How to Prep Squid For Cooking at Home

Check out the step-by-step details and photos for cleaning calamari at home.

Cooking squid isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. Stu Meltzer, co-owner of Fearless Fish Market in Providence, demonstrates how to prep “dirty” squid before cooking. “Dirty is the term we refer to as unprocessed,” he says. “It’s in its whole state with the skin on, fins attached, guts in and the whole nine yards.” Fearless Fish sells Rhode Island-harvested squid that’s already been processed and frozen by Sea Fresh in North Kingstown, but they occasionally carry it in its whole form if you’re interested in prepping it yourself. Here’s how to do it from head to foot. Fearless Fish Market, 425 West Fountain St., Providence, 415-8905,

Squid is classified as a cephalopod, which literally translates to “head foot” in Greek. Start prepping squid by sliding a sharp knife below its eyes to separate the head from the foot (the tentacles). Once you have separated the tentacles, remove the eyes, and look for a little round beak within the mouth. The squid uses its beak to tear its prey, but you want to remove it before cooking. It’s a little black piece surrounded by a protective membrane and it should pop out easily.

Next, remove the guts and pen. You can use a fish scaler or a fork or spoon to scrape them out. “While the fins are down, you can go over the top of what’s left of its head, and get far up into the tube, press down lightly and scrape downward,” Meltzer says. “Pull out all those guts and pen while trying to preserve the ink sac.” The pen, or quill, is a plastic-looking membrane that stabilizes the squid when it swims. The pen should come out when you’re scraping out the guts, but check back with a scaler, fork or spoon to make sure you’ve cleared it all out. There may be a small piece remaining.

Now you can remove the skin and fins from the body, also known as its mantle. Japanese cuisine often leaves the skin intact, but it’s removed in American processing. “Take the scaler, or a fork or spoon and lightly brush the skin to break it off, then get your fingers in there and pull off the skin and its fins,” Meltzer says. “Then you have a nice clean tube like you are used to seeing.”

“Now, you’ve got the tube, the tentacles are all clean, the fins are removed, and the beak is out of there.” Go in and separate the ink sac by lightly cutting it away. The ink sac is a tiny black pouch in the middle on the squid. Sometimes it ruptures during processing, but if you can preserve it, it’s only a tiny amount of ink.

Cut the tube into squid rings, or you can just grill or saute the whole tube. “A lot of people think squid is hard to cook, but it could not be easier,” Meltzer says. “Just take the rings and tentacles, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, get the pan going at medium/high heat with olive oil and saute for three minutes. Add a little lemon and lemon zest and that’s it.”

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Photo by Angel Tucker.

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