catching, cleaning, and cooking squid

One of the unexpected joys of my summer was learning how to catch squid. I hadn’t ever associated Massachusetts with squid fishing, but they’re out there, and really fun to catch.

Squid fishing is so easy a kid can do it. (For many kids, this and flounder are their introductions to fishing.) The most common way to do it is to use a squid jig, a weighted lure that looks like a small fish and is covered with barbless hooks. Squid, like most cephalopods, are really smart and curious creatures, but they have very primitive central nervous systems. While you and I would see a coffee cup and reach for it with our right hand, a squid reaches for things with all eight of its hands. When it reaches for the lure, its tentacles get tangled up in the hooks on the jig and you have dinner.

proud catch

Not before putting up a good fight though. Furious at being caught, the squid will make a beeline for it, though unless your squid is huge, it’s not much of a problem. But after a few seconds of fighting, the squid’s defense mechanism will kick it and it will start spitting water and ink at you. They spit surprisingly far, and the ink, as one can imagine, stains clothes. It’s a spectacular show though, and usually has me shrieking and dissolving into fits of giggles as I dodge inky water and reel in my catch.

Once landed, there’s work to be done. All that ink makes cleaning a squid dirty business, so doing this part outside with a hose is recommend (though plenty of chefs clean squid indoors). First, using your hands, rip off the head, right above the tentacles. You can do this with a knife, but by doing it with your hands the innards will come off with the head. Separate the head from the tentacles by slicing right below the eye. You can discard the head/innards now, or you can dig through the innards and remove the ink sac, which can be used in a variety of ways and is rather delicious.

dirty work

Next, you’ll remove the beak from the tentacles. Simply reach into the center of the ring of tentacles and feel for something hard and round. When you find it, give a slight tug and it should pop right off. Your tentacles are now ready to be eaten, and you can turn your attention to the body, or tube. First, you’ll want to remove the piece of cartilage that runs along the length of the body. This should come out by simply pulling, though I had a tougher time with some of my squid… I guess I need practice. Once the cartilage is gone, remove the dark membrane and fins on the outside of the body. Then give the tube a good rinse, and use a knife to scrape out any remaining innards. You can leave the tube whole, slice it crosswise into rings, or slice it once lengthwise to create a sort of sheet. I use the “sheet” method when grilling calamari, scoring it crosswise to make it extra tender.

A lot of people think “fried” when they think calamari, but I prefer to leave that to the professionals with deep fryers. Instead, grilling and sautéing are my go-to methods. With the batch I caught last month, I made a simple marinade then grilled the squid and tossed it with white beans for something quick, simple, and delicious.


Grilled calamari with white beans

for the squid:
4 whole squid, about 8-inches long, cleaned
juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup chopped parsley
glug of olive oil

for the beans:
glug of olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can cannellini, or other white beans
1/4 cup chopped parsley
zest of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Combine squid, lemon juice, paprika, parsley and olive oil in a bowl and let sit 15 minutes. Grill over high heat two minutes (alternatively, you can sauté in a pan). Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a pan and sauté garlic. Add beans, parsley, lemon zest, salt and pepper and let simmer 15 minutes. Combine squid and beans and serve. Delicious over arugula or other salad.

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3 thoughts on “catching, cleaning, and cooking squid

  1. Adventurous food! The best kind of food. Sicilian lifeguard calamari; is it in your life yet? My favorite way to do calamari at home. Basically poached in sweet-spicy red sauce and then over pasta/barley/quinoa/grain on hand. Yum. Even better with hand-caught calamari, I’m sure 🙂

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