6 Ways to Cook Squid & Preparation Techniques

by Ella

Squid, often known as calamari when served in restaurants, is a versatile and delicious seafood delicacy enjoyed worldwide. It’s a favorite choice for its tender and slightly sweet flesh that pairs well with a variety of flavors. However, cooking squid can be a bit tricky, as overcooking can lead to tough and rubbery results. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the best techniques and methods for cooking squid to perfection, whether you’re a seasoned chef or a home cook looking to expand your culinary skills.

Selecting Fresh Squid

Before you embark on your culinary squid adventure, it’s essential to start with the freshest ingredients. Selecting the right squid is the first step in ensuring a successful outcome.


Choosing the Right Squid Variety

Squid come in various species, each with its unique characteristics. The two most commonly used squid varieties for culinary purposes are the Atlantic squid (Loligo) and the Pacific squid (Illex). Atlantic squid are often preferred for their tender flesh, making them ideal for dishes where a softer texture is desired, such as calamari rings. Pacific squid, on the other hand, are known for their robust flavor and are often used in Asian and Mediterranean cuisines.


Identifying Freshness

When shopping for squid, keep the following factors in mind to determine their freshness:


1. Appearance: Fresh squid should have a glossy and translucent appearance. Avoid squid with a dull or cloudy appearance, as this may indicate a loss of freshness.


2. Smell: Fresh squid should have a clean, slightly briny odor, reminiscent of the sea. Avoid squid that smells overly fishy or unpleasant.

3. Texture: Press the squid gently with your finger. It should spring back and not leave an indentation. Squid with a mushy texture is not fresh.

4. Skin and Eyes: The skin should be intact and free from blemishes, while the eyes should be clear and bright.

Once you’ve selected your fresh squid, it’s time to prepare them for cooking.

Preparation Techniques

Preparing squid for cooking involves cleaning and, in some cases, tenderizing the flesh. Proper cleaning ensures that the squid is free from any unwanted parts and maintains its delightful taste and texture.

Cleaning and Removing the Ink Sac

Follow these steps to clean and prepare squid:

1. Remove the Head: Gently grasp the body of the squid (mantle) with one hand and the head with the other. Twist and pull the head away from the mantle. You can discard the head or reserve it for other culinary purposes.

2. Remove the Tentacles: The tentacles can be separated from the head by cutting just below the eyes. Be sure to retain the tentacles, as they are a prized part of the squid, especially in dishes like fried calamari.

3. Clean the Mantle: Turn the mantle inside out, revealing the inner cavity. You will find the ink sac, a thin, elongated pouch containing squid ink. Carefully remove the ink sac and set it aside if you plan to use it in your dish. If not, discard it.

4. Peel Off the Skin: The skin of the squid can be tough when cooked, so it’s essential to remove it. Hold the mantle under cold running water and use your fingers to peel off the thin, translucent skin. Rinse the cleaned mantle thoroughly.

Note: Some recipes may call for leaving the skin on, particularly if you’re grilling or baking squid steaks. In such cases, you can score the skin in a crosshatch pattern to prevent curling during cooking.

Tenderizing Methods

Squid can become tough when cooked, especially if not prepared correctly. To achieve the desired tender texture, consider these tenderizing methods:

1. Quick Marination: Soaking squid in a mild acid, such as lemon juice or buttermilk, for 15-30 minutes before cooking can help tenderize it. Be cautious not to marinate for too long, as prolonged exposure to acid can make the squid mushy.

2. Score the Flesh: Gently score the inside of the mantle in a crisscross or diagonal pattern. This not only tenderizes the squid but also allows marinades and seasonings to penetrate.

3. Use a Meat Mallet: For thicker squid steaks, you can use a meat mallet to pound the flesh gently. This helps break down the muscle fibers, resulting in a more tender texture.

With your squid cleaned and prepared, you’re ready to explore the various cooking methods.

Basic Cooking Methods

Squid’s versatility shines through in the array of cooking methods available. Depending on your preference and the dish you’re preparing, you can choose from grilling, frying, sautéing, steaming, boiling, or baking. Each method brings out different flavors and textures in the squid.

a. Grilling Squid

Grilling squid is a popular choice, especially for those who appreciate a smoky, charred flavor. Follow these steps for grilled squid perfection:

1. Prepare the Grill: Preheat your grill to medium-high heat (about 400-450°F or 200-230°C). Make sure the grates are clean and lightly oiled to prevent sticking.

2. Season the Squid: Brush the cleaned squid with olive oil and season it with salt, pepper, and any desired herbs or spices.

3. Skewer the Squid: Thread the squid onto skewers or use a grill basket to prevent them from falling through the grates. Keep the tentacles and bodies separate if you prefer different cooking times.

4. Grill the Squid: Place the squid on the hot grill and cook for 1-2 minutes per side for the tentacles and 2-3 minutes per side for the bodies. The squid should develop grill marks and turn opaque.

5. Serve Immediately: Remove the squid from the grill and serve it hot. Drizzle with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice for added brightness.

b. Frying Squid

Fried calamari is a beloved appetizer, and achieving crispy perfection is key. Here’s how to fry squid to crispy goodness:

1. Prepare the Squid: Cut the cleaned squid into rings or strips. Pat them dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture.

2. Create a Dredging Station: Set up a dredging station with three bowls: one for all-purpose flour, one for beaten eggs, and one for breadcrumbs or a mixture of breadcrumbs and cornstarch. Season the flour and breadcrumbs with salt, pepper, and any desired spices.

3. Coat the Squid: Dip each piece of squid into the flour, ensuring an even coating, then into the beaten eggs, and finally into the breadcrumb mixture. Press the breadcrumbs onto the squid to adhere.

4. Heat the Oil: In a deep pan or skillet, heat vegetable or canola oil to 350-375°F (175-190°C). Use enough oil to submerge the squid pieces.

5. Fry the Squid: Carefully add the squid to the hot oil in batches, ensuring not to overcrowd the pan. Fry for 1-2 minutes or until the squid turns golden brown and crispy.

6. Drain and Serve: Use a slotted spoon to remove the fried squid from the oil and place it on a plate lined with paper towels to drain excess oil. Serve hot with your favorite dipping sauce.

c. Sautéing Squid

Sautéing is a quick and easy way to cook squid, making it an excellent choice for weeknight dinners. Follow these steps for a simple sautéed squid dish:

1. Slice the Squid: Cut the cleaned squid into rings or strips, depending on your preference.

2. Heat a Pan: In a large skillet or frying pan, heat a small amount of olive oil over medium-high heat.

3. Add Aromatics: Add minced garlic, shallots, or onions to the hot oil and sauté for a minute or until fragrant.

4. Sauté the Squid: Add the sliced squid to the pan and sauté for 2-3 minutes or until the squid turns opaque and slightly curls. Avoid overcooking, as squid can become tough.

5. Season and Serve: Season the sautéed squid with salt, pepper, and any desired herbs or spices. Serve hot as an appetizer or over a bed of cooked pasta or rice for a complete meal.

d. Steaming Squid

Steaming squid is a gentle cooking method that preserves its natural flavors and tenderness. Here’s how to steam squid:

1. Slice the Squid: Cut the cleaned squid into rings, strips, or steaks, depending on your preference.

2. Prepare the Steamer: Set up a steamer with enough water to generate steam but not touch the squid. You can use a bamboo steamer, a metal steaming rack, or a dedicated steamer appliance.

3. Steam the Squid: Place the sliced squid in a single layer in the steamer basket or on a heatproof plate. Steam for 2-3 minutes or until the squid turns opaque and is tender.

4. Season and Serve: Remove the squid from the steamer and season it with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Serve hot as an appetizer or as part of a seafood dish.

e. Boiling Squid

Boiling squid is a straightforward method, ideal for preparing squid for use in other dishes like salads or pasta. Here’s how to boil squid:

1. Slice the Squid: Cut the cleaned squid into rings or strips, as desired.

2. Boil Water: Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil.

3. Blanch the Squid: Add the sliced squid to the boiling water and cook for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the pieces. Squid cooks quickly, so watch closely to prevent overcooking.

4. Ice Bath: Immediately transfer the boiled squid to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. This helps maintain the squid’s tenderness and color.

5. Drain and Use: Drain the squid thoroughly and use it in salads, pasta dishes, or other recipes as desired.

f. Baking Squid

Baking squid is an excellent method for creating flavorful and well-seasoned dishes. Here’s how to bake squid:

1. Slice the Squid: Cut the cleaned squid into rings, strips, or steaks, depending on your recipe.

2. Preheat the Oven: Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C).

3. Season the Squid: In a mixing bowl, toss the sliced squid with olive oil, salt, pepper, and any desired herbs, spices, or marinade.

4. Arrange on a Baking Sheet: Place the seasoned squid in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a baking dish.

5. Bake: Bake the squid for 15-20 minutes or until it turns opaque and slightly golden brown, depending on the size and thickness of the pieces.

6. Serve: Remove the baked squid from the oven and serve hot with your choice of side dishes or sauces.

These basic cooking methods provide a solid foundation for preparing squid dishes. However, to elevate your culinary skills, it’s essential to explore additional techniques and flavoring options.

Flavoring and Seasoning

One of the delights of cooking squid lies in the versatility of flavors you can incorporate. Seasoning and marinating squid can elevate its taste, and the choice of herbs, spices, and sauces can take your dish to new heights.

Marinades and Rubs

Marinades and rubs are excellent ways to infuse squid with flavor. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. Lemon and Herb Marinade: Combine olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, fresh herbs (such as parsley or basil), salt, and pepper. Marinate the squid for 15-30 minutes before cooking.

2. Spicy Rub: Mix together paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and black pepper. Rub the mixture onto the squid before grilling or frying for a spicy kick.

3. Teriyaki Marinade: Create a teriyaki sauce by mixing soy sauce, brown sugar, grated ginger, minced garlic, and a touch of sesame oil. Marinate the squid for a sweet and savory flavor profile.

4. Mediterranean Blend: Combine olive oil, minced garlic, dried oregano, lemon zest, salt, and pepper for a Mediterranean-inspired marinade.

Sauces and Accompaniments

Squid pairs wonderfully with various sauces and accompaniments. Consider these options to complement your squid dishes:

1. Aioli: A garlicky aioli sauce is a classic accompaniment for fried calamari. Mix mayonnaise with minced garlic, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt.

2. Tomato-Based Sauce: Serve sautéed or grilled squid over a bed of pasta with a tomato-based sauce enriched with herbs, olives, and capers.

3. Chimichurri: This vibrant herb sauce, featuring parsley, cilantro, garlic, red wine vinegar, and olive oil, adds a burst of flavor to grilled squid.

4. Tzatziki: A refreshing cucumber-yogurt tzatziki sauce is an ideal pairing for Mediterranean-inspired squid dishes.

5. Garlic Butter: Melted garlic butter is a simple yet luxurious sauce for baked or grilled squid.

Experiment with different combinations of herbs, spices, and sauces to discover your favorite flavor profiles. Squid’s mild taste is a canvas for culinary creativity, allowing you to explore a wide range of cuisines and cooking styles.

Advanced Techniques

For those looking to take their squid-cooking skills to the next level, advanced techniques can provide exciting culinary experiences.

Sous Vide Squid

Sous vide cooking is a precise method that ensures squid’s tenderness and flavor retention. Here’s how to sous vide squid:


  • 1 pound (450g) cleaned squid, tubes
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon zest
  • Fresh herbs (e.g., thyme or rosemary)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Preheat your sous vide immersion circulator to 135°F (57°C).

Season the cleaned squid tubes with olive oil, lemon zest, fresh herbs, salt, and pepper.

Vacuum-seal the seasoned squid in a sous vide bag, ensuring they are in a single layer.

Submerge the bag in the preheated water bath and cook the squid for 45-60 minutes.

Once done, remove the squid from the bag and pat them dry with paper towels.

Heat a skillet over high heat and sear the squid briefly on each side until they develop a golden brown crust.

Serve hot with your choice of side dishes or sauces.

Tempura Squid

Tempura is a Japanese frying technique that results in a light, crispy batter. Here’s how to make tempura squid:


  • 1 pound (450g) cleaned squid, tubes and tentacles
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup ice-cold water
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Ice cubes
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Salt and dipping sauce (tempura sauce or soy sauce with grated daikon and ginger)


Cut the cleaned squid into rings or strips.

In a mixing bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, ice-cold water, and egg yolk. Stir gently, leaving lumps in the batter.

Add a few ice cubes to the batter to keep it cold.

Heat vegetable oil in a deep pan or skillet to 350-375°F (175-190°C).

Dip the squid pieces into the tempura batter and carefully place them into the hot oil.

Fry the tempura squid in batches for 2-3 minutes or until they turn golden brown and crispy.

Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Serve hot with a side of salt and dipping sauce.

Searing Squid Steaks

Squid steaks are thick slices of squid that can be seared to perfection. Here’s how to sear squid steaks:


  • 1 pound (450g) cleaned squid steaks
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh herbs (e.g., tarragon or cilantro)


Season the squid steaks with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

Heat a skillet over high heat until it’s very hot.

Add the squid steaks to the hot skillet and sear for 1-2 minutes on each side until they develop a golden brown crust.

Remove from heat and garnish with fresh herbs.

Serve hot with your choice of side dishes or sauces.

Squid Ink Applications

Squid ink, obtained from the ink sac of squid, is a prized ingredient known for its unique color and flavor. Here are two popular dishes featuring squid ink:

Squid Ink Pasta (Pasta al Nero di Seppia):


  • 1 pound (450g) squid ink pasta
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup fish or seafood broth
  • 2 tablespoons squid ink
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Grated Parmesan cheese for serving
  • Fresh parsley for garnish


Cook the squid ink pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Reserve a cup of pasta cooking water before draining.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.

Add the chopped onion and minced garlic, and sauté until they become translucent.

Pour in the dry white wine and cook until it’s mostly absorbed by the onions.

Add the fish or seafood broth and squid ink, stirring to combine. Simmer for a few minutes until the sauce thickens slightly.

Toss the cooked squid ink pasta in the sauce, adding pasta cooking water as needed to achieve the desired consistency.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve hot, garnished with grated Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.

Squid Ink Risotto (Risotto al Nero di Seppia):


  • 1 pound (450g) Arborio rice
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups fish or seafood broth (warmed)
  • 2 tablespoons squid ink
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Grated Parmesan cheese for serving
  • Fresh basil for garnish


In a large pan or skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.

Add the chopped onion and minced garlic, and sauté until they become translucent.

Add the Arborio rice and toast it slightly, stirring to coat it in the oil.

Pour in the dry white wine and cook until it’s mostly absorbed by the rice.

Begin adding the warmed fish or seafood broth, one ladle at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each ladle to be absorbed before adding the next.

After adding about half of the broth, stir in the squid ink, which will g

ive the risotto its distinctive dark color. Continue adding the broth and cooking until the rice is tender and has a creamy consistency.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the squid ink risotto hot, garnished with grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil.

These advanced techniques and gourmet preparations showcase the depth of culinary artistry that can be achieved with squid. As you experiment with these methods, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for this remarkable seafood.

Serving and Presentation

The presentation of your squid dishes can elevate the dining experience. Here are some tips for serving and plating squid:

1. Plate with Precision: Arrange the cooked squid on the plate with care, paying attention to the placement of tentacles, rings, or steaks. A well-arranged dish is visually appealing.

2. Garnish Thoughtfully: Use fresh herbs, lemon wedges, microgreens, or edible flowers as garnishes to add color and freshness to your squid dishes.

3. Create Visual Contrast: Pair squid with colorful side dishes, vegetables, or sauces to create visual contrast on the plate.

4. Use Proper Serveware: Select appropriate serveware that complements the style of your dish. For example, a rustic wooden platter can enhance the presentation of grilled squid, while fine china may be suitable for gourmet squid ink risotto.

5. Drizzle and Sauce: A drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, or a dollop of sauce can add a finishing touch to your squid dishes.

6. Balance Flavors and Textures: Aim for a balance of flavors and textures in your dish. For example, pair crispy fried calamari with a creamy dipping sauce or serve tender sautéed squid over al dente pasta.

7. Play with Colors: Experiment with colorful ingredients like bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, or saffron to create visually striking squid dishes.

8. Minimalism Works: Sometimes, less is more. Allow the natural beauty and flavor of squid to shine through by keeping the presentation simple and elegant.

Remember that presentation is an art, and it’s an opportunity to express your creativity and attention to detail. Whether you’re plating for a special occasion or a casual dinner, taking the time to present your squid dishes thoughtfully can enhance the overall dining experience.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Cooking squid can be a rewarding experience, but it’s not without its challenges. Here are some common issues that may arise and how to troubleshoot them:

1. Tough and Chewy Squid: Overcooking is the primary reason squid becomes tough and chewy. Cook squid briefly, using high heat for methods like grilling or frying, and low heat for methods like simmering or steaming.

2. Excessive Ink Release: When cutting or cleaning squid, be cautious not to puncture the ink sac, as this can release too much ink. If this happens, rinse the squid thoroughly to remove excess ink.

3. Managing Odor: Squid can have a strong, fishy odor. To reduce the smell, rinse the squid under cold running water and pat it dry before cooking. Marinating squid with acid, such as lemon juice, can also help mitigate odor.

4. Avoiding Overcrowding: When frying or sautéing squid, avoid overcrowding the pan. Cook in batches to ensure that the squid cooks evenly and achieves a crispy texture.

5. Dealing with Tough Skin: Removing the thin, translucent skin from the squid is essential to prevent toughness. If you prefer to leave the skin on, score it in a crosshatch pattern to prevent curling during cooking.

By addressing these common issues and following the recommended cooking methods and techniques, you can overcome challenges and consistently achieve tender and flavorful squid dishes.

Culinary Inspiration

To further inspire your culinary exploration of squid, consider learning from renowned chefs who have mastered the art of cooking this seafood delicacy. Here are a few notable chefs and their squid creations:

1. Chef José Andrés: Known for his innovative Spanish cuisine, Chef José Andrés offers a variety of squid dishes at his restaurants, including squid ink paella and grilled squid with romesco sauce.

2. Chef Rick Bayless: Renowned for his expertise in Mexican cuisine, Chef Rick Bayless showcases squid in dishes like squid and poblano tacos with pickled onions.

3. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa: Chef Nobu is celebrated for his fusion of Japanese and Peruvian flavors. Try his signature dish, squid “pasta” with light garlic sauce and chili, for a unique squid experience.

4. Chef Massimo Bottura: As the owner of Osteria Francescana, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Italy, Chef Massimo Bottura has featured innovative squid dishes like “Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart.”

5. Chef Yotam Ottolenghi: Known for his Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, Chef Ottolenghi offers creative squid recipes such as squid and couscous with tahini and za’atar.

Exploring the creations of these talented chefs can provide valuable insights into the endless possibilities of cooking squid and inspire you to experiment with new flavors and techniques.

Sustainable Squid Sourcing

As responsible cooks and consumers, it’s essential to consider the sustainability of the seafood we choose. Squid is generally considered a sustainable seafood option due to its short lifespan, high reproductive rate, and minimal environmental impact. However, it’s still essential to make informed choices when purchasing squid:

1. Check for Certification: Look for seafood products certified by reputable organizations such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC). These certifications ensure that the seafood is sourced responsibly.

2. Choose Local and Seasonal: Whenever possible, opt for locally caught squid, as it supports local fishermen and reduces the carbon footprint associated with transportation. Be mindful of the squid’s seasonal availability in your region.

3. Avoid Overfished Species: Stay informed about the squid species that may be overfished or subject to unsustainable harvesting practices in your area. Avoid purchasing squid from these species to promote sustainable fishing practices.

4. Support Sustainable Fishing Practices: Purchase squid products from companies that are committed to sustainable and responsible fishing methods, such as using selective fishing gear that minimizes bycatch.

5. Educate Yourself: Stay informed about the state of squid fisheries in your region and worldwide. Advocate for sustainable fishing practices and support policies that protect marine ecosystems.

By making conscious choices when sourcing squid and supporting sustainable fishing practices, you can contribute to the preservation of marine ecosystems and the long-term availability of this delicious seafood.


Cooking squid offers a world of culinary possibilities, from simple and classic preparations to advanced gourmet techniques. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced chef, squid’s versatility and mild flavor make it an exciting ingredient to work with.

Start with the basic cooking methods, such as grilling, frying, sautéing, steaming, boiling, or baking, to master the fundamentals. Experiment with seasonings, marinades, and sauces to create unique flavor profiles that suit your taste.

So, the next time you find yourself at the seafood market or browsing a restaurant menu, consider choosing squid as your canvas for culinary exploration. With the knowledge and skills you’ve gained from this comprehensive guide, you’re well-prepared to embark on a delicious journey into the world of squid cuisine.

Bon appétit!



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