First of all, it’s not an actual seafood war, it’s just about knowing the difference between squid, octopus, and calamari. With this article, you’ll finally be able to tell the differences and similarities between these three awesome kinds of seafood.
Perhaps the most significant thing to note about these three creatures—squid, octopus, and calamari—is that they all belong to the same biological classification. The three are cephalopods, which means that they’re head-footed, or lack actual feet.
They are invertebrates and belong to the family of mollusks, though they have no shell as most mollusks do. That’s pretty much all they have in common in regards to their biological classification. So, let’s dive into our comparison of squid vs octopus vs calamari.
What You Should Know About Squids!
Since all three of these things are strikingly similar, let’s break this into chunks. We’ll talk squid first.
What are squids?
Squids, as you most likely already know, are cephalopods and soft-bodied mollusks. They have an elongated body, really large eyes, a distinct head that appears triangular in shape, and eight arms plus two tentacles.
What parts of a squid are edible?
The body/mantle, arms, tentacles, and ink (which is the bluish-black stuff) are the edible parts, while the beak, pen, and other parts are inedible. But we can never be too sure, as the eyes, for example, might be considered edible in some distant culture.
Squids are considered a delicacy in many parts of the world, especially in Asia and the Mediterranean regions. Just in case you didn’t know, things that come from these regions are always nutritious and delicious.
Even medical practitioners recognize the nutritional value of foods from this region. That’s why we have the Mediterranean diet, one of the best diets available. But back to squids—they are also consumed in other places like Italy, Spain, South Africa, Mexico, and Egypt.
There are many ways of making squid, and these ways differ from each other based on the region and country. Squids could be made by grilling (either whole squid or cut squid), frying, stewing in gravy or tomato sauce, battering, braising, or boiling. They could serve as tapas, bar snacks, street food, or appetizers.
Squid can also be incorporated into larger dishes such as in stir-fries, rice dishes, sushi, sahimi, tempura, or noodles like the Japanese ika-somen. However, the most common dish made with squids is fried squid, which most times is dipped in batter before it is deep-fried.
The Mediterraneans are big fans of the Loligo squid species, and they are probably the chief consumers of fried squid. The body of the squid is usually prepared by stuffing it whole or in pieces, or by slicing it into rings (or curls, if you can pull it off). The body could also be cut into flat pieces, or battered.
When made on their own and not incorporated into a bigger dish like paella or noodles, squids are usually served alongside a dipping sauce. With dipping sauce available, your squid just became extraordinary. The dipping sauce could be peppercorns mayonnaise, tartar sauce—which is a dipping sauce specifically for seafood—marinara sauce, yogurt, or an Asian sauce such as soy sauce.
The different cuisines that love squid
East-Asian and Mediterranean cuisine are topmost in their love of squids. However, a big difference between the two is that Asian cuisine is more diverse in its squid recipes.
East Asian cuisine: Countries consuming a good amount of squid annually are China, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. There, squid can be made into a snack, and one squid snack available is the dried and shredded squid. It is usually served alongside a dipping sauce, though it could also have been marinated beforehand. Commonly dried, it pairs well with the Korean drink anju or the Japanese sake.
Seafood is commonly eaten raw in these places, especially in dishes like sushi and sashimi. The Philippines usually make their squid in adobo sauce with the squid’s ink and fresh chilies—I smell spicy.
Other cuisines include those of India, the Middle East, Europe (mainly Italy and Spain), Mexico, and South Africa, where squid can easily be found in fish and chips shops. The consumption of squid in the States is on the rise daily as more people are finally willing to try it. Allergic reactions can occur though since squid contains tropomyosin, an allergen.
Is Calamari Squid, Or Octopus?
Calamari isn’t an octopus, and octopus meat doesn’t really have any business with calamari. Well, unless we consider the fact that they both are cephalopods, and as such, share some basic characteristics, including a common ancestry of crown coleoids. So what’s the deal with calamari? Why is it that when squid is mentioned, calamari will almost always follow up as the next word?
There are two arguments on whether or not calamari is squid.
The first argument is something along the lines of calamari being the culinary name for squid. The second argument says calamari is a different species of squid, thus calamari is more specific whereas squid is generic.
Biologically and in terms of classification, calamari is the same as squid since it is only a species of squid. There are so many species of squids—over 200—and though they all share the same basic squid characteristics, they differ very slightly in size, tenderness, taste, and even cost.
Generally, when a fishmonger says squid, they are referring to the Gould’s squid or the Loligo species (our Mediterranean specialty), though it could also mean the species Teuthoidea. These aforementioned species are usually more tender than the bigger species of squid. Its the same with calamari, though calamari is usually more expensive.
The unique look of the calamari is that its fins extend more downwards than the fins of other squids, which are usually shorter and do not form an arrow shape as the calamari’s do.
The tenderness of squid meat is pretty much the same as calamari’s, though some people say calamari is more tender than other types of squid. However, if you’re worried about how tender your meat will be, you can tenderize it by cooking slowly. Slow cooking methods, such as simmering in tomato sauce, help make seafood tender. You could also try marinating seafood with kiwi.
Note that the word calamari is the Italian word for squids, but most often the word is used to refer to squid when it is fried since that’s the most popular way of preparing it. It should come as no surprise if you walk into a restaurant, order calamari, and receive fried calamari instead.
Just as squids can be cooked, calamari can be cooked in the same ways too. Cooking calamari is pretty much the same as cooking other types of squid, meaning it can be grilled, fried, simmered, boiled, braised, and sauteed. Fried calamari can be garnished with lemon and parsley, and it’s usually served as an appetizer alongside a dipping sauce.
As for the nutritional benefits of calamari, this they share with squids too. They’re both rich in zinc, copper, vitamins B12 and B3, etc.
The term calamari can also be used to refer to dishes made from baby squid, but most Mediterranean squid dishes are referred to as calamari. Very few people use the term calamari to refer only to fried squid or fried octopus. On the bright side, you should no longer be making the mistake of referring to fried octopus as calamari!
Squid vs Octopus – Similarities and differences
Now that we all know what a squid is and the relationship it shares with calamari, let’s take a brief look at the differences between squid and octopus.
- Octopuses have no fins while squids have 2 fins, although a few octopus species—like the Dumbo octopus —do have fins.
- If you want more meat, go for a squid. Squids are usually bigger than octopuses and their longer body also helps provide you with more meat. Also, they have a longer lifespan than the octopus. The longer the time they have to grow, the bigger they’ll get.
- Absence of tentacles in the octopus: Squids have two tentacles which are edible, but the octopus has none. You probably thought octopus has 8 tentacles, but you were wrong. Technically speaking, the octopus has 8 arms. Arms are very different from tentacles; don’t forget that. What’s the advantage of having those tentacles in your pot? Simple—tentacles bring more meat.
- One of the easiest ways to tell an octopus from a squid is to check the head. They have very different heads. The octopus has a round head, just like the movies show, while the squid has a triangular head which appears longer, too.
- Just in case you want to hunt for your octopus or squid meat yourself, then you should equip yourself with the knowledge that while the octopus lives close to seafloor level, squids prefer to live in the open waters. Thus, squids are easier to hunt for and purchase.
Both squids and octopuses offer very similar nutritional value, though octopuses are known to offer more minerals and vitamins than squids.
You may have heard or read that both types of meat are slimy and too tough to chew, but that’s not really true. If well cooked (don’t forget that they can both be eaten raw), the meat of both is not as chewy as it sounds, and that brings us to the next point.
What Does Squid Taste Like?
Squid meat is definitely one of the trickiest types of meat there is to cook. First of all, you can eat squids raw: you can eat baby squids (raw or cooked) or the roe, and then you can eat adult squids cooked. The taste of squid is a mild flavor that’s somewhat reminiscent of shellfish for some people.
The meat is naturally chewy, but not so much that your teeth can’t handle it—it is eaten raw in many cultures, such as in Asian cuisine. However, if you can’t handle this level of chewiness, then you should have your meat cooked. Squid meat is not exactly fishy so, don’t expect the fishy aftertaste. The meat also doesn’t taste as weird as you might have heard. What is actually weird is you eating something you probably never imagined you’d try one day.
The best way to cook squid is to either cook it very quickly or very slowly. Anything in between or away from these two extremes will make the squid rubbery and chewier than you’d like. To cook it very quickly, employ fast cooking methods that will take the squid about three minutes to get done, such as deep frying. If you wish to cook slowly, simmering it in tomato sauce or gravy will work well too.
Drying squids is another good way of enjoying them, particularly if you have them shredded like the Asian snack mentioned earlier. This reduces the chewiness significantly and pairs greatly with beer. Lest I forget, the best way of frying squids is to have them battered first.
Before making squids, ensure that they’re properly clean. The process of cleaning can affect the taste of your dish. A well-cleaned squid should not just look clean; it should also be free from fins, viscera, beaks, skin, ink sacs, and the inner cartilage. The head should also be removed, unless you’re eating it whole. The innards, such as the liver and sexual organs, can also be eaten, but their consumption is generally not recommended.
If you’re not sure if you can handle the cleaning process, it will be best to ask your fishmonger to help with that for a small fee. Or, you could buy one that has already been canned, dried, frozen, or pickled, since these ones always come clean.
Remember, you could always incorporate squid into recipes like sushi, rice dishes like the Spanish paella, sashimi, risotto, noodle dishes, soups, or even pasta. A popular Korean squid dish involves wrapping up fresh, salted squid and serving it in mustard and sauce with lettuce leaves—a good recipe to try if you are interested in fresh squid.
Lastly, the taste of the squid meat depends on the age of the squid. Older squids have a tougher flesh and are thus chewier, unlike young squids which can be juicy and tender, especially if they’re well cooked.
What Does Octopus Taste Like?
Octopus meat is chewy but it has a really good taste. It doesn’t taste fishy and it can be used in a variety of dishes, including octopus salad, seafood cocktails, sushi and sashimi, and soups—like Tuscan soup, which is made using young octopus. The Japanese takoyaki snack recipe involves battering and shaping the octopus into a ball, then frying and garnishing it before serving.
Other recipes include fried octopus, ceviche (substitute the fish for octopus), sannakji, and the delicious red wine-braised baby octopus, garnished with black olives.
The meat has a subtle flavor like that of pork or chicken, and the taste is distinct from that of squid’s, though some people think they taste alike. One good thing about octopus meat is that it readily absorbs the flavor of whatsoever it is cooked in. It’s usually considered more tender and juicier than squid meat, but I think it depends on how it’s made.
Cooking it can be just as tricky as cooking its relative the squid, thus the advice still remains—cook either quickly or slowly, and nothing in-between. Cooking methods are varied and include frying, roasting, grilling, simmering, poaching, braising, boiling etc.
Fresh or frozen?
Buying fresh foods is always recommended; the rule is, if it’s fresh then it’s healthier, and that’s true. But, that doesn’t make frozen octopus bad, not if you’re buying one of very good quality. The good thing about frozen octopus is that while it thaws (for about 24 hours), the meat usually tenderizes, so it’s not as chewy as it would have been. Blanching also helps to reduce chewiness too.
After purchasing it, the next step is to thoroughly clean it and not to cook it. After a good cleaning process, which is almost the same as that of calamari’s, you can then cook it. To save stress, purchase already-killed and cleaned octopus, or ask your fishmonger to help you.
How Does Calamari Taste?
Simple: it tastes really good. The calamari meat is white, firm, chewy, and has a mildly sweet, nutty flavor. The meat is nutrient-filled and can be served in a number of ways, all of which are ways squids are usually served. Cooking calamari is tricky too, and it’s best cooked quickly or slowly. Using calamari in other food recipes makes the calamari appear milder on the palate.
Calamari can be eaten raw and whole too.
When frying calamari rings, the rings should first be battered in a light, thin batter to yield a crispier coating. However, if the batter is thick or is over-mixed, then the coating becomes heavy and bread-like.
How to clean calamari or squid: The first step is to detach the head from the body by subtly twisting the head off. The innards will come off with the head. Then, harvest the ink sac and subsequently cut the tentacles, removing the beak (inedible cartilage) and the suckers from the arms. Also, remove the tail tube-cartilage and skin membrane. After removing the skin, slice the meat crosswise into rings, or cut the meat into your desired shape and wash it with water.
Is the Cephalopods’ Ink Really Edible?
The octopus, squid, and calamari all have an ink gland and an ink sac. The ink is produced in the gland and stored in the sac. Its primary purpose for these animals is to distract their predators when it’s released by forming a thin cloud of ink, giving the animal enough time to get away. The main ink sac is located in the innards, however, there are tiny deposits of ink behind the eyes of these sea creatures.
When harvesting the ink, wear protective clothing (like an apron and gloves) and be very careful not to get stained by the ink.
Yes, the ink stains.
If you’re not buying a whole fresh squid, you would have to purchase the ink separately. The cephalopods’ ink is edible and safe for consumption, though squid ink is more commonly used than the others. This ink was once used for writing materials.
The ink adds a briny flavor to your dish while also adding a dark color to the dishes. Using ink in your recipe means your recipe will most likely turn out black unless you’re only using a tiny amount.
Using only a small quantity is typically recommended. It is usually added to rice dishes like paella for a black, briny dish, but could also be used in risotto and pasta. Be careful not to use more than is necessary, lest your recipe get ruined. Speaking of recipes, the next thing you’re about to read is a recipe that works for all three cephalopods’ meat (an ink recipe will just have to come another day).
A Recipe That Connects Squids, Calamari And Octopus.
You might have noticed earlier that all three sea creatures are prepared with the same basic cooking methods. The only big difference comes when they’re used for a particular recipe. For example, the Japanese snack takoyaki is specifically made with octopus. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try it with squid—the whole idea of cooking is to mix things up.
However, when it comes to cooking methods such as frying, grilling, simmering, and so on, they can all be prepared with any one of those cooking methods. The most common of these cooking methods is frying—deep-frying, to be precise. So the recipe I have for you is the awesome battered-fry recipe for cephalopods. Most people refer to this dish as calamari, but right now, it’s just a really delicious fried appetizer.
What you will need to make this fried cephalopod recipe:
- 1 lb cleaned squid, octopus, and calamari. If you got one that isn’t cleaned, no problem; it will still work.
- 2 cups of flour.
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice.
- 1 teaspoon of salt.
- 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper or your preferred choice.
- ½ teaspoon of paprika.
- ½ cup of buttermilk.
- Vegetable oil or olive oil, to deep-fry.
- A flat tray.
- Dipping sauce like marinara sauce or tomato sauce.
- For garnishing, use lemon wedges.
- Cut the body of the cleaned cephalopod into rings of your preferred size. If it isn’t pre-cleaned, you’ll have to do that first. To clean, detach the body from the arms (and/or tentacles), removing the quill, beak, ink sac, and other innards. Remove the fins (if present) and the skin too. Clean the meat under running water before you cut it up into rings.
- Tenderize the meat in a bowl of lemon juice. Leave it there for about 30 minutes. You could also tenderize it by blanching or in the case of octopus, buying it frozen and allowing it to thaw does the trick.
- Preheat the vegetable oil in a deep fryer at 360 degrees Fahrenheit. The amount of oil should fill half the deep fryer.
- In a bowl, mix the flour, cayenne pepper, salt, and paprika. After mixing, divide the mix into 2 bowls of seasoned flour.
- In a third bowl, pour in the buttermilk.
- Dredge the rings, one at a time, in the first bowl of seasoned flour, then into the buttermilk, and lastly, into the other bowl of seasoned flour. After dredging, keep the ring on the flat tray.
- Once you’ve dredged all the rings, fry the rings in batches of as many rings as your deep fryer can hold. Deep-fry for about 2 to 3 minutes; by then they will be golden brown and truly crispy.
- After frying all the rings, remove with tongs and drain the oil off using a paper towel. You can also drizzle salt on them.
- Serve the rings onto a plate alongside dipping sauce and garnish with the lemon wedge. Bon appetit!
Note: Frying the rings for more than 3 minutes will leave them rubbery and very chewy, so to avoid that, fry for no more than 3 minutes.
Because reading about a thing like food is never comparable to actually eating the food, you shouldn’t wait for too long before you try out this cephalopod recipe above. Trust me, you’ll love it! You don’t necessarily have to make it at home, but if you’re thinking of homemade fried squid or octopus meat, fried squid vs octopus vs calamari that has been battered is always a delight. Enjoy!