Squid have a distinct head, bilateral symmetry, a mantle, and arms. Squid, like cuttlefish, have eight arms arranged in pairs and two, usually longer, tentacles. Squid are strong swimmers and certain species can “fly” for short distances out of the water. Some of the larger squid can weigh more than 1,000 pounds. Many species of squid have a life span that is only about one year. The Humboldt squid is very aggressive and will even attack sharks in the water.
The Colossal Squid is the largest invertebrate in the world. The smallest is the sepiolid squid. It is less than one inch long and weighs less than a quarter of an ounce. Squid is much beloved in the Mediterranean, where it goes under the prettier names of calamaro, kalmari or calmar. It can be made into the most fragrant of stews and has the most perfect shape for stuffing of any food. It is also a great delicacy fried in crisp golden rings and served with pepper and slices of lemon. Squid has the added advantage of being low in fat and calories and high in protein. When cooked properly, the ivory-colored flesh becomes very light and tender. Spinach, ham, rice or cheese make fine stuffings. Squid can also be stewed with tomatoes and white wine flavored with rosemary, oregano or basil. Chopped anchovies and a liberal dose of hot red pepper are also good in the sauce. Saffron also goes well with squid and produces a deep orange-red sauce. One of the best seafood dishes one finds in Venice is squid cooked in its own ink, which makes a rich black sauce and is served with slices of toasted polenta. Chopped pieces of squid are also delicious in fish soup and paella. No wonder the French call it poor man’s lobster.
The most important thing to remember about squid is that it must be cooked either for a very short time, or for very long. Anything in between will make it rubbery. Frying should take a minute. If you are steaming squid, 5 minutes is ample – just enough to turn the flesh opaque. When squid is simmered, cook it for at least 40-45 minutes and test with a toothpick to make sure the flesh is tender. To prepare squid for cooking, hold it with one hand and with the other reach inside the body and pull away the head and tentacles. Peel away the dark skin. Inside the body is a transparent cartilege that looks as though it is made out of plastic. Pull this out and discard it.
Squid as food is often marketed using the Italian word calamari. Squid are found abundantly in certain areas, and provide large catches for fisheries. The body can be stuffed whole, cut into flat pieces, or sliced into rings. The arms, tentacles, and ink are also edible; in fact, the only parts not eaten are the beak and gladius (pen). Squid is a good food source for zinc and manganese, and high in copper, selenium, vitamin B12, and riboflavin.