite spices and condiments. The octopus meat will absorb all these flavors and give you a nice introduction.
Octopus is a good source of protein. It is filling and has a lot of nutrients. And still, octopus meat doesn’t contain many calories. So, if there are no diet restrictions for you to eat octopus meat, we highly recommend you give it a try.
What Does Calamari Taste Like?
So, what does calamari taste like? Being a type of squid, it is only natural that calamari has a mild flavor profile too. In addition to the mild sweetness, calamari also has nutty notes.
You may not be able to experience the true flavor of calamari if you have cooked it using spices and condiments. Calamari quickly absorbs the flavors you introduce to it.
Calamari doesn’t taste anything like fish. So, if you are new to eating seafood, starting out with some fried calamari rings is certainly a great choice. You can buy pre-cleaned and cut into rings.
All you have to do is to tenderize them with the help of milk, lemon juice, or another acidic ingredient, batter it, and fry it hot and quick for the best results.
Texture Differences Between Calamari, Squid, And Octopus
When it comes to their texture, calamari and squid are very similar. Calamari, after all, is a type of squid. Both have firm flesh that needs to be either slow-cooked or cooked quickly on high heat to not become overly tough and chewy.
As far as the texture of the octopus meat is concerned, it is less tough compared to calamari and squid. And still, you have to put in more effort to tenderize the octopus meat.
Cooks recommend tenderizing octopus meat in a water and salt solution. Salt softens the tissues of the octopus which yields tenderer results when you cook the octopus.
You can also use a water and vinegar brine solution to tenderize the octopus meat or slow-cook it for the best results.
Can You Use Calamari, Squid, and Octopus In One Dish?
As the cooking methods for calamari, squid, and octopus are the same, you can surely connect them in a single dish.
Choose a quick cooking method, such as sautéing, prepare the ingredients, and go ahead and cook the dish. A couple of minutes in the pan and you will have the most delicious seafood sauteé.
Another thing you can do is coat the calamari, squid, and octopus in batter and deep-fry them.
Make sure you don’t keep them in the hot oil for too long, as none of these species is good when overcooked. Serve with your favorite sauce and a glass of beer.
How Do You Cook Calamari?
When it comes to cooking calamari, you may need a few tries to get it right and end up with tender squid rings.
It is best to cook calamari exposing it to high heat for only a couple of minutes. This makes grilling, deep-frying, and sautéing some of the best cooking methods for calamari. In some parts of the world, squid is also eaten raw.
If you think you won’t succeed in the quick cooking methods using high heat, it is best to slow-braise the squid rings in wine or tomato sauce.
You don’t need to always slice the squid into rings. You can cut it into flat pieces or stuff the whole uncut squid.
How Do You Tenderize Calamari?
It is a common problem for calamari rings to turn out rubbery. There are two things that may result in rubbery calamari. First, overcooking the calamari rings, and second, not preparing them properly for the cooking process.
You can tenderize calamari by marinating it using foods that contain enzymes. Kiwi fruit, for example, contains enzymes and can tenderize the calamari rings, breaking down the collagen in the meat.
Here’s what you should do to tenderize calamari and make the most delicious fried calamari rings.
- Freezing and thawing food affects its texture. But this is not the case with calamari, as freezing and defrosting helps tenderize the squid. You can purchase frozen calamari rings and let them defrost overnight or you can freeze and defrost the fresh squid you have at home. Make sure to defrost the squid in the fridge to avoid food poisoning.
- Cut the squid into rings. The optimal thickness for calamari rings is 0.5 inches. If you cut them thicker than this, the calamari will take longer to cook and become tough and chewy.
- Put the calamari rings in a bowl filled with milk. Let the rings soak in the milk for around 60 minutes in the fridge.
- Once you take the calamari rings out, drain them and use a paper towel to dry them out.
- Coat the rings in a flour mix or cornmeal for a crispy finish.
- Heat some high smoke point vegetable oil in a non-stick pan.
- Fry the calamari from 90 seconds to 2 minutes on each side. Don’t overcrowd the pan and don’t let them cook in the oil for too long.
- Drain the fried calamari rings on a paper towel and serve immediately.
Bonus: Cooking Tips for Calamari
So, now you know what calamari is. But you also know that cooking calamari can be tricky, as making it rubbery and chewy is only a matter of minutes, if not seconds.
Here are a few cooking tips for calamari:
- Cook calamari either on high heat for a short period of time or on low for a very long time. There is no in-between with calamari. You either have to cook it right before everyone gathers around the dinner table or start slow-cooking it at least an hour before.
- Pre-cook the calamari before grilling it. You may think that doing this will overcook the calamari and make them rubbery. However, what you need to do is to boil the calamari for 30-45 minutes to tenderize it. And only then should you grill it quickly to give the calamari rings a nice char.
- You need 12 ounces of whole calamari to get 6 ounces of cleaned calamari. So, make sure to buy twice as much uncleaned calamari as the recipe calls for cleaned calamari.
- Make calamari flavorful using other ingredients. Properly cooked calamari is a pleasure to eat as-is. However, adding extra flavors to the calamari meat is a good idea too. Use various herbs, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil to add extra layers of flavor to the calamari.
Up Next: Is Shrimp A Fish?