The Secrets of Meltingly Tender Calamari

Cook, Ingredient Spotlight, Learn, Tips & Techniques

Seafood is a staple of Italian cuisine, from salty sardines to tender prawns and lobster. Calamari, or squid, are popular in antipasto dishes, as an addition to a salad or stuffed with greens and breadcrumbs as an appetizer — perfect for entertaining a small group with something out of the ordinary.


The trick to achieving meltingly tender calamari is to cook it over very high heat, so squid are ideal for grilling in the warm weather months. As a bonus, uncleaned calamari are a bargain! Follow these steps to prepare them yourself, then scroll down for some creative recipes to try.


Cut off the tentacles
Using a chef’s knife, cut off the tentacles just below the eyes of the squid. Be careful not to cut too far away from the eyes or the tentacles will fall apart.
Remove the beak
Squeeze the cut end of the tentacles to expose the hard, round “beak” at the base. Pull out and discard the beak. Set the tentacles aside.
Remove the head and innards
Gently squeeze the mantle, or tubelike body, and pull away the head. The entrails, including the ink sac, should come away with the head. Discard the head and entrails.
Remove the quill
Reach into the mantle and pull out the long, transparent, plasticlike quill along with any remaining entrails and discard them. Rinse the mantle and tentacles under running cold water.
Remove the skin, if desired
If desired, pull off the skin from the mantle, using a paring knife to help scrape it away if necessary. If left in place, the skin will give the cooked squid a pinkish cast.
Cut the body into rings
Some recipes call for the squid body to be cut into rings, usually about 1/2 inch wide. Put the rings in a large bowl of cold water, swish them around to rinse away any loose bits and then drain.


Citrusy Shrimp and Calamari Salad (Insalata di Mare)


Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup)

2 Tbs. red wine vinegar

1 Tbs. Dijon mustard

1 clove garlic, crushed in a garlic press


Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound cleaned calamari, bodies and tentacles

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion

1 small fresh hot chile, thinly sliced crosswise, or a generous pinch of red pepper flakes

2 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 fresh bay leaves, or 4 dried bay leaves

3 long strips lemon zest

Crusty bread for serving


In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and a generous grinding of pepper. Set aside.


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cut the calamari bodies into rings 3/4 inch thick. Add the calamari rings and tentacles to the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and cook until all the seafood is opaque throughout but still tender, about 4 minutes longer. Drain well and transfer to a bowl.


Pour the dressing over the seafood. It will seem like a lot, but the ample amount is necessary for marinating. Add the onion, chile and parsley and stir to mix well. Tuck int he bay leaves and lemon zest, cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours. Stir occasionally so that all the pieces marinate thoroughly.


Discard the lemon zest and the bay leaves. Divide the salad among small plates and serve with the bread on the side for sopping up the juices. Serves 4 to 6.


Find more bold and beloved Italian dishes in our new cookbook Williams-Sonoma Rustic Italian.





Try these simple, flavor-packed recipes starring squid:


Quick Sauteed Calamari with White Beans and Roasted Peppers Grilled Stuffed Squid
Fritto Misto with Salsa Verde Calamari with Warm Potato-Basil Salad


2 comments about “The Secrets of Meltingly Tender Calamari

  1. Calamares Rellenos (Stuffed Squid) « To Cook With Love

  2. Spicy Sauteed Calamari « abdulmanaf photography

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