What Is Calamari? Everything You Need to Know About the Beloved Appetizer

published Oct 16, 2023
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fried calamari on a plate
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Micah Morton

Calamari is one of those appetizers that instantly feels nostalgic. Whether you associate it with beloved beachside eats or a classic snack at old-school Italian restaurants, fried calamari is comfort food meant to be shared with a group.

But, if you’ve ever wondered, what exactly am I eating here? we have the answers. Read on to learn what calamari is made from — and how to cook it yourself. 

Quick Overview

What Is Calamari?

Calamari is the culinary term for squid. A slightly sweet, neutral-tasting seafood, calamari is often associated and used interchangeably with the dish “fried calamari,” which is made from the body of squid (and sometimes the tentacles) that is cut into rings, breaded, and deep fried. Occasionally, though, calamari can be sautéed or grilled. Calamari is the plural form of the Italian word for squid, calamaro.

What Is Calamari?  

Calamari is simply another term for squid that is used for cooking. While squid can be enjoyed raw in sushi, sautéed, or grilled as part of a stir-fry, paella, pasta, or stew, the most common recognition of calamari is in its fried form.

The name calamari comes from the Italian word for squid, calamaro — which traces its origins back to the Latin term for “reed pen”, referencing the ink squids release. While calamari is seafood, it’s not technically a fish, but rather a mollusk, or soft-bodied invertebrates (we promise they’re tastier than they sound!). 

Is Calamari Also Made from Octopus or Just Squid?

No. While octopus and squids are both cephalopods — a class of marine animals categorized as having a prominent head, tentacles, and bilateral body symmetry — calamari is only prepared with squid. There are over 300 species of squid — the most popular types used for calamari in North America are California market squid, longfin inshore squid, and shortfin squid, which can most commonly be found off the California, Cape Cod, Rhode Island, and North Carolina coasts. Most species of squid used for calamari are less than 12 inches long. 

What Part of the Squid Is Calamari? 

The squid’s body and tentacles are most commonly used to make calamari. The body of the squid is typically sliced crosswise so that it turns into small rings, which is the most common way of preparing fried calamari. 

What Does Calamari Taste Like? 

Calamari does not taste traditionally “fishy.” Instead, it usually has a firm, chewy texture and a neutral to slightly sweet taste that takes on the flavors of whatever it is cooked in. Well-prepared fried calamari should be tender, not rubbery, with a light, crispy exterior batter. 

Where Can You Buy Calamari? 

You can purchase fresh calamari at your local grocer or fishmarket. Alternatively, you can buy it frozen and thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.

How Do You Make Calamari? 

While you can sauté or grill calamari to add to a variety of dishes, the most popular way to cook calamari is to batter and fry it and serve it with lemon wedges, tartar sauce, or marinara sauce.