Take one look at a live squid and the last idea you’d have is to gut it, fry it and pop it in your mouth. This 10-armed, prehistoric creature first described by Aristotle in his “Historia Animalium” around 322 B.C., is downright disgusting.
But thanks to the adventurous immigrants who called Monterey Bay home, squid (or calamari) has become a ubiquitous staple up and down our coast. In fact, it’s rare a local restaurant doesn’t list it somewhere on the menu.
The local leader in cleaning and cooking squid has to be Abalonetti Bar and Grill on Fisherman’s Wharf. The longtime restaurant processes about 1,000 pounds of the slimy cephalopod each week.
Abalonetti devotes an entire section of its menu to calamari, offering infinite variations: flash fried (no more than 25 seconds); elegantly sautéed and simmered in marinara; flash fried over fried eggplant with Sicilian red sauce, Parmesan and mozzarella (called Marty’s Special); or modernized twists such as spicy Buffalo, Baha or garlic.
The word “calamari” is the plural form of the Italian word for squid “calamaro.” Also know as “kalamari” (Greek), “kalamar” (Turkish), “calmar” (French), “kalmari” (Finnish), “calamares” (Spanish), the name derives from the Latin word “calamarium” for “ink pot,” after the black fluid that squid secrete. “Calamarium,” in turn, derives from the Greek “kalamos,” meaning “reed,” “tube,” or “pen.”
Called calamari on Italian menus, squid is fresh tasting and tender-crisp when grilled, sautéed or deep fried for no more than 3 minutes, or simmered for 45 minutes to an hour. Anything in between and it will be tough.
Squid grow quickly and reproduce at a young age, making them highly resilient to fishing pressure. The U.S. Atlantic longfin squid population is considered healthy and abundant, making this item a Seafood Watch “Best Choice.”
Following is a squid recipe from Abalonetti and a sustainable seafood recipe from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Be sure to scroll down and view Abalonetti’s vintage squid poster it produced in the 1960s.
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- 2 T. pine nuts
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 T. hot red pepper flakes
- ¼ cup to ½ cup dry white wine 2 cups basic tomato sauce
- (recipe follows)
- 1½ lbs. cleaned calamari, tubes cut into ¼-inch rounds, tentacles halved
- 5 scallions, thinly sliced, reserve some for garnish
- Freshly ground black pepper Kosher salt
Steps: In a 12 to 14-inch saute pan, heat the oil until just smoking. Add the pine nuts, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and sauté until the pine nuts are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the white wine and tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Add the calamari, stir to mix, and simmer for 2 or 3 minutes, or until the calamari is just cooked and completely opaque. Toss in the scallions. Season with salt and pepper, pour into a large warm bowl, sprinkle with the reserved scallions, drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately.
Basic tomato sauce
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, ¼-inch dice
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 T. chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 T. dried
- 2 (28-oz.) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved
Steps: In a 3-quart saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and cook 5 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt and serve. This sauce holds a week in the refrigerator or up to 6 months in the freezer.
Spaghetti with Squid, Bell Pepper and Lemon
- 6 oz. spaghetti, preferably multigrain
- 1 T. olive oil
- 3 whole garlic cloves, flattened
- Half large red bell pepper, seeded, cut into ¼-inch pieces
- ½ lb. cleaned squid, bodies thinly sliced, tentacles left whole
- ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
- Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- ½ cup bottled clam juice
- 3 T. fresh lemon juice
- one-third cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 to 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 T. toasted pine nuts (optional)
Steps: Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water until just tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Drain the pasta. Meanwhile, heat 1 T. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the whole garlic cloves and bell peppers and stir to coat with oil. Cover and cook until the peppers soften and start to brown and the garlic is golden, about 6 minutes. Discard the garlic. Add the squid and red pepper flakes; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir until the squid is opaque, about 1 minute. Add the clam juice and simmer until slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice. Add the pasta to the sauce in the skillet and toss over medium-low heat to coat and warm through, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid a little at a time if the pasta is dry. Mix in the parsley then taste and adjust the seasonings. Drizzle the extra-virgin olive oil over the pasta. Divide between 2 warmed plates, sprinkle with pine nuts if desired, and serve immediately.
— Courtesy Monterey Bay Aquarium
How to clean squid
- 1. Holding the body firmly, grasp the head and pull gently, twisting if necessary, to pull the head away from the body without breaking the ink sac. The internal body and tentacles will come with it.
- 2. Cut the tentacles from the head just below the eyes. At the center of the tentacles is a small beak. Squeeze to remove and discard.
- 3. Set aside the tentacles to use (they’re edible and tasty). If the recipe calls for ink, reserve it, otherwise discard the head and ink sac.
- 4. At the top of the body, there is a clear piece of cartilage. Pull it out and discard.
- 5. If the squid has an outer spotted membrane-type skin, pull it off and discard.
- 6. Under cold running water, wash the tube carefully, inside and out, to get rid of any sand or other remaining tissues, and wash the tentacles carefully as well.
- 7. If you’re going to stuff them, you’re finished. Set them aside to drain.
- 8. If you’re going to fry them, remove the side fins.
— Courtesy Abalonetti Bar and Grill, Monterey